We all have our own set of values that guide our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Often, we don’t acknowledge them until someone has crossed that invisible line. Having an awareness of your values can be positive as they’re incredibly helpful to make good choices. However, there’s also a risk of getting over-enthusiastic and expecting yourself to always align with those values and always behave a certain way. It’s important to realize that there’s no single best set of values to live life or view the world by. Values are not fixed, they change over time so you are limiting your own personal growth and enjoyment when you expect yourself to live according to a fixed set of rules that perhaps no longer apply.
During the pandemic we have seen a rise in what has become known as languishing, described by organizational psychologist Adam Grant, PhD, as "a sense of stagnation and emptiness." This could be an indication that in order to thrive, during this longer than expected pandemic, our perception of what success and meaning looks like needs to change compared to what it was before we even knew COVID existed. Previous markers of success like interesting work or being entertained hold little relevance when your actions are focused towards earning a living, paying your bills, and keeping a roof over your head.
If you have found yourself experiencing languishing, here some thoughts on how you can be less critical of yourself for experiencing it and how you might go about getting your vibrancy back.
1. Be aware of critical thoughts. Everything has a beginning. Before you can make critical judgments and say critical things, there has to be a critical thought. This is your cue to interrupt and change your thought process. Monitor your thoughts and remind yourself how can you be kinder to yourself?
2. Pause for five seconds and take a deep breath. When you find yourself feeling judgmental, with a stream of critical thoughts, stop and take a short pause. You’ll interrupt your thought pattern and give yourself a chance to choose alternative words to express your thought to yourself. You don't always have to speak to yourself in such a critical tone.
3. Understand that everyone, including yourself, is doing the best they can. That’s not to say that everyone is living up to their potential. But we all have is our own unique past, tragedies, upbringing, health issues, and way of viewing the world. Acknowledge them and how they impact you and decide if you want them to continue directing you from the past. You might be doing a whole lot better than you think.
4. You are more than your thoughts and you have the capacity to make changes. You’re only fooling yourself if you believe your thoughts and let them define you. Get curious about them. Ask yourself, what does that particular thought want for you (hint: it’s something positive).
5. Find a role model. You may well know someone that’s very accepting of everyone around them which is a sign they are accepting of themselves. Have a talk to them. Ask them how they manage to be so accepting of their thoughts. Their strategies could be the answer to your struggle.
6. The past doesn’t have to equal the future. Everyone makes mistakes, you included. Those mistakes don’t have to be repeated although they may be until you get the learnings. Understand that you can learn from them. You wouldn’t want to be judged by your greatest mistake, nor would it provide an accurate view of you.
7. Respect your freedom to be human. It’s arrogant and delusional to believe that your current way of living will be the only way to live for the rest of your life. It will change. Provide yourself with some freedom to recognize that change will be needed as you progress across your lifespan and that is human, not failure.
8. Let go of your expectations. Having expectations is a form of control to produce certainty. Become more flexible because when you hold on to expectations, they’re almost guaranteed to be breached. There’s only one way you can feel when that happens: upset. See if you can let go of your expectations and accept the outcome without judgment.
A client once shared that she had had a long conversation with herself about how she was a bad friend, daughter and sister because she hadn’t spoken to her family or friends for some time due to work commitments. When I asked her what she thought the goal of that conversation could be, she was stumped. How could such mean words have anything positive to convey? Turns out after some conversation, she realized it wanted her to make contact with her close friends and family so that she could feel connected to something other than her work. She had been feeling particularly lonely and burnt out.
If you have a habit of being critical of yourself, particularly now, recognize what the positive goal could be from your inner critic. Most times, it wants something good for you.
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