At home, getting ready for a day at the Korean Spa (a well-priced cultural experience I recommend for anyone who’s okay with different), irritation mounted as every sip Yvette took from her coffee cup grew louder in my ear.
“Stop sipping your coffee so loud,” I said, as irritability broke through reasonability. Thankfully, she ignored me graciously.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” Yvette asked, with a calm and assured tone. She then turned away and headed up the stairs to get ready. I sat with her question ringing through my mind.
Why am I in such a hurry?
You need to make the most of this day.
The answer was clear, though it lacked rationality, especially given that we were on the way to spend the entire day relaxing.
What does it even mean to make the most of a day at the Korean Spa? Relax hard, maybe?
(Now that I think about it, that’s exactly what the Koreans do when they go to the spa—they relax hard. Going from extreme hot to extreme cold is, as it turns out, an excellent way to get the mind and body to relax.)
As I sat with the question, I got annoyed with myself… for being annoyed.
Not knowing why I was irritable, I decided to be done complaining… lest I annoy myself any further.
“No more complaining!” I yelled out, as I made my declaration to be done.
Striving to deepen my commitment to this declaration, I made a quick call to a friend, letting her know I was done complaining.
“Okay, great! Enjoy your day,” she responded. No details about what was causing my irritation were needed, which was helpful because I could easily have dove right back down the rabbit hole of complaining.
I made the declaration, and I kept to it… the whole day.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel irritable the rest of the day. It means that I simply didn’t continue reacting to the feeling. (Going from extreme hot to extreme cold certainly did wipe me out enough to help!)
When uncomfortable feelings came up, I sat with them.
Each time I sat with the feeling, I heard the thoughts playing in the background of my own mind.
Those Pesky Voices In My Head
Here were a few of the beliefs I was struggling with that day–
“You need to work harder.”
“You aren’t living to your potential, and you never will at this slow speed—get to work.”
“Neither money nor opportunities grow on trees. Go out and make something happen… quickly!”
“You’re never going to figure it out.”
It’s really hard to relax when you don’t feel like you do enough, have enough, or know enough. When the belief I am not enough is pulling you into a downward spiral, it’s difficult to avoid irritability (or the complaining that comes with it).
Why Not Celebrate?
This is true even if you have plenty to celebrate.
That’s the frustrating part of being consumed by negative self-talk — it’s difficult to see, feel, or celebrate the goodness of life, or the successes you have achieved.
It’s easier to go down the rabbit hole of being consumed by what the internal voices want you to believe than to begin listing the many, many blessings in life. Have you noticed that 90% of what you see and hear in the news is negative? The reason for that is simple: negative news triggers our limbic brain (fear-based), alerting us to impending danger that we must avoid. This is our default mode, and as a result, It’s harder to list blessings because it’s so seldom modeled or practiced.
Research has shown that you get what you focus on, so why not focus relentlessly, and consciously, on the goodness in life? Better yet, why waste any time dwelling on what hasn’t worked?
So Why Do We Focus On The Negative?
The reason you get pulled in the direction of irritability is because your brain is primed for it.
Hundreds of thousands of years of programming (you got your thoughts and beliefs from the people around you, and they got it from the people around them) make self-criticism (along with negativity) an easy default.
The good news is that you can change your thoughts and beliefs… bit-by-bit, and slowly, over time.
This change begins with awareness.
Step One: Awareness
Recognizing my irritability as a clue that something wasn’t right with my thinking gave me the chance to look beneath the surface and listen to the stories I was telling myself.
Yes, my own thoughts were causing me to feel irritable.
I wish that wasn’t true. I wish I could pin the blame on the people with loud sipping and chewing habits. If I could pin the blame on them, then I wouldn’t have to figure out how to deal with (or comfort) the voice speaking inside of my own mind.
Knowing that my own thinking is what causes me problems doesn’t make the process any easier. Fortunate or not (depending on your perspective), you cannot get away from yourself.
Like an affection-starved child, that voice can continue on auto pilot whether you want it to or not. And, like a child, the more it feels ignored (or resisted), the louder it gets.
If, on the other hand, you turn toward your thoughts and listen to the stories you’re telling yourself, with compassion, you can learn to diffuse self-judgment and accept the stories you tell yourself. Doing this allows new (helpful) ideas and behaviors to make their way into your thought process. Remember—these are old thoughts that have been passed down from generation to generation. They are not reality, even though they are powerfully seductive.
Step Two: Acceptance
While the idea of acceptance is easy to comprehend, actually doing it is hard.
I do not want to accept that I’m the one causing my own discomfort. If I am the one causing my own discomfort, then I want to be able to just stop it… immediately, and for good.
Alas, it often doesn’t work that way.
Self Awareness Also Means Self Acceptance
When you accept yourself as you are (and/or circumstances as they are), you release your resistance to reality.
What you resist persists. By no longer resisting reality, you have the ability to appreciate the journey.
In other words, accept (and even love) yourself as you are. If you reject any part of yourself (including your own thinking), then those parts continue to wield power over you.
Do you hate that you overeat, watch too much television, don’t exercise enough, spend too much, gamble away your money, or work too much?
Your resistance to yourself will only ever serve to make your patterned responses stronger.
In contrast to resisting my habits or negative self-talk, by accepting that my brain likes to run and re-run the tapes of “I’m not enough,” I give myself the chance to see, hear, and feel the results of such thinking. Going through this process helps me loosen the patterned responses to those same feelings.
Instead of grabbing food to feel better, I can become aware of my response, and then accept that feeling without reacting to it.
Awareness First, then Acceptance
Once I’m aware of my own irritation, I have to accept that I’m the one causing my own misery. It’s my thinking about whatever situation I’m in that’s causing me discomfort. When I sit and patiently listen to the stories I’m telling myself, I give myself a chance to question them.
Clearly, I do not want to accept that I am the one who’s telling myself that I’m not enough. Of course I didn’t start life with these irritability-provoking thoughts, but I certainly picked them up. Fortunately, I also came equipped with the courage to face each one and question their validity.
In all honesty, I want to be able to flip a switch and make the thought, “I’m not enough” disappear. Instead, I will continue affirming the beliefs I want to own, knowing that these beliefs take time, patience, and a whole bunch of self-compassion.
By accepting yourself as you are, healing is made possible.
Step Three: Different Action
New ideas, beliefs, and ultimately behaviors (actions) can only surface when you stop trying to be someone other than who you are. That is, better behaviors happen when you accept yourself as you are.
Yes, accept that you over-analyze, over-eat, over (or under)-exercise, overspend, or work too much.
These qualities are not who you are, instead they’re patterned behaviors (or what you do) to deal with discomfort.
Since you cannot rid yourself of discomfort in life, awareness and acceptance can give you a place of peace and clarity. In that place, you are free to explore and understand the discomfort. Then, you can consider the options of going for a walk, calling a friend, or working on a fun project. Having awareness and acceptance give you time to consider a new or /different actions to take.
16 Ways to Create Space for Self Awareness
Why not begin exploring healthy responses to difficulty? Here’s a list of 16 healthy actions to take as a way to have a different action in difficult situations:
- Go for a walk
- Take thirty (yes, thirty) long, slow, breaths
- Put calming music in your ears
- Watch an uplifting YouTube video (search: motivation or inspiration)
- Call a friend
- Make other art (coloring, knitting music, painting, etc)
- Go for a hike
- Get your heart rate up for thirty-minutes
- Play a game
- Pet your animal(s)
- Assemble a puzzle
Life throws curve balls at everyone.
But there is a process for moving through our reactions to difficult life circumstances. Embracing this process brings meaning to each challenge. It’s no longer just a difficult situation… it’s now an opportunity to learn, grow, and evolve.
We all have a critical inner voice. Irritability, frustration, and anger– they’re emotions, and they all pass. You don’t have to react to them. With practice, there is freedom from negative self-talk. If we don’t feed the negative thoughts (by reacting), they can come and go with little damage.
While you cannot stop difficult situations from happening, nor the internal voices that come from those difficult situations, you can use each situation to grow in self-awareness. The better you understand and accept yourself, the easier it is to take different actions, which allow you to take more risks and grow.
By changing your self-talk, you can change thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Slowly, and over time, you create a life that you get to enjoy so much more.
Misti Burmeister has been helping leaders boost engagement and productivity across generations for more than 15 years. Help your team reach its highest potential at https://MistiBurmeister.com