Moving from self-criticism to Self-love and acceptance
– Documenting a Process –
A short story about procrastinating and Mood regulation
As the man sat down; he exhaled loudly. He quietly looked around the room, and then, he said: “I have been delaying publishing my book for years.” Attentively, I waited to hear more; but nothing else was said. A long silence hung in the room for a while.
-Finally, I asked: “Really? What is your book about?”
“Well, it is complicated,” – he said – “I haven’t started writing it yet.”
– “Oh! Are you postponing an action to avoid experiencing some unwanted emotions?” I asked him.
“What the hell do you mean by that?” He quickly retorted.
– “Well, postponing, or delaying taking an action; is also known as the art of procrastination to avoid unwanted emotions, or to regulate moods. A form of self-criticism.” I explained.
Looking at me he said: “So, now procrastination is an art? – You better say more about that. I have no idea what you are talking about.”
-I looked at him and then asked: “Besides writing your first book, are there other things you delay or postpone taking action on?”
“Yes, setting a time for the wedding, making an appointment with the doctor, getting new reading glasses, talking to my in-laws, even editing my resume; is a challenge these days.”
– “What unwanted emotions do you associate with sitting down and editing the resume? What is the feeling?” -I asked, and waited –
He slowly stretched his legs, and said: “That is a nasty one! I feel insecure, for sure I feel shame, stomach-aches, tense, and really tired. It feels like I’m not safe. Like; I need to run away.”
– “That is very good. You are very clear about what comes-up when you think about editing the resume. Your awareness is remarkable” -he smiled, I continued- “In your mind; editing the resume is difficult, and causes unnecessary stress, and suffering. If I felt like that, I would do exactly the same as you do.” Long silence.
THE SEED OR ROOT
– “Do you see that all of these feelings or body sensations start with a thought?” -I paused and looked at him- “A thought that says: this is going to be difficult, I don’t feel safe. I need to run away”
“Sure, I know all this is just mental activity. So what? How does talking about this help me?” He stood-up, and walked around.
– “Hear me out”- I said-
“a thought says: resume needs editing ASAP!
next thought says: I don’t feel safe, this is dangerous, I have to run-away.
another thought says: postpone it, do it next week.”
“So? You are telling me what I already know, what is your point?” He glared at me.
“First, the mind lists the worst things that could happen if you engage in this task. Then, the same mind offers the best solution: procrastinate.” I explained.
“But the mind only ran the first half of the process. What happened to ‘what are the best things that will happen when you complete this task? -or- “Suggestions: how can I make this happen in a good way?”
“The mind or your thinking brings-up editing the resume, then, it labels the task as stressful. Then, brings up unwanted emotions, and finally; suggests procrastination.” Silence… “All these steps happen inside your mind, nothing actually happens, it is all mental activity.”
He appeared to be lost, and asked: “What do you mean?”
– “I mean, you don’t even have to sit down to edit the resume, just thinking about it; sets the whole drama in motion. And, you experience all those unwanted feelings as if it was really happening in vivo.”
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT
“I’m really messed-up, aren’t I?” He muttered.
-“No, remember; we already established that: you are not broken, not damaged, and you don’t need fixing. There is nothing wrong with you, or with your mind.” – Long silence – “You are dealing with a misunderstanding, a trick of the mind. You are perceiving insecure thinking as a fact, or as true.”
“So, tell me, what is the misunderstanding?”
“Have you forgotten how to edit a resume? or… Are you forgetting that you KNOW how to do it?”
Scratching his head – “Well, when you put it like that, it is easy!” he exclaimed.
– “The mind is doing what it is designed to do: it identifies the problem, and takes the path of least resistance to avoid the discomfort.”
He stood up again – “No, no, you don’t understand, I am a procrastinator! My future wife thinks I am lazy and irresponsible. I don’t even want to see a psychologist; because I don’t want to have an official diagnosis.”
– “Well, I think you are brilliant!”- I said- “You have found a way to use procrastination as an effective tool to avoid feeling uncomfortable.”
-I continued “Can you see that as soon as you decide to procrastinate editing the resume; all the physical and mental stress goes away, and you start feeling ok, again?”
He slapped his right thigh and exclaimed: “Yes, that is true! As soon as I decide to procrastinate; the pressure is gone, and I feel good. It works like magic.”
– “Sure, it makes sense. You have found a reliable way to diffuse unwanted emotions, and to shut-up the accusing mental narrative. It works, and you will procrastinate again and again, because it works every time.”
He smiled and said:” Yes, it works immediately! It is refreshing, and I feel relaxed. But it only lasts a short while, -he shook his head, and continued- “my mind starts criticizing me, and I feel shame, and guilt. Then, I just give-up, and walk away.”
– He looked at me… and I added- “You are bound to use procrastination any time you feel insecure, threatened, or when you self-criticize. Notice that I said: ‘you use procrastination,’ not that you are a procrastinator. Does that make sense”
“Now it does! I use it as needed in times of stress.” He sat down
– “Have you noticed that all experiences (positive or negative) start with a THOUGHT?” I asked.
“You are correct, it is always a thought, you have told me many times that the seed of any perception, or experience is always a thought. A thought that appears, I give it my attention and as I accept it as true; I react to it, and trouble follows.”
-“Are there any occasions when the thought shows-up, you notice it, but you don’t act out, or don’t pay attention to it?”
“Yes, sometimes. I am having dinner, and if the telephone rings, a thought says ‘pick-it-up, it may be important, but I decide not to.”
-“Good, in those instances you see thought as it really is: an energy temporarily passing by. When our mental state is relaxed and clear we see that we don’t have to believe, or obey every thought that crosses our mind.”
FORGETTING AND REMEMBERING
He raised his right hand – “Ok, ok, I know this already, but … How does understanding this; help me with my procrastinating?” He asked again…
-“Ok, consider three things:
- First of all, procrastination is not yours, it is not personal. There are at least another million individuals dealing with procrastination, and self-criticism at any given time. All feelings and the way we respond to them (behaviors) are Universal.
- Second: All humans try to avoid discomfort by adapting, or postponing tasks we perceive as difficult, or unwanted. We seem to forget that all thoughts and feelings are temporary, and repetitive.
- And third: A thought or idea arises with a sense of importance and urgency, if you wait a couple of seconds; that thought changes and dissipates. The energy of the thought goes back to the place it came from, and returns with the same sense of importance and urgency, but with a different story.”
He shook his head, and said: “Confusing! How does this help me with procrastination, and feeling insecure?”
-“You can handle any feeling or emotion! You have been handling those emotions since childhood, and you survived. And when your attention is being pulled in too many directions, you think you can’t handle them.” – He added- “but I can! – And I don’t have to believe, or accept as true everything I think.”
He looked across the room and said: “yes, I have felt all this discomfort before, and I survived! I have revised my resume at least five times.”
-I touched my forehead and said: “The same intellect, or imagination we use to THINK that editing a resume is a dangerous affair, is the same intellect we use to THINK that editing a resume is as safe as making a cup of tea, or coffee.”
Sitting down he said: “We are going back to talking about states of mind, am I correct?”
-“There is no need, you already know all that. And, it is good to be aware of our state of mind: Clear and Peaceful (green light), or Dark and Stormy (amber light), slow down, proceed with caution.
He added – “Clear state of mind; I know I have what it takes to handle the situation, but when in an Agitated state of mind: I can’t stand the smallest discomfort.”
”Yes, Clear mind: self-love, free of judgments, self-acceptance, endless possibilities. Agitated mind: Self-criticism, fight or flight, judgmental, and feeling disconnected.”
He interjected – “No wonder we often say: When the mind is clear we don’t believe everything we think. Thus, we are curious, free of judgments, and the possibilities are endless.
Then, he added: “Is there any way to not forget this? -What is wrong with me; I know all this… and then, I just forget?”
SLOW DOWN -YOU ARE HERE ALREADY
“There is nothing wrong with you, we all have moments of clarity, and moments of confusion. I stood up and said: “One thing that helps me is to be aware of my state of mind: Peaceful, or Agitated.
If agitated, I slow down, or stop, and wait until the feeling passes, and I regain a Clear mind.”
-“Does this make sense?” I asked. -He nodded – then I said:
“Now, tell me, what are your getting out of this conversation?”
He thought for a moment, and then said: “It seems to me, that you are saying that:
- I’m not a procrastinator, I’m not a lazy person, I’m not irresponsible, I’m neither damaged, nor broken, and I don’t need fixing.’ I think you believe that about everybody!
- I’m OK, but sometimes I take the negative, discouraging thoughts to heart. Also, that; I could wait a moment, and see how thoughts-feelings change by themselves.
- And finally, you are suggesting that when I focus my time, energy, and attention on the best things that can happen as I complete the task; the result will surprise me. Then, my confidence will go up, the anxiety will go down, and my experience of life will be different.”
-“Wow! That sounds really good. – How are you feeling now?”
He smiled and said: “I’m feeling confident, kind of light and peaceful. Overall; in a better mood, refreshed!”
“From that state of mind, how would you like to proceed with the resume update?”
“Oh, I’m clear. I know what to do as soon as I get home. I realized I can update the resume; even while I’m feeling the discomfort at the same time. Just like working out, I will feel the stretch; put-up with the discomfort, and feel like a new person later. I know that feeling!”
“Ok! Do you feel complete for now?” I asked.
“Yes, thanks. I will text you as I complete the other three things that I was avoiding. See you around, thanks for the tune-up!
This is the way the process worked that day, and it changes all the time. It all depends on our state of mind, and their state of mind. Like Thought, the process is always the same, but the content is constantly changing. Once, I heard Michael Neill say: “not this, but something like this.” That sentence helped me understand the uniqueness of each session.
We may go over the basic ideas next time. It is good to stay in the conversation. We always see something different, a new metaphor, a new beginning.
Each time we share these ideas, and take the time to listen, to really listen; and hear what the other person understood, our wisdom seems to expand, and settle in. And the journey continues …
Do you want to read more about these ideas? Click here.
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