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Here it comes again—that little, cynical voice:
“Come on, do you really think that you can do this? Shouldn’t you focus on something more important, more serious?”
This is enough to paralyse me, to make me unable to do anything. My body freezes, my mind freezes. There is only fear.
It used to not be a problem. I used to be good at ignoring fear. Even if the little voice would come, I could tell her, “Well, I can do both. I can do everything. I can do anything!”
I used to attack life boldly, bypassing fear, suppressing anger, covering up sadness with laughter, smiling at shame and guilt.
For the first 30 years of my life, it worked pretty good. I got the life I dreamed of: traveling the world, building a successful career, running from one amazing experience to the next.
I was inquisitive, so I thought I was aware. I was a dancer, so I thought I was fully in my body. I was passionate, so I thought I was in touch with my emotions. The thing is—I thought everything.
But one morning, I woke up and everything was harder than usual. Thinking, moving, holding back my fears and tears. I tried as hard as I could, but at the end of the day, I collapsed in loud sobs. The fatigue of countless sleepless nights fueled by anxiety, unnecessary worries, and unrealistic expectations, suddenly weighed like tons on my body.
To acknowledge it was to finally allow my body, my emotions, and my energy to break down. I was enraged at myself for hiding this from my colleagues, for making my partner, friends, and family worry about my health. And for deceiving myself—because I believed I could do it. I believed I could do anything. I believed I could do everything. I believed I could ignore this persistent feeling of not being “good enough.”
However, next to the rage was the relief. Now I could allow myself to rest.
This is where my recovery process began—an inward journey to understand what led me to this situation.
First I had to realize that I was the person setting these expectations. I was the one who was obsessed with doing well, in order to be loved and appreciated. I was the one who was scared to be seen as an impostor, to not be a good enough employee, girlfriend, daughter, dancer, or teacher. I was the one who was always comparing my value with others. I was the one who denied those fears, as I believed they were obvious signs of weakness, which would prevent me from achieving everything I wanted.
I had to realize that all those toxic thinking patterns were leading me to build unhealthy emotional reactions and habits, without any clue of my boundaries.
After months of self-observation, supported by the practice of meditation and weekly visits to a psychologist, I started to see the connection between my thoughts and emotions. Here’s what I learned:
Lesson #1: What is happening around us is filtered by our thoughts—we create our own reality.
I sat for hours watching those thoughts. Slowly, I started to notice that only a few of them were consistently coming back. Inner dialogues. Grudges against people and arguments I wanted to clarify but would never do in real life. Worries about the future.
I had to accept that I have no power to secure the future, and that trying to hold on to plans and anticipating everything that could happen made me miss out on the present—where real life happens. I had to learn to trust my intuition, to be my guide in those moments when I had to make decisions.
Lesson #2: Overthinking keeps us away from what’s happening in the present moment.
Since those inner dialogues were doing me no good, the best thing to do was to learn to let go, with compassion. Sitting in silence, watching my emotions. Observing. Giving attention to what required attention. Acknowledging the pain. Detaching myself from the stories behind the emotions.
After a few minutes of observation, the blockages, tension, and resistance unravel and start to circulate instead of stagnating in hidden places. When we leave our stories and thoughts behind, when we focus on the sensations coming from the emotion instead of holding onto the emotion itself, we start to notice that everything is changing all the time.
We become empowered to live fully in the moment, as beautiful or as painful it may be.
Lesson #3: When we observe the thoughts and emotions passing by, we realize that everything comes and goes. We have the choice to let go or to hold on.
Personal development articles often suggest positive affirmations in painful situations when we’re facing self-doubt or fear. I figured out, with the help of a skilled body therapist, that doing the exact opposite is more compassionate and gentle.
When fear comes up, I repeat to myself a couple of times: “I am scared. It is tensing my hips, my shoulders, and my neck. It’s closing me up.” Then I carefully observe the tensions and blockages, repeating these phrases again, followed by, “I detach. I relax,” supported with deep inhales and exhales. This allows the tension and blockages to release, leaving space for a slight sensation of opening up.
Lesson #4: Vulnerability has to do with accepting things simply as they are, without denial or overreaction.
Too often, we ignore those signals of resistance and unconsciously overstep our boundaries. Resistance is something to be grateful for—it is an intelligent protection mechanism warning us that we are coming close to our limits. By making friends with resistance, we can explore our boundaries gently and slowly let go of those which don’t serve us any longer so that we can expand.
Lesson #5: Resistance is showing us where our boundaries are so we can expand in our vulnerability zone.
Walking a path to increase our sense of joy in life is a journey. It is easy to fall back into “bad” habits, to beat ourselves up for not being able to break an unhealthy pattern, or to see it coming back after we thought we were done with it. This is what makes the journey interesting.
A pattern shows up in one form and we become a master at recognizing and managing it. When we think we are done with it, it comes back, taking a new shape, and we again become a master at recognizing and managing it until it comes up as something new again.
Lesson #6: Let’s cultivate joyful curiosity toward our unhealthy habits. Let’s laugh at ourselves when we see our weird reactions. Let’s be welcoming, compassionate, and loving with our inner-weirdos.
It takes time to change unhealthy thinking habits and as Pema Chödrön says, “Start where you are.” This is not a race and there is no goal, no end destination. It is all about the journey of growing our happiness potential and exploring ourselves so we’re able to face what we need to change in order to make our lives bloom.