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Practical strategies for learning how to accept yourself, failures and all?
April 20, 2008 6:20 AM   Subscribe

I realized recently that I’m ashamed of myself at a deep fundamental level. When I fail at something big or small, I beat myself up emotionally more than I should and feel ashamed. I realize that this is not emotionally healthy, but I’m not really sure what I can do to change the dynamic.

An example of how this plays itself out in my life: sometimes at work I’ll procrastinate. When this happens, I feel awful. It’s not just that I’m frustrated by my lack of progress on the daily minutia that makes up my work life. I beat my self up for procrastinating and tell myself that I should be better than this, that by this point in my life someone like me should be beyond this type of issue. I worry that my incompetence in time-management is totally obvious to everyone around me. I have this deep-ceded fear of being caught, of people seeing me for who I really am. By the end of a non-productive afternoon, I’m twitchy, grumpy, and stressed out, and I feel ashamed of my performance at work. The emotional response is powerful and way out of proportion to what happened, and it makes me feel really anti-social, like I just want to curl up and hide from the world.

But in addition to the ups and downs of day-to-day life, there are also parts of myself that I’m deeply ashamed at a more general level. For instance, I’m overweight, the heaviest I’ve ever been in my entire life, and not athletic. Because of this, I feel unattractive, and ashamed of the way I look. I’m embarrassed when I look at myself in the mirror.

Then there’s my career path, or lack there of. While I have a job that’s been good to me at a prestigious Fortune 100 company, I don’t have a defined career path and I have no idea where I’m going. The biggest surprise about the post-college transition has been how much I’ve mourned losing the ability to legitimately claim the identity of “student”. In my new post-student status I’ve been unprepared for that fact that “what I do” largely defines who I am and in the 4 years since graduating I’ve failed to come up with an answer to the inevitable cocktail party question that I’m genuinely proud of. I cringe inside every time I have to give my answer about still “figuring out what I’m going to do” to a new acquaintance or colleague.

(Of course I know that I’m hardly alone in my predicament as far as careers go, and aware of the fact that many people who think they have this figured out at my age end up being proved wrong and changing careers down the line anyway. But at this point in my life I’d rather be wrong than indecisive, and the career decisions I’ve made since graduating have been reactive and haphazard. The point is I’m not proud at the manner in which I’ve handled my career planning over the past 4 years, and it feels like a significant failing to me.)

When I think about my various flaws and failings, my first thought for how to go about losing this sense of shame is that I should focus on improving myself. I tell myself that once I’ve fixed my problems I will no longer feel the shame I feel now. There’s a certain amount of logic to this thought process, but when I think about it I realize that a “problem-oriented” approach to my emotions is fundamentally flawed--I can’t wait until everything is fixed to accept myself, because I’ll never stop waiting.

So the question then becomes, if I don’t become more accepting of myself through self-improvement what, exactly, do I do? What steps can I take to accept myself for who I am, flaws and all, in an emotionally healthy way? And whatever it is that I should do, does it conflict with the self-improvement actions that I’m naturally inclined towards, given that by undertaking a self improvement process I’m implicitly stating that there’s something wrong with me?

There’s part of me that’s worried that if I were to accept myself the way I’m now, I’d stop changing, stop growing, and I’d have to (paradoxically) give up on my aspirations of being the person I want to be. I’ve tried to analyze people that I know who are happy and satisfied with themselves to see if I can gain any insights into this. They all have flaws after all, and they are still growing and improving themselves, but that does not prevent them from being satisfied with their current station in life. But they also have an almost Zen-like acceptance of who they are, where they are, and what they are doing that seems to be largely unaffected by external events. That’s a frustratingly difficult quality to try and emulate.

So, what should I do?

P.S.: Throwaway email, incase anyone wants to respond privately: learntoacceptmyself@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
 
Taking a really deep breath is always a good place to start. I know it sounds silly, but it works for me almost every time.

The other thing that helps me is reading Desiderata.

I know that neither of these things are huge, world-changing approaches. But I've found, from experience, that the desire to find a world-changing way to "fix" any feelings of low self-esteem, is just that sense of low self-esteem coming in through the backdoor.

So whenever I start feeling panicky inside, I take a deep breath. I read Desiderata. I remind myself that the universe is unfolding exactly how it should and that I deserve my space within it. And that almost always helps.
posted by missjenny at 6:45 AM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Look up quarter life crisis on MetaFilter and Google.
I'd also suggest doing some volunteer work. Not only will it give you some meaning and focus but it might help you see that 'don't sweat the small stuff' isn't just a cute saying.
posted by k8t at 6:51 AM on April 20, 2008


That's a symptom of clinical depression. I think you should seek counseling.
posted by Class Goat at 6:53 AM on April 20, 2008


I have several replies to this very insightful post.

Preliminary disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or anything remotely resembling any of those. I'm sure I don't need to tell you to take all of this as the reactions of a stranger on the internet.

You seem like a pretty intelligent person, with more insight into yourself and your situation than most, so I think that doing something about it is well within your abilities.

My best advice would be: lighten up! You're awfully hard on yourself. If it makes you feel any better, I'm 44 years old, six months away from completing a PhD in Art History, no career prospects whatsoever. So everything's relative.

"I have this deep-ceded fear of being caught, of people seeing me for who I really am."

I took a class in European Intellectual History with a very successful professor who once told the class that of all the people he had worked with in academia, including tenured professors, published authors, etc. etc., every one of them [this must be an exaggeration, but it's what he said] had at some point said that he/she felt like a fraud, and wondered when he/she would be found out!

Rather than drown you in anecdotes, I will offer one concrete thing that you can try: meditation. The link will tell you about a 10 day meditation course that you can go to, that will open your eyes to many things including the relative importance of career goals. I want to stress STRONGLY that I'm not an evangelist and that this is a totally non-sectarian form of meditation. It is Buddhist in form but is open to, and practiced by, people of any, all, and no religions. I have done several of these retreats and they have been immensely helpful in my awareness of what really matters.

Good luck! Remember to breathe!
posted by arcadia at 6:55 AM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


The book, When Panic Attacks by David Burns (terrible title, great book) has a chapter on self-defeating beliefs (SDBs) and how to work with them in the context of the tools in the rest of the book. There's a bit of a learning curve to the book (i.e., you have to read it and apply it over hours and days and months). But, it presents a powerful, generalized, systematic process for working through what you're talking about.

I can relate to being afraid to be relaxed and happy because that would "make me stop growing." Growth is built-in though. If you're not plagued by all the negative stuff, your learning/growing drive becomes even more energetic and ferocious and targeted (because your thoughts aren't all distorted and you're not chasing the wrong stuff. And at the same time, you can actually relax and have fun!). It's a pretty good deal all around.
posted by zeek321 at 7:13 AM on April 20, 2008


Obligatory recommendation for Feeling Good by David Burns. Seriously, I would get this book and just commit to doing the exercises without worrying about whether that means you're not truly accepting yourself or whatever else.

A key insight here is that all you're dealing with is your own thoughts. Your thoughts can tell you things are great in a seemingly terrible situation, or that things are terrible in a great situation. So one approach is to modify your thinking to make it more realistic (the cognitive therapy approach), and another is to learn to watch your thoughts pass by without needing to get involved with them (the meditation approach).
posted by dixie flatline at 7:15 AM on April 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


First off, I have to go 20+ years back in the wayback machine to bring myself back to that time. Second off, You're probably about as dead normal as they come.

In 1984, I was a "fresh-out", as they call it. Meaning "fresh out of college", just a tiny insignificant part of a huge aerospace firm. After a year or two I could just look at someone (another guy, anyhow) and know that he'd been there about a year. It was obvious by his waistline, seems like everyone who was there about a year gained weight, but hadn't invested in new pants to go with their new waistline. It's a big lifestyle transition to go from college to the working world. It's a sedentary world. It's a repetitive, routine world. Except for never being broke any more, it can pretty much suck. I had string of several room-mates who worked at the same company and we all felt the same way about our jobs, even though we were all sprinkled into different corners of the company.

After two or three years I was amazed and quite depressed over how quickly the years were clicking off my life without the good memories that should be packed packed into such a "long" amount of time. Summer's here, summer's gone, no tan, oh well, I'll get to the beach more next year. Rinse. Repeat. After three years I managed to sabotage my career enough that I got fired, actually I was laid off, but my bosses didn't want me around anymore. I started out with a lot of promise but I had developed into a real renegade over the years. I remember getting written up for ENNWRPLS, as I acronymized it in aerospace fashion in my response memo (ENNWRPS - Excessively Noisy Non-Work-Related Party Like Session)

Anyway, I learned a lot about how life works in the next year. I took several months off, financed by my severance package and unemployment, traveled some and then finally took a comparable shitty job in the private sector. I also came into some more money by virtue of selling my half of a condo to my long-time girlfriend with who had recently dumped me. We never lived together, we just bought the place together and she lived there in anticipation of all the next steps I was expected to take and didn't. Oh well. I can say ""Oh well"now, but I was pretty devastated back then.

I took the money and bought a race car. I spent the next summer doing the following:

1. Work 40 hours at my shitty job.
2. Drive all night and all day just so I could race at some far off racetrack on Sat/Sun
3. Drive all night and all day to get home for another shitty week of work.

Something amazing happened that summer: Time slowed down. Remember when you were a kid and a summer lasted forever? It happened again for me.

Time flies when you're having fun is an absolute crock of shit.

Time flies when your life sucks
is the real truth that the corporate world would rather have you not know.

You would think that that summer would have flew by, but it didn't. It took forever to happen and it was filled with the amount of memories that I think a summer should contain.

Ever since then I've gaged my life by how fast it's flying by and if it's flying by fast I'm doing something wrong. I guess this is a long-winded way of saying:

Don't waste your life doing something that doesn't turn you on. Your life will evaporate QUICKLY if you're not taking proactive steps to enjoy it.

Do what you love most and the money will take care of itself. Some of the most empowering moments of my life have been when I've summed up the courage to end bad jobs/bad relationships, etc.

Either way, your life will end up being the sum total of the choices you've made PLUS the choices you haven't made.
posted by Rafaelloello at 7:19 AM on April 20, 2008 [79 favorites]


all the people he had worked with in academia, including tenured professors, published authors, etc. etc., every one of them [this must be an exaggeration, but it's what he said] had at some point said that he/she felt like a fraud, and wondered when he/she would be found out

Probably not really much at all of an exaggeration -- Impostor Syndrome (wikipedia); an interesting article on the subject from Caltech counseling services.

Basically, it's really, really common; it's not something you "solve" once and never deal with again, but rather something that you struggle with anew each time. But it is possible to push through and form more reality-based thinking processes, rather than being incapacitated by the insecurities.
posted by Forktine at 7:20 AM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


my dad still has nightmares that the officials at harvard will realize he never deserved his diploma and decide to take it back.

so many people struggle with being "discovered" for being less or worse or something other than they appear to be. have you seen the postsecret site? you might realize you are less alone than you think.

secondly, there is a difference between being motivated to seek out more and being uncomfortable and unhappy. genuine motivation to explore will survive every comfort and complacence-inducing circumstance on earth. you will still want to grow and learn even if you lose all the weight, get a great job, and fall in love. self-improvement doesn't mean something is inherently wrong--it just means you could be better than you are. you're still probably pretty great, even if you never learn japanese or run a marathon.

breathing is good, and all sorts of books are good. i would add sweat to the list of things to try. not just for cosmetic reasons, and not just for health reasons: regular exercise helps regulate your breathing, discharging some of your anxiety, and helps you concentrate better. also, the sunlight (if you exercise outside) can help improve your mood and your sleep.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:23 AM on April 20, 2008


I have to say I can identify w/this post, but in a different way, I guess.

While having an excellent career path at a company I worked at for 7 years, almost never procrastinating and achieving several lucrative performance bonuses, etc., my home life was the complete opposite. My home was in disarray. I had quite a limited social life. I'd hang out w/colleagues after work almost more often than my own friends. I'd mostly sit on the computer and watch TV. I'd put off bills, taxes, etc., basically any personal responsibilities to a serious fault, which ended up affecting my credit score some. I really beat myself up over all this foolishness. Although some of it might have been a byproduct of working many many 80+ hrs per week, it continued when the chaos subsided, although slightly less.

What made it better for me anyway, seemed to be a combination of, yes I hate to say it, baby-steps and, for some reason, pretending that the home maintenance and bills were, in essence, a new part-time job. A weird way of tricking myself into getting the work done. It feels a little strange admitting that. Affirmations sounded a bit silly but if I paid a bill on time or something, I'd give myself several of them and give myself a small reward. The affirmations helped me quit smoking, "I am not a smoker. I don't smoke. I am not a smoker. I don't smoke. I am not a smoker. I don't smoke. I am not a smoker. I don't smoke......"

Personally, I think nutrition is key to your general mood as well. I usually take the lazy but effective route in taking GNC's Men's Health multi-vitamins. They're a great mood stabilizer for me. I also try to eat as much vegetables/fruit I can stuff down my gullet. I also really enjoy walking (esp. hiking on a scenic trail) w/my favorite tunes on my mp3 player. Sometimes I seem to forget about my music cravings.

Lastly, you know what opinions are like, so please take this accordingly ;)

There's also nothing wrong w/seeing a professional. They worked wonders for my Mom after her heart-attack.
posted by prodevel at 7:45 AM on April 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


It sounds to me like you would be accepting of yourself if you were doing the things that you know you should. So if that's true, you need to explore why you don't do those things. If you can figure out why you aren't doing those things, you might see whether they really are important, and you might figure out how to rearrange your life to get them done.
posted by gjc at 7:48 AM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're me, aren't you? From the past? Buy some Microsoft stock, ok?

I missed being a student too: the set schedule, the ability to start over each semester, the affirmation I got from my professors, the peer group of people my age, income-level, and interests, the constant progression towards a definite goal, and the status.

So I went back to school and got one Masters. Then I hated my job. Then I started my PhD, but my emotional masochism convinced me that I would never get a job, and since all of my "normal" peers who had been working straight out of college were doing adult things like working 9-5, breeding and getting mortgages, while I was still in school, I was wasting my life.

So I went and got another Masters degree in a more practical discipline. Then I hated my job. Then I had a baby. Then I hated being a stay-at-home mom. So then I took a job at a 2-year college, and I'm still there now.

And on some days, I'm able to feel ok about myself because I can identify aspects of my life that make me happy (job I enjoy at times, great family, nice place to live, friends). Other times, I feel like the fraud and the failure that you write about, and I beat myself up. Every semester, I feel this is the one where one of my students will stand up and say "You know nothing, do you?" I worry that I will finally cross the procrastination/deadline balance and everyone will hate me. I think "of course I'm stuck with an insane amount of teaching for no pay in a low-status job. That's just what my know-nothing, procrastination self deserves."

So I still get into these rut. What gets me out of it?

Regular exercise helps somewhat. I'm not a svelte gym goddess, but if I run a couple of miles, I feel good about myself regardless of how I look.

Medication also became absolutely essential, as it was impossible to focus on either immediate tasks or future hopes.

But I'm 38 oh crap, I'm 38 , and only recently have I been able to project that "Zen-like acceptance" to others. This is the first time in my life that I haven't thought about where I'm going next or what other goals I need to set to achieve that satisfaction that I don't think I'll ever achieve. Rafaelloello nailed it when he talked about time flying by. I've stopped worrying about changing myself so much and have just sort of gotten immersed in day-to-day life.

And so part of that reason is that my life is often so busy that I don't have time to judge myself anymore. Maybe it's the exercise, maybe it's the drugs, maybe it's the schedule, maybe the realization that I really like certain facets of my life, even if it's not the life I thought I would have. I'm not satisfied with my life - I think a large part of our economy is dependent on our never being satisfied with our lives- but it doesn't drive me crazy as much as it did. I focus more on the small accomplishments (Papers Graded! Lawn Weeded! Great Pair of Shoes Found! On Sale!). I try to do something manageable when I start feeling down. My house is never cleaner than it is when I'm feeling like a failure.

I haven't learned to stop my inner critic - I know so well that shame you describe - but I can ignore her much of the time.
posted by bibliowench at 8:14 AM on April 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


When I used to be a Christian, I would tell myself not to have low self esteem. For example, when I failed at school, I would tell myself "Deep down you're an intelligent person with unique insights about the world. Your life story is interesting and God knows that. Now get back out there and improve, you special snowflake!" When I lost faith, I told myself "That special snowflake thing was a lie. In reality, you're defined by what you do, and, obviously, you suck. Now get out there and improve, you fucking loser!" Nowadays, I have a slightly more balanced approach. "You're not that special, and you're not that bad. Now get out there and play the game." Somehow, it helps to view life as a game which I'm just not that good at, like tennis or something. YMMV.
posted by proj08 at 9:01 AM on April 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


The obvious answer would be to get therapy, but that is so general that it becomes a throw-away.

How about Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or Schema Therapy. I like that and have been doing it myself and it helps.

You say that you act like a loser because you think you are a loser, you can't accept yourself (At least that is what I am hearing in the short encapsulated version). This becomes a feedback loop.

I firmly believe, in the absence of any scientific documentation, that people become hard-wired to have an outlook, perhaps because of their childhood or whatever. A negative passive depressing outlook might even be essential to surviving an abusive or chaotic childhood. It isn't as an adult anymore. That is sort of the promise of CBT at least to me, instead of analyzing why you are the way you are, CBT approaches your thoughts and inability to accept yourself as habits, habits that can be broken, not easily but if people can quit smoking, they can re-wire themselves to be positive. Think of it as learning a new language, harder to do as an adult than as a child, but not impossible.

So short answer, learn how to think about yourself differently, change your self narrative. A little bit at a time, just like learning a new language.
posted by xetere at 9:03 AM on April 20, 2008


I did this all my life; I have only recently (past few years) and slowly stopped this pattern. It takes a while, little by little, to readjust your bad mental habits. You have to start by accepting it won't happen overnight - and you will slip up. It's hard when you have the mindset that one slip-up botches the entire endeavor and you have to train yourself to allow yourself to fail sometimes - to understand that you can fail a lot of times but still reach the goal in the end.

Here is something I read recently that made me say YES, that is what I was doing - you're "shoulding yourself":
The psychologist Clayton Barbeau came up with the term "shoulding yourself" to describe this cognitive distortion. Another psychologist, Albert Ellis, calls it "musterbation." It consists of telling yourself that you have an obligation to do something different from what you are doing...

Guilt is an unpleasant feeling. We don't like it. We try to avoid it. And the vague, undefined sense of guilt that comes with automatic "should" thoughts is especially unpleasant. It is often accompanied by mind reading, which makes it even more painful: "I should be doing my homework and everyone will think I'm dumb if I don't."

The most frequent result of shoulding ourselves is procrastination. If I find that whenever I think about doing school work I find "should" thoughts rushing in, making me feel guilty and depressed, I will tend to mentally "change the subject" and redirect my attention to something that isn't so unpleasant. The more you "should" yourself about studying, the harder it becomes to actually spend any time studying. You never feel like it. [...]

As adults, we are free to choose what to do and what not to do... But whatever you choose to do, you will bear the consequences. One way to break the hold of "should" automatic thoughts is to bring the thought out in the open and substitute the word "choose" for the word "should." If you find yourself squirming with the automatic thought, "I should start my essay," change it to "I choose to start my essay." You're a free agent. It makes very little sense for you to say, "I should do this, but I choose not to." Such a statement reveals the "should" for the illogical and confusing term that it is. If you don't choose to do it, you don't really believe you should do it.

On the other hand, the idea of choice moves you closer to actually doing something. A "should" just leads to guilt; a choice leads to action... What you choose to do, and then do, will (to some degree, at least) change the world. What you "should" do will just make you miserable.
This is, essentially, what I had to do - I had to tell myself it was my choice to make. And then do it.

Realize you are going to have to live with yourself for the rest of your life. You don't get a magical do-over; you don't get to restart. But hey, no one else does either. I spent a lot of time daydreaming I was anyone but myself; daydreaming about going back and re-doing this, not saying that, not doing that, doing this instead.... wasted time; all the wishing in the world doesn't change a thing.

Would you let anyone else in your life talk to you the way you talk to yourself? Beat you up emotionally the way you beat yourself up? Here is another thing it took me a long time to figure out: you cringe because you think every other person can tell you've screwed up. But frankly? Honestly? No one else cares. They're busy looking at every little bit of themselves just like you're busy looking at every little bit of yourself. They don't have time or inclination to care about your flaws. They won't remember, only you. They're all busy screwing up just like you. It's how you handle the screw up. If someone else screws up, what do you want them to do? Say "I'm sorry"? Say "I was wrong"? Say "That was my fault"? Fix it immediately? When you screw up, take responsibility for it. Do what you'd want someone else to do. Then say to yourself "I screwed up, and everyone screws up. But I took the next step and I owned up, I fixed it". And forgive yourself, and walk away.

Commit to yourself like you'd commit to a relationship. Tell yourself "I will take care of you, trust me", just like you'd feel about someone you love very much. When you hit a down, give yourself some space and support. If you feel overweight and unattractive, look at yourself and say "what is something I can do right now to make myself more attractive to me?" Do something dramatic - a new haircut, join a yoga class - do it right away. Look in the mirror and tell yourself three nice things about yourself. Do it every day. When you accomplish something, reward yourself. You're the only you that you get.
posted by Melinika at 9:04 AM on April 20, 2008 [24 favorites]


Seconding ClassGoat -- this sounds like clinical depression, not unusual at this stage in people's careers. Also I'm with Forktine and arcadia on how prevalent Impostor Syndrome is.

Take your depression seriously, sort out a way to tackle it. One of the aspects of the illness is that it is very difficult to dig yourself out without help. But reaching out on Mefi suggests you aren't sunk too deep.
posted by Idcoytco at 9:11 AM on April 20, 2008


I have been in exactly the same place as you. Things that helped me:

Exercise

Meditation

10 Simple Ways to Save Yourself From Messing Up Your Life

Good luck.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:49 AM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Finding the humor in difficult situations can go a long way towards helping you maintain the appropriate perspective. Take a look at this article for a start.
posted by tomcooke at 10:23 AM on April 20, 2008


Anon, do you have any goals? Of your own? For your life, outside of work?

If career track promotions are the only metric you have for measuring your own worth, then you are putting all of the power in somebody else's hand, throwing yourself at the mercy of the system, and leaving your self esteem pretty damn vulnerable.

Your job is what you do, it isn't who you are.

OK so there are 8 months left in this year. Great. Make eight goals, things you want to do, and get the ball going on one a month so you can broaden your life and your accomplishments a little bit:

Join a gym and go once a week. Start saving for and planning a great vacation next year. Join a book group or D&D group or whatever. Start a retirement plan. Whatever - do things you think will improve your life in some aspect that you can feel good about doing and will give you some milestones.

And yeah, you do sound depressed. See someone about that, OK?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:37 AM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


1. Figure out the 2-3 categories of thoughts or situations of self-doubt or -criticism that you most need to counteract. Come up with a saying that you truly believe and use that to counter your negative thoughts. Right now, you probably use "lalalala shhhh no no no I'm not listening," but suppressing them doesn't work nearly as well as confronting them. My favorites are (for comparing myself to others) "you're no worse than anyone else, you know!" (I laugh at myself for thinking I'm uniquely horrible, the worst person on earth, am I really that special and distinguished?), and (for feeling like I will screw up a task or project) "you can figure out how to do this" (because while I don't truly believe I have all the skills I need, I do believe I can muddle through one step at a time). The keys are figuring out 2-3 different situations you need sayings for, then choosing ones that you can say to yourself with real conviction. I encourage you to do this right now. I didn't do it until someone made me do it in their presence. It doesn't have to be perfect. Just do it right now.

2. Something that can help with this is writing all the negative thoughts down. Get them out of your system so they stop going around your head, and you can have a few moments of peace. Ah, peace, and feel what it feels like for use in #5 below.

3. You do need to stop doing the things that make you ashamed of yourself. Like procrastinating. Not because you're "bad" for doing it, but because as you note, it really does have an extremely corrosive effect on your self-image. Quitting this is not quite as simple as "just don't," but it is almost that simple. Here are a few key techniques you might use. You probably need a technique for preventing the procrastination (planned breaks to prevent mental exhaustion, counteracting statements from #1 so you don't get discouraged), a technique for stopping the slide when you notice it starting ("oh look, I'm starting to procrastinate. I'm going to take a 10 minute walk, think about what my next step will be, then come back and do it"), and a technique for dragging yourself out of procrastination once you're sucked in (temptationblocker?). I also encourage you to do whatever it takes to feel better about yourself for the time you have wasted (eg, go in 2 hours early for a week to "pay back" the time).

4. Set small goals and then achieve them, and in general, meet your own expectations (#3 is a subset of this one, since one expectation you have for yourself is that you'll do your work). But this will take some experimentation and internal negotiation. You'll fail to do what you wanted to do. Okay, why? Maybe the goals were too high. Maybe that week at work was unusually hard. Be accountable to yourself, and directly confront the fact that you let yourself down, but do this as a two-way conversation where you talk back to the part of yourself who sets (probably impossibly high) expectations.

5. Cultivate a positive outlook. Whereas other steps above are a matter of trial and error, this one is more just a matter of practice. The only tricky part is realizing what sort of positive thoughts you want to have. It might be "I'm actually pretty lucky," or "I don't need to worry about that," or ... I don't know what. (Mine lately is to picture myself stranded on a desert island alone, and then pretend I just got back, and look around at my surroundings feeling amazingly grateful for all these nice people, all these comfortable chairs, etc.)

5. Get outside more. Consider sunshine like a vitamin you have to get a certain dosage of every week. Look for other things that are like this too (time with friends, exercise, enough sleep).

6. Look at this as a process of rebuilding from a weakened state. Do the steps above that stop the internal harm and then as your strength and positivity gains hold, take on bigger and bigger goals. In the meantime, don't pressure yourself to do more than you can.
posted by salvia at 3:26 PM on April 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


You sound very intelligent and perceptive.

Did you grow up with alcoholism or addictions in your family? Are you Catholic? Is the prospect of not feeling bad about yourself scary to you because you're comfortable and accustomed to feeling bad about yourself? I've had some of the same trouble so I am following this with interest.. though no good answers.

Although, on the weight thing, can you take little steps - go for walks a lot more, cut back on carbs and sugar, eat smaller portions - if you're having cereal, get a measuring cup & measure out how much you're having, that sort of thing. Personally.. if signing up for a class or planning to hit the gym, I sadly tend to bail out in favor of continuing to feel bad about myself, but walking places is easy. It's OK to take the easy way. Bonus for walking a lot, it's practical - you don't have to feel like you're trying to be "athletic" if such a notion is going to mess with your head - you're just getting from point A to point B and don't need to put on gym clothes to do it.

Far as career planning.. eh. I don't know. Some people plan better than others. Some people plan and stick to the plan even though they are unhappy. Some people can't plan well and need help. I can't, I have to face it - my brain isn't wired to work well that way. If you do see a therapist this is worth bringing up I'd say. One of mine suggested that there is something to.. neurologically speaking.. trouble with the functions of the brain used to make and carry out plans and manage time. He picked it up from my use of language and roundabout way of answering even simple questions. I asked him if part of the problem was that our society valued certain ways of thinking and approaches to life over others, I don't recall his answer.. but maybe you just happen to be spending all your time in an environment that self-selects for being super career-oriented or everyone in your office environment feels obliged to talk about where they're going instead of what they're doing. I don't know what your job requires but maybe your talent and satisfaction is in doing the work, the process itself and really working at the craft of it, rather than in crossing off tasks and taking steps up the career ladder. Finally.. I've read thousands of Lifehack style rules and lists and steps for doing things, I suppose they are useful to some, but if you are depressed and/or have always had these challenges at planning and managing time --> therapy.
posted by citron at 3:49 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whenever life becomes so painful that you say, "I want to change!" that's a good point to begin therapy. A good therapist will listen to you carefully and understand just what it is that's bothering you, and provide a little feedback about steps you can take and what to think about. It can be a very positive process of discovery about yourself, and the earlier in life you undertake therapy, the more years of your life will benefit from it. I began at about your age, and am very glad I did.
posted by exphysicist345 at 4:11 PM on April 20, 2008


I don't know if anybody reads these after they get a day or two crusty, but I'd like to thank everyone for heavily favoriting my earlier post. I really meant to do a much better job with it, but I was hammering away on it Sunday morning while my wife was saying, "Are you going to take a shower before church?", my 4 and 6-year-old daughters crawling on my lap parroting their Mom, "Are we going to be late again because you're not ready?, etc. But I really, really, love when some of these AskMe's take me back to my youth and I try to do my best to answer them unflippantly (but a couple of mod deletes have taught me I have room for improvement). Long-winded, as usual, I just wanted to add one more bit of advice to anon:

Have your own plan. Otherwise you're absolutely destined to assume a small part in somone else's plan.

There have been a lot of good suggestions in this thread ranging from meditation to therapy to exercise to better self-speak. We can all tell from your post that you possess intelligence and free will. It also seems like you've done a lot of good thinking around where in general you would like to end up. I would challenge you to think a little more about your specific destination and use your own tools and the ones offered here to take steps in that direction. Today.

posted by Rafaelloello at 8:45 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I would consider my advice to be supplementary, "extra-credit" kind of ideas, things you can do alongside bigger work of therapy, self-reflection, etc., because these are the kind of things that "what they hell, they can't hurt."

When it comes to a career path, I have found myself becoming the living proof of the adage "do what you love and the money will follow." Whenever I tried making "a career move" because it was "a career move," it didn't work -- but the things I did just because, "hey, they sound neat"? THOSE are the things I get paid for now. Not enough to live on, but who cares? I've had a regular paid writing gig for the past five years, which sprang from an unpaid volunteer gig I first signed up for TEN years ago. It's been slow, but dammit, that is a CAREER move, and I got it by just...doing something I liked. And honestly, I didn't care whether it paid me or not at first, because it was fun. Keep trying things that strike your fancy, because you never know where one of those things may lead.

Speaking of writing -- have you kept a journal? Not a daily "this is what I did today" journal, but a place where you can write ANYTHING that is in your head. I was a total mess when I was 24, and starting a journal for that purpose saved my sanity. It still does -- I don't need to journal like that regularly any more, but some days I still have to just write stuff down if I'm having extreme anxiety or angst or drama or stress or...yeah. No one ever saw what I wrote then, and no one will now -- this is all for me. What it does is get all those ideas that are swirling around in my head down on paper, OUT of my head, and then I can shut the book and walk away from them, purged. (At least for the time being, but that's when you pick the book back up again and write some more.) It helped me a lot.

There's also a fun quick happy-boost for when you're feeling "I haven't done anything with my life" agita -- there's a DELICIOUSLY fun book I stumbled across once, 2001 Things To Do Before You Die, which is indeed just what it sounds like -- a list of 2001 things that you "must do." The thing is, though, they're not all huge achievements like "See the Great Wall of China" or "win a Pulitzer", there are also things like "make pancakes","milk a cow," "paint your dog's toenails", "use words like 'higgledy-piggledy' in conversation", "leave the cap off the toothpaste just once", and other ordinary-but-fun things. I've had my copy for years, and every so often I pick it back up and see if there's anything new I can check off -- and sometimes I just leaf through it when I'm in the doldrums and end up cheered up that, "hey, wait, I've actually done a lot of pretty awesome stuff!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:35 AM on May 2, 2008


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