We’re living through some mighty strange days.
The enforced introspection of this global pandemic is a ripe opportunity to consume a lot of content online, and we are devouring it.
I’d wager that a lot of it is around self-help and self-improvement: endless posts and articles about how to be more productive while we’re asleep or walking the dog. Or the ubiquitous “Habits of Highly Successful People” type of offering.
The trance-inducing scrolls through Instagram (is Facebook still a thing?) leave us feeling at best lobotomized, at worst, in a state of “where was I when they sent out the ‘how to be a normal, shiny human’ memo?”
In short, even during this seismically terrifying and transformational time, when no one knows anything for certain, we are still dragging around that sack of stale, rotting beliefs founded on the idea that we are not enough as we are. We don’t even notice that we’re dragging it around anymore; the stench has become such an intrinsic part of our lived experience.
It’s time to dig a deep hole, and bury that sack of putrefying beliefs; it’s time to return them to the earth so that they can finally be allowed to die and transform into something that nurtures life.
If there’s one thing we do know about this strange time, it’s that things are not going to be the same as they were before. Reality is shifting. Which means that it’s a potent time to participate in that shift by noticing this particularly damaging—and also tediously boring—sack of stale beliefs, to become curious about why we’ve been carrying it around, and about who or what benefits from our stinky baggage. Because unpleasant as they are, we’ve become attached to these beliefs.
They’re familiar, and therefore safe—the latter being our tantalizingly turgid payoff. They’ve helped us to survive all this time. And until we get curious about them, and then, of our own volition, dig that hole to bury them in, we’ll never thrive.
“We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre
See, I don’t know about you—but I’m bored of just surviving. I’m curious about thriving.
But that sounds scary and unfamiliar and unsafe. What if I die or lose everything. Or worse still, make a total fool of myself?
Wouldn’t it just be easier to keep dragging this putrid sack around? It’s safer that way. I’m used to the smell, after all; I barely even notice it. And anyway, thriving and being curious sound like a whole lot of effort—I won’t have time to read all the articles about how to be like all of the successful people and maximize my productivity.
Actually, let’s talk about all these successful people—or rather, the idea of some homogenous definition of what “success” is. Because, let me save you the time and energy reading all those listicles about such people and their habits, the one thing they have in common is that they each have their own sense of what success looks and feels like for them. And they then take steps—usually small, bitesize, manageable; sometimes enormous, overwhelming—toward whatever it is that feels successful to them. They’re not trying to meet externally imposed expectations. Their particular—and evolving—habits work for them.
Of course, they mine inspiration from others but the approach is different. Namely, they’re not holding onto moldy beliefs about their unworthiness, so they’re able to experiment with what works for them. And if something doesn’t work or fit into their particular lifestyle, they let it go, because it doesn’t work for them. They don’t behave like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole and then berate themselves for being wrong and bad. Because they have their own authentic ideas of success, and their own specific roadmap and constantly developing a timeline to get to it.
And then there’s this unquestioning, unwavering prostration at the altar of “productivity.” Let’s look at that.
“Of all ridiculous things, the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy—to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard
Agreed. And Kierkegaard would know.
The relentless machine of productivity is broken. It’s taken a pandemic for us to realize that, but we’re still insistent on being cogs in a broken machine. Here too, though, productivity, like success, is not a homogenous condition. We are each unique expressions of something infinitely mysterious. Not robots.
And as unique expressions, a “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t work. We have unique and shifting constitutions, lifestyles, histories, proclivities. But we try and squish ourselves into prescriptive models of productivity and, falling flat on our faces, grab tighter onto our stinky sacks of unworthiness.
In fact, let’s take the term “productivity hack” and put it in the sack before we bury it.
Just (half) kidding.
Yes, these “hacks” work but again, when approached with a casual eye of perusing what works and doesn’t work for us in our authenticity. And that means getting to know ourselves as such—beings with ebbs and flows of energy—like the tides and the seasons.
The pursuit of constant productivity is the industrialization/suffocation not only of the planet but of the human soul.
Still with me?
What I’m getting at here is to do with developing a robust sense of curiosity about ourselves. What works for us. You might be a busy parent who now has to homeschool because: pandemic. And perhaps you have to work from home on top of that. Your current reality doesn’t support having several hours to yourself every morning to do all the things these “successful” people do. You try anyway, fail and then feel terrible because you’ll never achieve your goals.
Of course, you won’t, because you’re setting yourself up not to.
Maybe you don’t have young ones, but you just can’t seem to wake up early and start off the day being productive and full of beans.
Instead of getting down on yourself, and then looking on social media at all the shiny people, before eating a tub of ice cream to momentarily quell the stench of not being good enough…instead of doing that, do this (yes, okay, a listicle but a really good one that you’ll be able to remember easily):
1. Give yourself some compassion. In fact, engage in it as a regular practice. I highly recommend Self Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff. Before you roll your eyes like I used to at the mention of self-compassion—I mean, when I’m such a loser, I need to buck up my ideas and stop being such a big baby, right? I don’t have time to sit around wallowing in self-compassion! (Toxic, putrid self-talk, anyone?)
Self-compassion is hugely underrated and highly effective. Dr. Neff spends her life researching it. She’s even done an excellent TED talk on it.
Self-compassion is not about coddling. It’s not about self-pity or sympathy. It’s the opposite. It’s about acknowledging the huge challenges involved in being a human being on Earth, and about opening up to the countless others around the world who are experiencing their own versions of similar difficulties right now. It’s powerful; it’s deeply transformative. And it only need take a few minutes of your time.
If you have children, it’s a wonderful tool to equip them with if you want them to have genuine resilience in their lives. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that self-compassion is one of the key ingredients to creating a more sustainable reality for ourselves collectively, now that we’re at the juncture of this global pattern interrupt. Seriously, try it.
2. Become curious about what would work, what feels expansive in your body and not square peg, round hole constricting. Pay attention to the rhythms of your energy, and of those with whom you share your home. When do you have more energy? It’s not always the mornings for everyone. How do you feel when you eat certain foods? Heavy, nourished, grounded, energized? Sluggish? Check-in with yourself regularly, even just for five minutes, every hour, or couple of hours, by setting a timer on your phone.
What I mean is, become curious about what’s going on for you, emotionally, physically— without any judgment but as a witness to yourself.
Become curious about your self-talk; notice it whenever you can. What are the core beliefs at their root? Are they helpful to you? Perhaps they were once, but now they’re stinky and need to be relinquished to the compost heap. Instead of being annoyed at them and yourself for being stuck, thank them for helping you make it to this point. Helping you survive until now. And now, you’re ready to take steps toward thriving and expressing that in your own unique, deliciously imperfect way. It’s time to become curious about what would work for you.
“Make a commitment to pausing throughout the day, and do that whenever you can. Allow time for your perception to shift. Allow time for the natural energy of life as it is manifesting right now. This can bring dramatic changes in your personal life, and if you are worried about the state of the world, this is a way that you can use every moment to help shift the global climate of aggression towards peace.” ~ Pema Chödrön
So there you have it. Just two things: (self) compassion and curiosity.
In this new, emerging reality, these two practices can truly empower us if we want to shift out of surviving and into thriving. They can navigate us to the specific things that work for us. Also, they’re a helluva lot lighter and nicer smelling than the sack of decaying beliefs that we’ve been dragging around.
And the thing about thriving is that we all have unique conditions in which we thrive in. We will never live up to external, socially sanctioned ideals of success. So please, let’s not bring that particularly obsolete tendency with us as we step into this new reality. Instead, let’s feel into our own bodies, our rhythms, and curiosities to create a world for us to thrive in.