I’m sure we’re all familiar with the negative self-talk and harsh criticisms we subject ourselves to on a daily basis:
“I’m such a disappointment. All I do is make mistakes!”
“If I’m not strong enough to handle this now, will I ever be able to?”
“My journey appears different from X’s journey, therefore I must be doing something horribly wrong.”
“I’m a failure.”
“I don’t deserve X because I did Y. And given that I did Y, I need to punish myself.”
These are just a few of the negative comments I find littered throughout my mental space. On not-so-good days, these negative comments are the only soundtrack playing in my mind. The constant hum of “I’m not good enough and never will be good enough,” “I’m a failure,” “I’m broken,” and “I’m just another disappointment” can be both physically and mentally draining, not to mention incredibly discouraging, harmful, and self-defeating. Taking this a step further, we must ask ourselves what we do with this negative soundtrack: Do we adhere to its sound, believing it to be all-truth? Or, do we choose to explore with curiosity the possibility that there’s another soundtrack we aren’t able to hear because the primary negative soundtrack is so loud and so distracting?
In asking ourselves these important, intuition-seeking questions, we are better capable of creating a more positive, life-affirming soundtrack in our minds. Is it easy? Heck no. Is it possible? Yes, yes it is. However, before we get into the nitty-gritty details about creating that positive soundtrack, let’s take a minute to observe where, what, and how that negative soundtrack came about.
When we make a mistake, when we miss a deadline, when we don’t acheive a goal, or when we let someone we love down, we often write it off as flaws in our own character makeup. We assume that we made this error due to something wrong with our selves (which is seemingly easier to accept than the idea that there isn’t something wrong with us–odd how that works, isnt it?), ultimately leading to a shame-cycle fueled by self-loathing and self-blame. This is where the negative soundtrack starts to play, ultimately repeating itself over and over and over again, until it becomes our (distorted) truth. This soundtrack gives us a reason as to why we made the mistake–I’m a failure, I’m not good enough, I’m a disappointment–therefore serving as a logical explanation as to why we committed said blunder. It makes sense, right?
Wrong. It doesn’t make sense, when we look deeper into this matter. There are many more factors that we seem to disregard when it comes to stumbling in our own life’s journey, because more often than not, it’s easier to accept blame, shame, and judgment toward ourselves than casting it on others. Each and every day, we face countless endeavors of unavoidable stress, temptation, judgment, difficult decisions, hectic schedules, mental and physical exhaustion, and limiting beliefs we hold about ourselves. It’s easy to write-off each and every stumble as a mistake, a failure, a disappointment, or a meager character flaw. The reality is, the stumble can be part of the dance of our lives. The negative soundtrack may be playing, but who’s to dictate how we dance to that beat? Even better, who’s to dictate that we aren’t capable of creating a more positive, life-affirming soundtrack to dance to?
So, how do we go about creating that positive soundtrack? The first step is accepting that we will stumble at times throughout our life’s journey. We won’t be perfect (where’s the fun in that, anyway?). We may not look like the Instagram fitness model we revere, the celebrity we worship, or even our life-long best friend. We may not immediately reap the benefits we anticipated when trying to incorporate healthier habits into our daily lives. We may not get the A we worked for in the difficult college course we enrolled in this semester. We may slip up in taking care of ourselves and experience a relapse of depression, anxiety, or disordered eating. We may experience heartbreak, having our hopes stomped on, having to delay our dreams and aspirations, and our motivation may waver. These are all normal–yet unpleasant and uncomfortable–stumbles. How we relate to and judge these stumbles is what sets off either a negative soundtrack or a positive soundtrack. By accepting that these stumbles can (and inevitably will) be part of our life’s journey, we are better able to acknowledge a stumble as part of our dance rather than defining it as a mistake and casting blame, shame, criticism, and disappointment on ourselves and our personal journeys.
Taking ownership of our stumbles shouldn’t be done in shame, guilt, fear, with critical self-judgment, or with the thought that we are “weak.” Taking ownership of our stumbles can be enlightening, empowering, and courageous. Everyone stumbles–it’s a natural part of human existence, as I stated in the above paragraph. My stumble may appear different from your stumble, and your stumble may appear different from your best friend’s stumble; however, the common denominator is this: We all stumble. And that is okay, normal, realistic, and to be expected as we embark on our own personal life’s journey.
It’s up to each of us to define our stumble and to determine which soundtrack we will choose to incorporate that stumble into. While the negative soundtrack may be easier to succumb to–assuming that the stumble is merely a mistake or a flaw in our character–it’s more difficult to keep up with a rhythmic dance beat when you’re feeling physically and mentally drained from constant negative self-talk and negative thought patterns. Creating a more positive soundtrack will take effort, patience, and a great deal of self-compassion, but by placing trust in the fact that our stumble can become part of our life’s dance, we are better able to keep a steady, strong dance beat to work with.