Take charge of pain, critical thoughts, and social comparison.
It’s that time of year when everyone is talking about resolutions and ‘new year, new you.’ I’m jumping on board, to a degree, but my suggestions aren’t for how you can become a new and improved version of someone you think you ought to be. My suggestions are for how to just be your best you—the you are already are, perfectly equipped to live your best life, in January and beyond.
1. Make space for discomfort.
Life is hard. That’s just the deal. And the more you pursue the things that matter to you, the more discomfort you’re likely to feel. Think about it this way: how often do you bite your fingernails because you are fretting about the rumors that Days of Our Lives might go off the air? I’ve watched DOOL since I was 3, but I’m not losing sleep over whether John and Marlena will remain on my television for the next 40 years. Why? Because while I may enjoy the guilty pleasure of watching a ridiculous soap opera, I don’t actually care about it. What I do care about are my family, friends, and career. So the more I seek deeper connection in relationships, the more I fear rejection because I care about having meaningful bonds with other humans. The more I put myself out in the world creatively and professionally, the more anxiety I experience because I want to succeed. Doing what matters in your heart = greater feelings of vulnerability, which is uncomfortable for most people. Avoiding the discomfort of vulnerability = restricting your life. Check your own experience and connect with how this is true for you. What does discomfort tell you about what matters to you? What do you miss out on when you avoid it? Learning to expand around and allow discomfort is a powerful step toward having a mighty life.
2. Change your relationship to thoughts.
In the same way doing what matters comes with greater discomfort, it also comes with a louder inner critic saying, “what if…”, “maybe you shouldn’t…”, “they might not like/approve…”
We all have an “I’m not good enough” story roaming around in our bully brains. Those thoughts are meant to keep us on our toes and protect us from failure or social rejection. Sometimes listening to thoughts moves us forward with a mighty life. For example, if my mind says you better prepare for that lecture so it goes well, listening to the inner voice may make it more likely that I give a good talk. But listening to a thought that says you shouldn’t bother giving that lecture because everyone will think you’re boring and incompetent will likely mean I avoid doing something that happens to be very important to me. Sometimes trying to change thoughts can be helpful (e.g., reviewing the evidence that most of my talks receive positive feedback), but the inner critic always finds something to latch on to—remember, it’s just doing its job, trying to be helpful. What does your inner critic say to you and how does this get in your way? Consider an alternative response and try changing your relationship to the thoughts. Instead of getting hooked by them and listening as if they are Truths (with a capital T), you can observe them from a distance (like reading thought bubbles above a comic book character), recognize how the thoughts are trying to help (even if they’re doing a poor job), and choose to act in ways that represent the true Me you want to be. Try this: say to yourself I can’t possibly clap my hands and now clap your hands. You can think one way and choose to act another—an especially important ability when your mind is trying to steer you away from things that matter to you. Changing your relationship to critical thoughts will create more flexibility to choose mighty actions—those in line with the Me you want to be.
3. Find your tribe.
How often do you compare yourself to others? Social media has a way of convincing us that everyone else is leading perfect lives while we struggle. And when we get caught up in these comparisons, we feel it, it’s painful. And why is that? Evolutionarily, early humans didn’t have fangs or claws to help them survive—they had each other. Those who hunted, gathered, and traveled together had a survival advantage. This hasn’t changed in 200,000 years. We humans are social creatures who need each other. Modern social comparison is a way we check our standing in our groups to ensure we still belong. Next time social comparisons leave you feeling less than, make space for the discomfort, change your relationship to the thoughts (observe them from a distance and notice they are trying to protect you from social exclusion), and use this as a reminder of the importance of social connection. Solo cave people were dead cave people. Research has shown over and over the importance of quality relationships. They are one of the greatest predictors of physical and emotional health and well being1. When humans experience stress, they release oxytocin—the bonding hormone that motivates us to seek support from others.2 So find your tribe, reach out, and make mighty connections.
Waldinger, R. 2015. “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness.” Filmed November 2015 in Brookline, MA. TED video, 12:48. https://www.ted.com/talks /robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the _longest_study_on_happiness?language=en
McGonigal, K. 2013. “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” Filmed June 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland. TED video, 13:21. https://www.ted.com/talks/elly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend /transcript