In dealing with the stresses and pressures of life many of us respond by being tougher on ourselves. Whether that means working harder, or beating ourselves up if things don’t work out the way we need them to, our own self-policing is a source of immense stress. In this little write-up I champion the power of gentleness as a way forward.
We have an awful tendency to set ourselves up for disappointment in life. Particularly with the rise of social and popular media, we are exposed to an unfathomable amount of impressions every day. From celebrities to former classmates and friends – sometimes it can feel like everyone is living life better than you are. And thinking you’re not doing enough is… stressful.
We use these impressions to compare our own achievements with those we see around us. And comparison truly is the thief of joy. Success and failure are two tenets of society that tend to pit ourselves against one another, causing incredible stress. We seek constant progression, we want to be ‘successful’ as quickly and as visibly as possible. But reality is very different. We rarely see the struggle, failures and adversities that had to be overcome in achieving something ‘successful’. So set realistic expectations – things might go wrong, but that’s okay. View missteps as opportunities for growth.
What if we reframed the notion of success as progression? Suddenly, many aspects of our lives could be considered successful. Maybe you’ve managed to start eating a little healthier, or you’ve started a new class, or begun painting. These small steps in your journey of growth is meaningful, even if it might only seem minor at this stage.
We all have different paths in life, and different forces that drive our decision making. By understanding that our circumstances differ, and that growth manifests in different ways, you can begin to actively manage the expectations you have of yourself. Success as progression will manifest as the result of many small efforts coming together. So avoid the stress. Be patient, focus on your little victories, and keep going.
What if we reframed the notion of success as progression?
Coming to terms with who you are at the moment
Progress isn’t linear. It manifests for each of us in different ways, and in different areas of our lives.
It’s important to be reminded to keep balanced when things don’t progress at the pace (or the way) you planned and hoped it would.
Someone who is struggling with their career might have a loving partner and family, someone who is struggling with family issues might have good friends and good health. In one way or another, something is progressing in our lives. Perhaps you feel your life is an utter mess on all fronts, but if you’re reading this, you’re already taking steps towards improving your situation. It means that you possess the courage and self-awareness to begin a journey of healing. And that is absolutely invaluable.
Giving in to the pressure of becoming someone you feel you need to be, or someone others want you to be, is a losing game. In this game, you will only ever be chasing an idealised image of yourself, someone who exists only in your mind. In reality, life will get in the way. Plans will derail, people will get sick, have accidents, or simply be out of luck. Acknowledging that life is a bumpy and unpredictable ride will give you the peace of mind to accept that what you are doing and who you are in this present moment is good enough.
The best lessons are the toughest to learn
Having goals and chasing ambitions are absolutely necessary, sure, but considering them instead as guiding principles in your life rather than absolute ‘musts’ to be achieved will make your life a whole lot easier, and less stressful. Instead of beating yourself up about not achieving something at a certain age, or failing to see something through, look at the situation with a gentle distance. Perhaps you’ll find that there were important lessons to learn from those ‘failures’. What we do and what we prioritise is highly personal – guided by our internal compasses of desires and interests. Reflecting on why you might have performed badly at your job, or why you left a relationship, or why you failed a class can offer an understanding into that internal compass. Maybe you’ll find that you wish to change careers, or that your relationship was toxic, or that you have talents better suited outside of an academic environment.
Look back at your ‘missteps’, ‘failures’ and moments of slow growth with a gentle heart. Usually, there was a reason for why things unfolded the way they did, or why you reacted to a situation the way you did. Ask yourself why it means so much to you. There are lessons to be learned here. Remind yourself that being human is to be flawed. To be human is to be in a constant state of growth and learning. And sometimes, the best lessons are the toughest to learn.
Embracing the present
Try not to stress about the past or the future. The only time that exists is now. The eternal, present moment. It is the only time you have available to engage with in a productive manner. The past you cannot change, and the future you cannot predict. Instead of being caught in the failures or weight of your past, or being consumed with the what ifs of the future, use the present to reflect on what it is that drives you.
If the past is haunting you, take steps towards addressing the issues that keep you anchored to it. Make plans to speak with someone about the things that are bothering you. Write down what you feel, and let go of remorse and guilt. Because whatever happened in the past is unchangeable. Embrace that quality about it, and remind yourself that whatever happened in the past has its place exactly there – in the past.
If the future worries you (something I believe we can all relate to on some level), then there are certain things you can do in your present to both prepare and let go of what might or might not happen. Rather than worrying about what you need to achieve (cumulatively) to achieve something big or complete something big (like a project or getting into a University or finding that job), focus on the smaller things you can do right this moment.
Break up your goals into bite-sized tasks and spend your present achieving small victories. Want to get into University, but have been faced with numerous rejections? Take up an extra subject to improve your grades, or talk to a school counsellor/career coach about the small steps you can take to get you closer to your goal. Feeling like you’re lost and not achieving much? Pick one thing that is important to you and make a small goal to aim for. Lets say you want to get healthier: begin taking walks in the morning. First begin with one walk a week, then two, then three. Big things happen off the back of small, consistent changes.
Embrace the power of the present, and know that whichever decisions you make right this moment, however small, will have an impact on your life.
Believing in the kindness of others
«Ask and you shall receive»
Of course, its easy to read all of these advice columns and self-help books. Actually making a change in how you view yourself and how you go through life is a whole different beast to tackle. When life is filled with uncertainty and clarity is difficult to find, you can tap into an invaluable resource: the people around you.
Someone once told me that the most important skill you’ll ever learn is the skill to ask. It is something so simple, yet so powerful, and has the potential to unlock opportunities. Fear of opening up, exposing yourself or your situation is the biggest obstacle here. I want you to consider for a moment the potential payoff if you do decide to put yourself out there. Vulnerability is scary, and you would be right to harbour those fears. However, staying silent and keeping your story to yourself can have worse effects. It can prolong your current situation and isolate you from those who could help you. If you don’t reach out, if you don’t raise your voice, no one will be able to hear you. And that is certainly worse than momentary rejection or judgement from others.
Though it might not always feel like it, most people are kind at heart and willing to lend you a helping hand. If you are currently surrounded by people unwilling (or unable) to help you, seek out other communities or mentors you believe could provide some valuable advice. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. 😉
Interested in delving deeper into the topics I mentioned?
Check out this fantastic list of TED talks on the topic of asking. It’s a real superpower.
For expert insights into the various types of stress we experience, check out this blog by our in-house Psychiatrist Julia.