Let It Be Easy

photo by Greg Markway

As I’ve been tuning in to my self-talk over these past few weeks, I keep hearing the word, “pressure.”  I think I need to do things on a certain timetable and with a certain level of quality. And then that pressured feeling turns into procrastination. In talking with the insightful Beth Beulow of The Introvert Entrepreneur, she suggested something along the lines of, maybe if I loosened the screws a little bit that feeling of pressure would morph into inspiration. I’m not sure if those were her exact words, but I definitely heard “Loosen the Screws!” (What? Me a little uptight?)

There’s a certain paradox in this self-compassion “project.” How do I not turn it into one more thing to stress over?

The other night I couldn’t sleep, and instead of getting all worked up like I usually do, a phrase kept running through my mind: “Let it be easy.” As I said in my last post, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, so I don’t know if I’d just read this (I can’t find it anywhere now), or heard it in one of the guided meditations I’ve been listening to, or just maybe, my “unconscious” knew what I needed to hear. “Let it be easy” is not something I’m used to doing. I typically make things more complicated than they probably need to be.

But in the spirit of self-compassion, I’m going to try to hold this project gently and lightly, like you’d hold a butterfly in your hand. What does that mean?

First of all, I’m going to ease up on any expectation of outcome. For example, I’m constantly saying things to myself such as, “Will this post be helpful?” or “Will this resonate with people?” Originally, I’d thought that one of my guiding principles of this blog was going to be, “If I help even one person, the blog is not in vain.” Yeah, I’m a helper through and through. And that’s a good thing for a psychologist. But there are pitfalls, too. In The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, Christopher Germer says that “attachment” is a danger for helpers. I think he means attachment in the sense of wanting things to go a certain way. He gently reminds us helpers that everyone is responsible for their own happiness. So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if this blog speaks to someone, great. But if I only help myself through this process of blogging, that’s more than enough.  (After all, he also says “Self-compassion is the foundation of compassion for others.”)

Second, although I had the intention of this being a one-year project, similar to The Happiness Project and The Shyness Project (it’s popular to have a project these days), I’ve noticed I’m already feeling pressure about time. “Oh no! It’s almost February and what have I accomplished? I’m still just laying the groundwork.” Deadlines are definitely good in that they help with accountability, cut down on procrastination (sometimes), and can enhance productivity. But in my case, I think the most compassionate thing to do is the realize that this has been my Issue for almost 50 years. There is no reason to think that in one year, poof, I will be completely self-compassionate and this will be something I can cross off my to-do list. To quote Germer again, “The path to happiness and well-being never ends. Just when we’ve arrived, a new challenge presents itself and we begin again.” So I’m going to quit worrying about time and simply see where this flows.

Speaking of time, it’s a week until my 50th birthday. I’m excited about an easier year ahead!

Let the Project Begin

via flicker, vvonstruen

In exactly one month, on February 1, 2012, I will turn 50 years old. If I had to pick one word to describe my life so far, it would be “tortured”. Okay, that sounds a little melodramatic. What I mean is this– I’m never satisfied with myself. I frequently think I haven’t accomplished enough. I easily become overwhelmed with emotions that I feel I have too little control over. I’m sensitive to the point that it’s painful. I’m prone to despair, alternating with diffuse anxiety. And to top it all off, I don’t have a lot of fun in my life–mostly of my own choosing. When I read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, I skipped the chapter on fun.

Oh, and by the way, I’m a psychologist. There’s more than a little shame that comes from thinking that all of my training and experience should have made me a bit less of a mess by now.

Let me also tell you I’m a self-help book junkie. I remember reading The Power of Positive Thinking after finding it on my grandmother’s bookshelf at the age of twelve. Since then, I’ve been hooked. I am usually reading about three psychology books at once, and I’ve written a few, as well. Most of the books I’ve written have been on shyness and social anxiety, issues that have been quite personal for me.

Last summer I came across a blog, The Shyness Project, which was a one-year project that the author and my now friend Brittany, undertook to overcome her crippling shyness. She said she’d never been successful at following through with her goals before because she tried to undertake too many things at once. So she asked herself, if she could choose only one goal to focus on in the coming year, what would it be? For her, without a doubt, she knew it was her shyness that was holding her back. Brittany’s blog and project has been a huge success, and she’s an inspiration to me.

As 2012 approached, I asked myself a similar question. Where should I focus my energy? I blog at Psychology Today about shyness (and will continue to do so), but it’s not as much of a personal problem for me now. Despite my quiet temperament, I can do what I need and want to do.

Well, the title of this blog gives it away. I decided that focusing on increasing self-compassion would be the most important thing I could do to ensure that when I turn 51, I’m not still describing myself as “tortured”.

I don’t have this project all figured out, and I guess that’s at least part of the point. And I feel a little selfish and even indulgent for starting this. Hey, there are starving people in China and I’m going to spend a year trying to like myself more. But it’s thoughts like those that I’m talking about. Not nice.

In one of the books that I’m going to use as a resource, Self-Compassion, author Kristin Neff opens the first chapter with this quote:

“This kind of compulsive concern with ‘I, me and mine’ isn’t the same as loving ourselves…Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilience, compassion, and understanding within that are simply part of being alive.”  –Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness

I’ve always believed we learn from each other’s stories. I’d be honored to have you join me in my journey, and share your comments, thoughts and feelings along the way.

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