Ever notice the everyday tyranny of Not Enoughness? It goes something like this: “I’m not enough. You’re not enough. Life is not enough.” Such a mindset can inevitably lead us to feel hopelessly STUCK coupled with feelings of frustration, impatience, disappointment, sadness, and at times, even resignation.
In stuckness, we may be asking ourselves, “How in the hell did I get here?”, but more importantly, “What’s the way out and how much longer will it take?” Eager to find comfort again, we may be desperately searching for workable solutions or urgently seeking ways to change ourselves, change others, or change our situation. Perhaps, we fall back on old, unhealthy habits to cope or often catch ourselves venting to others over and over again, yet notice it does little to provide the lasting relief we need. Perhaps even, we’re ready to walk away because nothing seems to work. We’re still stuck and we’re still suffering.
From one humbled by the vexing habit of longing for “something more” and frequently feeling stuck, I can assure you there is another way. Below are five empowering steps to experiencing more freedom and flow in your life.
How many of us live every single day with nagging self-criticism? For those of us that can say yes to that question, it’s a nasty secret to carry around, smiling on the outside but beneath the surface, there is a near constant sense of dissatisfaction. “If only” this had happened, “I should have” known better, “what’s wrong with me”, “of course” that happened.
I know from where I sit, self-criticism works at deflating my motivation, I get discouraged. On the other hand, If I try and use that criticism as motivation, as in “get it together”, any progress comes with a sense of irritation rather than reward. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation, but what can be done about it? It’s so automatic, and the thoughts are in my voice, coming from me, right?
Are you familiar with the T.V. show “The Big Bang Theory”? The show is in its 10th season and nationally syndicated, so it seemed like a reasonably good reference point. If you are familiar with the show, you are likely well acquainted with the character Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon routinely offers his thoughts and evaluations, mostly unsolicited, as if they are fact. As viewers, we are “in” on this gag that Sheldon has a blind-spot when it comes to empathizing, and that his comments aren’t necessarily true or helpful. The fact that Sheldon is “off” is much of what makes the show work.
Are you plagued with negative thoughts that keep coming back no matter what you do to try to stop having them? Do you avoid things, places, or situations that tend to trigger those thoughts? Do you try distracting yourself from them by watching TV, staying busy, drinking? Do you try to tell yourself the opposite to counteract or cancel out the negative thought? Have you noticed that whatever strategy you’ve been using hasn’t really worked in the long run?
A few months ago, I had a heart attack. I’m 42 and in relatively good health. And I meditate! This isn’t supposed to happen to people like me. Well, it did and I’m learning how to be with that fact day by day. Statistically speaking, I will have another heart attack sometime in the next 5 years. Now I have that thought in my head . . . Every. Day.
Rise and shine, campers!
That’s right, wood-chuck chuckers- it’s Groundhog Day… Wait, again?!
Have you ever had one of those days (or weeks!) where you feel stuck on a life-size hamster wheel- where one day flows into the next and nothing new or exciting is happening? Maybe you aren’t feeling engaged at work anymore… Maybe those New Year’s goals you set just haven’t been easy enough to get started on… Maybe, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, you’ve lost track of time and found yourself going through the motions day-in and day-out.
Whatever the wheel you might find yourself stuck on, there’s a good chance that someone else has been there too. It’s a part of being human.
So what do we do about it?
Human suffering happens under two main conditions: when things are bad, and when things might be bad. The first condition is straightforward. The second, not so much. We suffer even when the possible catastrophe is only a possibility! Not only when we get dumped, but when we think we might get dumped. Not only when our parent dies, but when we think about this inevitable loss. How did we get this way?
Imagine there are two hominids out on the savanna, and in the distance they see a vague shape they cannot quite make out. The first hominid thinks it may be a blueberry bush. The second hominid says, “Wait, it could be a bear.” The first hominid ignores the warning and runs over to the shape, while the second heads back to the cave. Sure enough, the first guy was right! It was a blueberry bush and he returned to the cave blissful and purple faced. The second guy goes to sleep disappointed and hungry. This scenario plays out several more times, until one day, the first guy doesn’t return to the cave. That day the vague shape turned out to be a bear. So the second hominid learns it’s better to miss lunch than to be lunch.
Over time natural selection has passed along the cautious hominid’s genes, who learned that what’s bad is bad, and what is ambiguous is also bad, and anything bad ought to be avoided. Today we’re not so much worried about bears, but our brains are wired to avoid any kind of pain. So emotional pain is treated the same way. And not only emotional pain, but the possibility of emotional pain. The college student who worries about rejection so he stays in his dorm to avoid not fitting in. The neglected wife who stays in a loveless marriage because she is afraid of being lonely.
Are things really as certain as we would like them to be? If you stacked up all the things you were certain about and put them up against all the things you were uncertain about, which pile would be taller? And if each pile represented the scope of your vitality, which would you prefer to live in? But it turns out, many of us prefer the limited scope. Even if the abundant life is rife with possibilities for adventure, passion, and love, many will give that up for some good old certainty. Living in those predictable walls keeps the threat of danger at bay, but it can end up being a prison of our own making.
Kelly Wilson, in his book Mindfulness for Two, states, “Most of the things in life we truly care about are very ambiguous, and if we can’t tolerate ambiguity, we are doomed to act in the service of its elimination.” So what’s the alternative? What if we learned to love ambiguity? To open up to it and appreciate it. To see what it has to offer that certainty does not. What more might you experience if you weren’t consumed with efforts to escape the unknown?
Written by Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
In many ways our culture is repressed and fearful. Pain is viewed as something to be avoided at all costs. Some of those costs actually include inducing further pain in attempts to escape an imagined pain. And most of the pain we actually experience is of the imaginary kind.
For example, a woman stays home from attending a party because she is afraid that her ex-boyfriend will be there and she imagines that that would be too embarrassing and awkward to bear. So she ends up saying NO to her imagined pain, and stays home only to incur a whole night of turning possible embarrassing scenarios over and over in her head and obsessively checking her ex’s Facebook timeline for possible updates, which can only make things worse. Feeling isolated and pathetic, she neglects her friends and deprives herself of meeting new people.
The result of avoiding pain in this case seems to lead to even more pain and missed opportunities. So what happens if she were to go to the party and he actually is there? Might it be embarrassing and awkward? Perhaps. But at least now she’s experiencing feelings that are directly related to the event itself, rather than her thoughts about an event that hasn’t happened. In other words, life. When we say no to life, we create additional layers of pain and it can be hard to tell what is real or imagined.
Mindfulness puts us in touch with life as it exists in the present moment. Does that include embarrassment? Oh, yes. But do we have to avoid it? Sometimes this is ok, when it doesn’t incur further pain or doesn’t stop you from living your life. But when avoiding pain, real or imaginary, creates more pain, why would you? Instead, say YES to pain.
Let me explain. What I mean by saying YES, is not the same as agreeing with, approving of, or wanting it. I’m not saying you should convince yourself through positive thinking that pain is preferable; “Mmm . . . I love pain!”--that’s silly. It’s a way of opening up to what is already there, a way of making peace with the present moment. A sober and objective acknowledgement of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise into the moment and pass in their own time. It’s an allowing of what’s there to be there, without adding judgment, aversion, or resistance to the equation.
Try this. Say no to yourself, either out loud or in your head, for 30 seconds. Take note of what you are feeling in your body. Now say yes for 30 seconds. What is that like? Are you not more open, relaxed, accepting, energized? Now think of the kinds of things you often say no to. See what it’s like to say yes to that. And when you feel the natural force of your learning history shouting, “NOOOO!” say yes to that. Say yes to your history, yes to your love handles, yes to rush hour traffic, yes to your late fees, yes to anxiety, yes to cancer, yes to rejection, yes to confusion and uncertainty, yes to your life.
Say yes, because saying no is to suffer unnecessarily.
Written by Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
At the Austin Mindfulness Center, we use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), in which values clarification is a key component. One of the main goals of ACT is to help clients live the life they want, which involves acting in a way that is consistent with their values. However, many people struggle with clarifying their values on their own, often mixing up values and goals.
There are many ways to define values, but the definition we will discuss here is one that is specific to the ACT approach.
· In technical terms, values are “desired global qualities of ongoing action.” What that means is that they are the ways (qualities) in which you want to (desired) interact with the world, other people, and yourself (global), and there is no end to this pursuit (ongoing), meaning, we can always turn in the direction of our values.
· Values are like a compass, guiding us in making decisions as well as acting effectively and intentionally. We may not always follow the direction they are pointing us in, so values are best held lightly.
· Values are freely chosen by you and do not need to be justified. Everyone decides what is important to them, so values will look different for every person. Your values may not be the same as others values. Sometimes we decide on our values based on our family’s values, and other times, our values look different than our family’s values.
· Values often change over time, depending on where we are in life. As values change, we want to step back and re-prioritize. What is most important to you RIGHT NOW, in this moment? Are you acting in accordance with your values in your life TODAY?
· Values are not the same as goals. Values are HOW you want to act or behave on an ongoing basis, qualities that are available at any moment, and what is important to you in the present moment. Goals are future-oriented, an end product, something you want to achieve. An example of a goal is wanting a college degree, whereas the value behind that goal may be a thirst for knowledge or learning new things.
· Examples of values may include: being loving and caring, being open and honest, maintaining health, openness to change, justice and equality, tradition, etc.
When you are living by your values, you may feel like your life has purpose or meaning. You may feel like you have a strong sense of who you are and that you are truly living the life you want to live. If you are not living by your values, you may feel a sense of discord, struggle with acting in your own best interest, avoid painful emotions, and become fused with judgmental thoughts.
One way to start exploring your values is to do a values card sort activity, which can be found here. It’s often helpful to do this activity alone at first and then also do this activity with your family. Which values are family values? Which values differ from your family’s values? Are you acting in accordance with your values? Were you surprised by anything during this activity? By exploring what is important to you, you can start to take action guided by those values and live the life you want.
Written by Jondell Lafont, LPC-Intern
About Our Blog
Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.