Are you susceptible to bouts of self-reproach when you trail behind your self-imposed schedule of success?
Dejection is not the natural human condition; it is an adaptive response. It feels uncomfortable, while the high spirits of confidence feel good. To quest, to dream, to be inspired by a preference for the kind of movement we call personal growth are natural human inclinations.
We are born with a yearning to improve our lives. We want to control our activities well enough that our dreams become facts. If we have lost the questioning spirit, we have to wonder where our capacity to dream got injured. One major confrontation with reality, or, more likely, a series of minor skirmishes between our dreams and the apparent possibilities, can scar resilience. We get stiff, stodgy. We develop adhesions on the spirit.
It is then that life seems like a constant struggle instead of a challenge. This is an important distinction. Challenge contains purpose and gratification. Struggle is merely work. It zaps energy and gives nothing back for your effort. Knowing your purposes fuels your energies, and often inspires innovation. It invites a willingness to grow through your troubles instead of arrogantly expecting you shouldn't have to face them. It is the difference between feeling put upon and putting out.
Here's where we often go awry. We take on too much, eager for the maximum, naive about the world's natural limits and our own. We list the desired outcome and skip over the requirement of naming the steps that will accomplish it. This is a sure set up for disappointment. We soon recognized that we aren't attaining what we wanted, that we aren't changing what we wanted to change, that we haven't solved what we named as the problem.
Here's a list of questions to consider as you embark on the journey of taking it easy on yourself for not having solved the problems of the world (yet).
- What is on your list of goals or resolutions? Have you listed the desired outcome but not the steps that will take you there?
- If you have in mind to start talking again at the dinner table instead of zoning out or eating mindlessly, does that mean, as a first step, turning off the news while you eat?
- If you have in mind to lose 10 pounds, are you working on the first pound today?
- If you want to change jobs, have you learned a new skill?
- If you want to be more interesting, have your explored new environments?
- If you want to have more freedom, have you sought out new responsibilities and opportunities?
The truth of the matter is that we piece together our progress and find our gratification from specific, possible, reasonable efforts that derive from the discipline of optimism and the wisdom of being able to forgive ourselves.
It is of no advantage to succumb to guilt. It is no crime to acknowledge our faults or lapses. It is more important to see how one positive thought or act leads to another, how small steps in the right direction lead you where you want to go. Time lost leads nowhere.
The Chinese have a saying, "Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still." It point to the understanding that we cannot take on the whole world, or even the whole of our interior selves, on one great gulp of earnestness to get it right. Progress is faster if we use an even-paced approach: trim the problem, uncover the facts, work on the specifics.