How to Check Yourself (Without Wrecking Yourself)
Using harsh self-criticism and trying to wrestle your "inner bitch" is the dark side of motivation, because it comes from a place of self-loathing and not feeling like you're enough. Even if you accomplish what you set out for, you'll immediately go and chase after the next accolade.
On the flip side, "self love" and "accepting yourself as you are" can be an excuse to not take responsibility for your outcomes and become less engaged with your life. The self-justification becomes a trap that keeps you resenting your mediocre life.
The middle path is Compassionate Discipline, where you non-judgementally acknowledge your shortcomings, and adjust accordingly. You are compassionately accept who you are in the present, and exercise discipline to move more into alignment with your potential.
The shift includes moving from a paradigm of outcome focus to process focus, taking one step at a time instead of trying to leap to the finish line.
Use an ongoing reflection journal to practice Compassionate Discipline and keep you on track (exercise at the end of the article)
My meditation practice had failed me, it seemed.
I sat there, blinking like a dumbfounded Barbie at the realization that another day's worth of intentions disappeared in a cascade of unconscious compulsions, from text messages and memes, to snacks and scrolling. Not once did my practice of presence kick in to catch me frittering away the hours on unintentional bullshit, and I retroactively realized in horror that the precious, limited sands of time once again slipped through my fingers, never to be grasped again.
WHAT THE HELL, MAN?!
I was not happy with myself; this had happened so many times before - I wake up full of piss and vinegar, ready to take on the day, only to knock my train of thought off track with every possible distraction known to man. Before I know it, I'm slumped on my bed, a double-chinned Jabba the Hut revelling in the dopamine hits of likes and comments, smirking and snorting at the mild amusement wrung out of dog photos with silly captions.
What happened to the book I was going to write?
What happened to the website I was going to put together?
What about the online course I wanted to create?
What about the stretching and mobility I was going to do to help my weightlifting?
What about the books I was going to read?
What about calling my poor freaking mother who hasn't hear from me in weeks and probably thinks I'm dead in a ditch somewhere, probably from getting hit by a car while I'm too busy looking at my phone to check for traffic?!
There was only one explanation:
I was a stupid piece of shit.
No other possible rationale entered my mind- I was unequivocally worthless, and would never amount to anything. But see, I didn't want to feel like that, so I started punishing myself with a dictatorship-like regime to whip myself into shape. The more I felt like I was falling short of my Herculean expectations, the more I would beat myself up with harsh inner dialogue.
Tipping my hat to Joe Rogan, I dismissed every uncomfortable cry of protest within my self as my "inner bitch", and would spend days wrangling myself to the ground, willing my mind into submission.
This is the dark side of motivation - the self-flogging, vindictive, vengeful, angry internal criticism that needs to prove something. It's chasing the carrot of never feeling like you're enough, always reaching for the next accomplishment or practice of self-domination to finally feel like you're worthy of self-approval. Maybe it's revenge that you're seeking, trying to prove others wrong, trying to get jacked so that your ex will lose their minds over how big a mistake they made for breaking up with you. Maybe you are looking for acknowledgement that you never got when you were younger, seeking out the admiration and validation of everyone and anyone who will fawn over your accolades.
The feelings that drive this "dark side" are guilt, shame, unworthiness, hatred, indignation, loneliness, and all matter of lower-vibration emotions. The power that stirs you into action is the desire to escape from these emotions - instead running towards a future of aligned expression, the motivation is to run away from the unpleasant emotions.
This can be an incredible force that inspires a massive amount of productivity- but the issue is, you'll always be measuring yourself in relationship to a feeling of "not-enoughness", and a fear of proximity to your own inadequacy will begin to poison your mind. You will always need a source of external validation to make you feed valid, and if you happen to be sitting alone in a room without access to that extrinsic cue of worthiness, your thoughts will be a miserable place to inhabit.
This is how you wreck yourself by checking yourself.
On the other hand...
The other extreme of this polarity is using self-love as a method of excusing yourself from being involved in your own life. Why bother improving your situation if you accept yourself just as you are? You know you're enough, you know that your vibration is high, you know that happiness comes from within - what's the point of working on anything if we're trying to be super ZEN and just accepting what is, man?
Responsibility is the only freedom that we can have - if we constantly self-justify our shortcomings, shunt working hard and being uncomfortable because it's "not aligned with our highest joy", or excuse ourselves from bailing out on our plans to be disciplined, then we will never claim true sovereignty over the results that we achieve in our lives.
In this paradigm, personal accountability dies to whatever story you can weave to justify our decisions to avoid change and discomfort. "I'd quit smoking, but I'm already dealing with a lot of other stressors in my life right now and don't want to be overwhelmed"; "I want to diet and lose weight to feel healthier in my body, but I don't want to feel deprived or fall into negative obsessive patterns with my eating"; "I want to start working on my passion projects more, but I feel so exhausted after work, all I want to do is unwind and watch TV- I deserve to do that!"
Rather than dealing with the dissatisfaction you have with your own situation by working to change it, you work really hard to create a narrative about why it's okay to exist in this mediocre state. You don't reach higher towards your potential - you pull your stories down to the lower levels of your circumstances. This self-justification can become habitual, and you slowly but surely slink towards a downward trend, further and further away from the person you really want to be.
But you love yourself unconditionally, so that's not a problem, right?
In this case, you do need to check yourself before you wreck yourself.
The Middle Path: Compassionate Discipline
One of the reasons I advocate so strongly for meditation or mindful practices is that they cultivate the capacity to dispassionately observe situations without emotional attachments. Deepening your relationship to the present moment helps you to view things as they are- not better or worse than they are. It can dispel the stories that you tell to protect your ego, and help you focus on the clear reality of the situation.
With that objective presence of mind, when you mess up, it doesn't cascade into a story about the failure of your character, or won't turn into rational acrobatics to spin some form of self-justification; it is simply a mistake, and you can view it as such. You can clearly define the action, the events leading up to the action, and the consequences of the action without a story attached to any of it.
This can make prevent "taking responsibility for your life" turning into becoming a drill sergeant and beating yourself up every time you fall short of your own expectations. It can help you set clear expectations for progressive steps towards becoming a more aligned version of yourself (instead of expecting yourself to leapfrog immediately to the endpoint). It can help you objectively look at your personal psychological quirks and work with them instead of working against them (or using them as an excuse to abandon effort to change entirely).
Practice compassion for your humanity, accept that you are where you are, without judgement, and get a clear, honest perspective of who you are as a person, and the circumstances you're working with. Perform an emotionally detached assessment of your compulsions, strengths, weaknesses, desires, and insecurities that will come to the light of consciousness in response to your efforts to change your life.
Enforce the discipline required to not fall victim to your own self justification and other ego-protective mechanisms. You not only use discipline to do the actual work, but also exercise it when choosing compassion and objectivity over the impulse to beat yourself up. Discipline is the practice of acting from intention and consciousness over reactivity and impulse.
Develop the wisdom to discern between the times that you need to muscle your way through a task and flex your will power muscles, versus when it's better to build systems to manage your unconscious mind more efficiently. Sometimes it takes raw, hard work, other times, your environment, work systems, or social surroundings are inefficient, or creating too much feedback that's working against you. Getting derailed isn't always about internal happenings - you are one with your external surroundings, so be aware of what's happening there as well.
If extreme self-criticism, outcome-orientation, and trying to dominate yourself every day is the "dark side" of motivation, then committing to a process of self discovery, building habits around the best and worst aspects of your character, and getting excited about daily progress and problem-solving is the "light side".
This is the path of Compassionate Discipline - a middle ground between the polarities of self-flagellation and self-justified laziness.
Check Yourself Without Wrecking Yourself
One of the easiest practices to cultivate compassionate discipline is an ongoing self-reflection journal. Every night, experiment with answering each of the following questions:
What change do I want to bring into my life?
Why do I want that change? How will it enrich life for myself and others?
What's the ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING I intended to do today to create that change?
Did I actually do it? If not, what did I do instead (what did I get distracted by)?
What can I do differently, or how can I set up my environment differently so that I can do even better tomorrow?
Looking at the above answers, where can I be more compassionate, and where can I be more disciplined?
This takes all of 8-12 minutes, and can inspire monumental amounts of self awareness. It will show you blind spots of where you're being too hard, or too easy on yourself, help you identify what you really want, and how you can make little steps towards it.
Oftentimes we expect change to happen all at once, to immediately become a new person just because we decide we want to be. We forget that we are working against changing years of conditioning, personal programming, habits, beliefs, and emotional attachments; because of this, we can't skyrocket to the finish line, we have to commit to the journey one step at a time.
We might make some progress and come up against an emotional block, we might have a trigger in our environment that stresses us to the point of falling back into old patterns, circumstances outside of our control might derail our efforts. If we are only focused on the outcome we want and not the process to get there, then we will constantly be let down by how far we feel we are from where we want to be. If we can instead appreciate every step on the journey, celebrating each small victory, using each stumbling block as an opportunity to deepen self awareness, and exercise Compassionate Discipline, not only will the process feel easier and more enjoyable, but we'll probably get to our destination faster, too.
Want to learn more about how to practice and apply compassionate discipline in your life?
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