I worked on my last blog post, “Choosing Community” for a couple of weeks — drafting, re-drafting, revising, and deleting. It was late Sunday morning, and finally satisfied with what I had written, I decided to publish. During the last hour or so of wordsmithing and fine-tuning, I had noticed a message in the upper right hand corner of my drafting screen; it was in a red font that probably even used the word ‘warning’. I think it said something to the effect that my ‘latest changes hadn’t been saved’. I shrugged it off and clicked the ‘publish’ button. Hm. Nothing happened. Ok, I thought, I guess I’ll refresh the screen, then the ‘publish’ button will surely work.
My latest changes had really not been saved. (Imagine that!) The last hour or two of work was lost. “I feel sick!” I said out loud. “Why didn’t I copy and paste to Word before I tried to refresh the screen? How am I going to recreate what I had? Why can’t I just slow down once in a while?”
I’ve had many of these kinds of moments in my fifty-two years of life.
Why didn’t I just look in the rearview mirror before I backed out of the garage into the car that was parked behind me?
Why didn’t I let the housecleaning wait while I took a short nap?
Why did I use that tone when I spoke to that child?
Why did I drive in that snowstorm?
How did I miss that? What was I thinking? What is wrong with me?
Sometimes late at night, like tonight, I lie down to try to sleep, and as I close my eyes, I see a replay of all the missteps and poor choices I have made in my life. It’s like watching a blooper reel, only I’m not laughing.
Instead, I’m fretting. My heart rate is increasing. I’m finding it hard to breathe.
If only I had _____________, then ___________________.
Over and over and over again.
Why do I punish myself so? Where did I get the idea that I would never make mistakes–that I would be a perfect daughter, friend, mother, wife, employee? Who told me that every mistake I make would have dire and irrevocable consequences for me and all the people in my life? I know who — me, that’s who.
I let everything weigh too. darn. much. I’m still kicking myself for a frustrated comment I made to one of my kids around 2001. Seriously.
As my therapist says, my expectations of myself are so high, not even I can see them.
So tonight, on the eve of my fifty-second birthday, I am deciding it’s time for a change. This old dog is about to learn a new trick.
Today and yesterday, as I was driving to and from work, appointments, and errands, I was listening to an episode of the podcast Invisibilia, called “Emotions” (if you’d like to listen to it click here). The episode discusses a different way to look at emotions (most of which was over my head but some of which was quite healing and liberating). One liberating part was the idea that emotions are learned and so can be re-learned or re-directed. The podcast, which cites the research of a professor at Northeastern University, in no way implies that emotions should be stifled or disregarded. (I’ve tried that strategy, thankyouverymuch.) Instead, it suggests that we often experience emotions in light of constructs that we have been taught or have believed about ourselves or about the world. For instance, I have, for whatever reason, long held the unspoken belief that I have to be right, even perfect — getting it wrong is unacceptable. This simple subliminal construct — ‘I need to be right’ — has shaped the way I have experienced failure. If I miss an item on a test, let down a friend, or break a glass while doing dishes (which I do about once a week), I have failed. Imagine all the mistakes an average human makes in any given day and you will have a rough estimate of how many times a day I consciously or unconsciously give myself the message that I am unacceptable.
Yeah. It’s pretty toxic.
Now imagine if I shifted my thinking to be based on the construct that ‘All of life is a series of missteps that provide opportunities for growth.’ If I lived my life based on this construct, I would expect myself to make several mistakes during the day, and rather than judging or belittling myself, I would instead search around each ‘oops’ for the growth or learning opportunity. I would make no fewer or no more mistakes, I would just have a different emotional experience. Instead of viewing a torturous blooper reel when I close my eyes, I might drift off to sleep watching a highlight tape.
Sound too Pollyanna-ish? I don’t think so. I think it sounds life-changing.
Get this — on Sunday, after I took a few minutes to accept the fact that my ‘final draft’ was evaporated, I sat back down and finished my blog post for the second time. It didn’t turn out the same as the lost version. As a matter of fact, as I was rewriting, I was still processing my thoughts about community, and I wrote myself to some different ideas than I had in the previous version. My mistake allowed me an opportunity to think a bit further about my experiences in community. My ideas had more time to flesh out before I finally hit ‘publish’.
Before I had even listened to the podcast, I had been provided an example of the concept that it was presenting.
Yesterday morning, a friend and I had a quick exchange of text messages which ended with her saying, “I don’t believe in coincidence,” and me responding, “Neither do I.”
This morning my first errand was to drive to a hair appointment before work. In autopilot, I took the exit that I typically take to work which was not in the direction of the hair salon. The exit ramp landed me in the middle of a traffic jam. I was at a juncture — I could belittle myself for not paying attention, or I could lean back in my seat and soak up the podcast. (Yes, I was at that very moment listening to the podcast about shifting mental constructs to allow for different emotional experiences.) The funny thing is, I knew it was a juncture. I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Ok, I guess we’re gonna go this way today.”
It’s a small step toward a huge change. I am not expecting that I will notice each and every juncture like this. Because mental constructs reside deep beneath the consciousness, they have the power to shape our experience in very subtle ways. I’m going to miss some opportunities; I’m going to make some mistakes.
Nevertheless, I am hoping over time to shift from self-deprecation to tender grace. It’s gonna take some time, but I do believe this old dog can learn this new trick.
“be transformed by the renewing of your mind”