Revisiting how wrong I had got it and understanding how mindset work can help you feel less stuck in work and in life
Photo credit: Annie Spratt (Unsplash)
So, it’s safe to say that after what was feeling like a major parent fail (Part I of this blog reveals all), I had been feeling very sorry for myself and feeling like many parents do when their child innocently touches something very core and deep, as my inquiring little girl did that fateful day when she questioned my love for her over my love for my work!
Doing the ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) exercises I shared in Part I was a very grounding and recalibrating process for me, but I cannot say it was a smooth or easy ride. Reminding myself why I believed I was here, what I was actually doing with my life and, crucially, whether I was happy living in this way. Tough questions and tough answers to acknowledge.
Sometimes, we can really struggle with talk about our ‘values’ and ‘missions’, probably because they make us really reflect on what is driving us, and can uncover something we might not be proud of and might even feel shame about. I noticed when I did the three activities in Part I that my mind was full of all sorts of negative and often harsh thoughts about myself that got in the way of my ‘healthy mind’ work (which is an unfortunate side effect of this mindset work). Luckily, there is an antidote…
So, this blog is about how I have tried to use those often awful thoughts about myself to understand how consistent my values and goals were, and the benefit in simply acknowledging those pesky thoughts to clear the way for my mission. By the way, if you find yourself in this position, to help prevent unhelpful feelings from taking over, you could try a couple of calming exercises: what does it feel like in your body when you think about your values? Can you breathe into those places of your body? If you can, try to let the thoughts and feeling float by, like a cloud in the sky or a leaf on a stream.
Capture those negative thoughts
In my scenario with my child, I had to take a curious stance: why was her question so upsetting for me? Surely if I felt confident about my behaviours in my everyday life, I would have been able to respond with genuine positivity and enthusiasm. Instead, I was plagued with feeling of guilt and shame for developing insecurities in my child’s mind. I clearly wasn’t a good enough mum. I wasn’t even a good psychologist. I felt a failure. I didn’t deserve to enjoy myself. And I wasn’t enjoying myself. I could go on, but I suspect you get the message…I couldn’t shake these thoughts. They weighed so heavily on my mind. Capturing them and noticing how they made me feel (usually, very anxious and sometimes a bit nauseous) was an important first step.
The core concepts in ACT become really relevant here.
“I think it therefore I am it”
Fusion with one’s self-concept — holding on to an identity that only serves to hold us back — is a big barrier. These might be beliefs like “I’m a failure” or “I’m bad”. Sometimes these beliefs could be less obviously unhelpful, but they still cause us to think about ourselves in a limiting way, such as “I’m a clinician” or “I’m sporty” — it is like there is a silent ‘only’ in there implying that we couldn’t do or be anything different and we will therefore miss opportunities that could benefit us. Such as, a business owner who finds it hard to distance from this role will miss occasions to play enjoyably with their child (ouch!).
Fusion is a bit like walking around with piece of paper with your self beliefs written on it right in front of your face: you can’t see past it, around it, through it; they interfere when you try to engage with others, do your work, take part in activities you enjoy etc.
Fusion with rules for living is another trip hazard. Rules for living are beliefs about how we are expected to behave and act in social situations that are perhaps cultural and taught in our childhood. They are usually identified by ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘must’ statements. A good example of this could be “children need their mothers more than anyone” (guilty of this one, too!). Awareness of these types of beliefs is important and being able to hold them lightly is a good skill to practice.
“If it feels bad, it must be bad”
In the main, we humans are pretty intolerant of discomfort. I know I was in my scenario — I went to the place of least resistance, my work. My only real argument about doing that was that it just didn’t feel right to do anything different.
There may be times when this thought process had a real place — like walking down a dark alley at night and feeling like you ought not to. I’m not sure the threat of being in a room with my child would indicate that either she, me or the situation was bad really, but clearly something wasn’t right for me in that moment.
And it might also be that we can have strong emotional reactions to something that is key to our values. Is there a mismatch? What else might this feeling be trying to tell me? Being mindfully aware of our discomfort and accepting being out of kilter with our values then become the next big step…which is of course easier said than done.
In ACT, focussed attention on particular areas of ourselves can means that it’s hard to see what’s going on around us. In these times, you are so focussed on self-criticism or imposter syndrome or beating yourself up that again opportunities are passed over, completely accidently and without intent. A good example of this in my scenario was that I buried myself into my work. It was a friend who asked me why I didn’t just stay in the conversation. When I dug deeper into the sticky feeling, I could see that my mind and body may have been letting me know that I was avoiding living my values because I didn’t think I deserved a break or perhaps wasn’t good enough to enjoy myself with my child. And so I did the thing that would best alleviate that distress…which indeed perpetuated the cycle of a non-values based lifestyle. Arghhh! It’s powerful stuff when you start to see it! Giving yourself that space to listen out for feelings of incongruence will help you commit to your goals and motivate you to your life mission.
Staying present and engaged
You may have noticed little pause-and-breath/visualise type exercises throughout this blog and in Part I. ACT really advocates this moments. How many times have you heard people say that some of their best clarify comes after they take a break? Mindfulness does exactly that and these little interludes are mindfulness exercises that help you distance your thoughts from your feelings for that clarity. It does not mean that the beliefs you hold about yourself dissolve and magically disappear (I wish!). It’s more that the piece of paper in front of your face is further away from you and its value is more in proportion with other things in your life.
Creating distance from those thoughts while sitting with the discomfort you feel is a great place to learn, but only if you can stay present and engaged. And this is particularly true when you hit difficult times or when you realise you have not achieved your desire outcomes, perhaps even failed to do what you wanted to do.
We all need a little mindset refresh once in a while. We all know what we’re doing, it’s just so easy to lose our way, particularly at the moment. Sometimes, we need a little nudge…and those nudges are everywhere if we can gain some distance from those unhelpful blinding thoughts.
I cannot thank my little girl enough for nudging me back to my values and for reminding me about the things I truly enjoy and love. I absolutely love my job and have worked so hard to create a business that provides vulnerable people who have sustained catastrophic injuries with psychology and case management support. But, I also love my beautiful, compassionate and patient child who I want to play hard with for as long as possible to create a life time of enjoyment… because I deserve it, too. I really do!
I hope you give yourself this chance, too.
Wishing you the very best wellbeing.