The day I stopped beating myself up ranks among the greatest days of my life. I was that guy that was quick to give others grace that I refused to extend to myself. But the day I stopped beating myself up, I started taking risks. Risk is the pathway to adventure, change, and growth. Is it dangerous at times? Maybe. But there are far more dangers to be experienced from doing nothing. The day I stopped beating myself up, I discovered that my thoughts have merit. I have something to say, something to contribute. My words and actions can influence others to speak up and speak out about issues that are important in the world. The day I stopped beating myself up is the day I discovered that others need validation, and they can find that validation and catharsis in something that I write, say, or do. The day that I stopped beating myself up, I experienced emotions that I had repressed. I allowed myself to feel, to feel joy, sorrow, pain, release and relief. And to feel them deeply.
The day I stopped beating myself up, I was free to reflect on what I was taught and what I learned. I was free to reject what wasn’t true, and to hold on to wisdom that I found, even though sometimes it was clothed in well intentioned lies. The day I stopped beating myself up, I realized it was ok not to be perfect. I found out that perfection, whether it’s morally, financially, physically or relationally, perfection doesn’t exist. I discovered that the best we can expect from this life is a duplicity. A contradiction of thought and practice, hope and reality. The day I stopped beating myself up was the day I discovered my faith is real, and not just a list of religious platitudes or systematic doctrines. But a reality and certainty that isn’t based in my subjective experience or limited knowledge, but a faith that grows, flows, and emanates for me from the person and work of Jesus Christ. I knew Him much better the day I stopped beating myself up. And I came to know myself better too.
A few months ago I invested in a kayak. I’m spending some hot summer days enjoying a new activity. Sometimes you’ve got to allow yourself to go into uncharted waters. Both literally and figuratively. My first time out with a group of other kayakers, I was the only one in the group to capsize. My pride hurt a little, but the other folks rallied around me, helped me back into my kayak and had a good laugh at my expense. I laughed with them. Because I understand that if I’m going to learn to enjoy anything new or different, I’ve got to give myself room to fail and have fun in the process. I’ve learned I can’t fail forward if I’m not willing to allow myself to have some fun.
Four years ago, I wrote this post on my facebook page: “”If you do nothing, people will accuse you of being lazy and ignorant. If you do something they will accuse you of being a self promoter, aloof and arrogant. You will be criticized either way, so embrace it and do something, say something! Be someone who makes a difference!” Criticism is the price of admission for doing anything in life. In fact, criticism should be expected if you are alive. But I’ve discovered the most challenging part of criticism isn’t necessarily what we experiencing from others outside of us, but the most difficult criticism is the kind that originates inside of us.
We can be so hard on ourselves. Especially if what we dump on ourselves is centered in legalistic and strict experiences of religion and family. I know of people who still struggle to please parents or relatives who are now dead. Yet whatever they attempt to do in life they still hear the negative voice of a parent, or the condemning voice of a pastor. All of us have experienced criticism from others in our lives, but when their voice becomes internalized and becomes our own, it can become debilitating.
But we often forget that we do have the ability to speak back to ourselves. We can counter the negative voices that we have adopted as our own. We can dismiss the voice that tells us we aren’t enough. In communication studies we refer to this kind of talk as “Intrapersonal communication” because it happens inside of us. But just as we learn new skills and improve existing ones, we can do the same thing with our self talk.
Here is a little prompt that has helped me develop better self communication skills. Its an the acronym: S.T.A.R.T.
Say It: It is helpful to counter the negative whisper in your head by literally opening your mouth and saying something out loud to yourself. Counter the negative voice with a positive affirmation about yourself and try to specifically counter the negative claim that you heard the inner critic say. Scripture memorization or positive daily affirmations can be helpful, but find some time to actually say them out loud, because by doing so you will hear yourself speaking truth about yourself and over time those truths will be internalized. Eventually what you repeat out loud will replace the negative voices that haunt your head and heart.
Think about it: What you continually repeat out loud will eventually replace and eradicate your negative thoughts. And thinking new thoughts will inspire other new thoughts that will lead you in directions you never imagined possible. Change your thoughts and your life will eventually change as well.
Act: But thoughts and words without actions will take you no where. Eventually you’ve got to get what is in your head into your hands. Taking action doesn’t have to be big audacious actions, but small acts of daily defiance against the voices of negativity are also helpful. For instance, sitting down at your computer and writing 400 words is an action that you can take in the direction of your goals. Be specific and write out a plan and then take steps to follow it. Start a new exercise regimen, or pick up a new book. Start a conversation with a new friend, or renew an old relationship. All of these are actions that you can take to put your thoughts and words into practice.
Reach: Anything that is worth it will not come easily. It will require you to stretch and to work. It will require that you get uncomfortable. It has been my experience that I grow the most when I am the most uncomfortable. It is in the difficulty that we find direction. So understand that what you desire will require that you reach beyond where you are currently. It may require that you find someone to guide you in the direction of your dreams. Maybe there is someone one or two steps in front of you, don’t be hesitant to reach out to them. Neither should you be reluctant to stretch yourself mentally by reading challenging books or trying to understand difficult concepts. The same can be said for your physical goals. I never imagined that I would be a Crossfit regular, but now a year later and I’ve made all kinds of improvements in strength and stamina. You can too, but you will have to reach for it.
Today: Don’t wait. Start today. Right now. Allow yourself to feel a new emotion. Give yourself permission to think a new thought. Stop and write one positive affirmation to speak over yourself. Repeat it. Say it out loud.
Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking this is just a bunch of “feel good mumbo jumbo” but I promise you if you’ll start implementing these into your life, you will begin to witness positive changes that will follow. In the meantime start by ceasing to beat yourself up.