help me be the person i want to be
September 29, 2015 3:00 PM   Subscribe

i am not acting like the person i want to be.

the person i want to be is kind, generous, laid-back, hard-working, focused, and personable. i don't think any of those are impossible things. in fact, i have a person in mind that i want to be (my old boss). i would love if i were charismatic and skinny and great at telling jokes, but i am not those things. i just want to be generous in spirit and kind and good to be around. and i want to roll with the punches. i want to be in the moment and still find ways to enjoy myself.

instead, i am a ball of stress and grumbling. small things freak me out. medium things freak me out. i don't really have any big things going on at the moment to be stressed about. but i am grumbling and not appreciating the opportunities i have and not being generous with myself and not enjoying what i have. i can't get happy even about the things i enjoy. i'm not talking about a depressive malaise - more like, i can't focus on appreciating these delicious french fries, or petting this fucking awesome dog, or being drunk with friends, because i'm too focused on how my car broke down or how i have a mild cold or how i might have screwed this small work thing up. i am still angry right now at all the traffic on my way home from work. none of these things are important but they ruin me and i complain all the time.

i feel like all this bullshit is crowding out the parts of me that are good and interesting and content.

i am taking an anti-depressant that i as prescribed (dose has been steady for a few years now). i got up and moved across the county in june, so i am not currently seeing a therapist. i can see one, and am considering. but i'm really looking for a less facile answer. i want to know how to be the person i want to be, the best version of myself. or at least better.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Seeing a therapist will certainly be helpful, if only to see if perhaps a different anti-depressant may be more effective, and to help talk through specific thought patterns or behaviors that may enable you to find contentment in everyday life and to let go of the things that you're anxious about.

I had a similar outlook to you a few years ago. I still do get stressed about things that I have no control over, and those things tend to impact whatever it is I should be enjoying at a given time. However, this is very far from where I used to be, and it was one thing that got me here: gratitude.

At first, I'd have to remind myself to say out loud, things like, "This traffic is unbearable, but I am grateful that I have a job that causes me to have a rush-hour commute." Sure, it's sort of a Pollyanna attitude, but it really helped me to appreciate people, events and things in my life that would make my life worse if they didn't exist.

Now, being grateful for the good things in my life is a part of who I am. It's made me value my relationships with friends, coworkers, even my very difficult mother. It's helped me let go of things that I can't control. It's helped me be more accepting of things that may not have turned out the way I wanted them to. In turn, it's made me more generous, kind (to others as well as to myself), and "happier" in spirit (I'm not a Debbie Downer anymore, and people like being around me).
posted by Everydayville at 3:22 PM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

That sounds like way too many goals to try and achieve all together. It's hard to feel good about anything if for every one thing you accomplish, you remind yourself of the 50 other things that hasn't been done. Cut yourself some slack and focus on one thing at a time. Set small goals like no complaining for a week, only procrastinate 20 min today, go to the gym once this week, etc. Then feel good about it once you do it! Try physically writing these down and then checking them off.

Traffic jam does horrible things to the mind. Is there any way you can cut short your commute or use public transit? If not, maybe doing something that resets your mind after you get home will help you have a nicer evening (i.e. meditating, work out, glass of wine).
posted by monologish at 3:25 PM on September 29, 2015

Step 0: Ease up on yourself! You sound like you're being very critical with yourself. It's ok to be grumbling and stressed out! It sucks that your car broke down! It sucks to get sick!
Step 1: It may be that if you give yourself room to just feel what you're feeling without simultaneously feeling bad about feeling it, you will also find room (and energy!) to be more open to what is good. In other words, be generous and laid-back with yourself first and foremost, and it will be much easier to be generous with others.
Step 2: Meditation!

I'm being dorky here, but I am a lot like you, I think. I am grumbling, easily stressed, irritable, with a tendency to focus on the negative things in my life. Some of us are more like this than others, and that is 100% fine. But I also do not want to project this out into the world so much. I find that when I am able to just let myself feel what I'm feeling, without trying to stop it, edit it or hang onto it, I am more grounded in the present, in my experience, and sometimes that experience is quite good, and I am calm and open to the people around me.
posted by EL-O-ESS at 3:25 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think you could benefit from retraining the focus in your mind. My suggestion: buy a small journal and carry it with you. Every time you notice something pleasant, jot it down. Might be a uniquely shaped stone you noticed while walking to work, might be the way the barista smiled at you as she handed you your change, might just be a dumb joke that made you laugh. Whatever it is, if it's positive, it gets noted in the journal. After a few weeks of this you should begin to notice a shift in focus, as you're training your mind to pick out the good rather than dwell on the bad. It really does work.
posted by lock sock and barrel at 3:25 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Getting therapy is not facile. It takes a lot of courage to go work on yourself with another person.

But to answer your question.

The first thing is you must be kind. You must. Be kind to yourself. You may have aspects of your personality that you want to work on or that you actively dislike but be kind to yourself about these things. Oh, you are mad about traffic? Ok. No need to be upset that you're upset.

Think of your emotions as if they are leaves in a stream floating by or birds overhead. They are there and they are to be noticed but they aren't there to be judged. No one judges a bird. Do not judge your anger or your grumpiness or your negative emotions.

Just be. You are you. You are not your old boss. You have no idea what it is to be your old boss. Inner lives are very complex.

To go back to the unjudged bird: feelings are not facts. They are emotions. You do not have to act on them. The act of noticing them can be enough of a reaction. When you catch yourself complaining you can say, internally, hello, grumps, old friend. Hello. That's the only reaction those emotions require: noticing and allowing the feeling. You do not have to act on your feelings.

Easier said than done. I know. I used to be like you. I'm not anymore. Part of what helped me, honestly? Was therapy. Learning to accept myself. To love myself, flaws and all. To learn to notice and be aware of my emotions and to act when appropriate, not just when I felt like it.

I still get mad at traffic and I still spend too long willing myself to get out of bed in the morning but I'm a lot nicer to myself about it and it's a lot easier.

Take care, and do something nice for yourself today.
posted by sockermom at 3:30 PM on September 29, 2015 [22 favorites]

I was quite cranky for much of my 20s, and while I thought it made me seem challenging and cool and therefore, interesting, I was wrong-- it didn't. Somehow I happened upon Constructive Living (which I've recommended here before) and Learned Optimism. The first is an adaptation on Japanese Morita thought and gratitude is very important. It taught me to acknowledge my feelings but that I didn't have to act on those feelings. My moods didn't dictate my actions.
If I'm stuck in traffic, I might be pissed off about it but might use the time to look at the sky and see flying geese or dictate a note to myself or find a radio station that I've not heard before. I work to find unexpected moments to enjoy.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:32 PM on September 29, 2015 [11 favorites]

Everything sockermom said.

Also, surrounding yourself with truly kind, generous, positive people is a good way to stay focused. The people who lighten your heart instead of exposing you to their unhappiness, worry and stress, and anger. And get rid of people with judgmental attitudes (or let them let themselves out--you don't want them around you).

Though you can't think of getting annoyed and angry or grumbly as a failure that takes you back to square 1. My ENT's receptionist mixed up my appt time the other day so the doc couldn't see me, and I think I had this weird bitchy look come over me that I was immediately embarrassed about but couldn't shut down. It was like I was morphing into my sister who is a classic yell-y, condescending jerk of a person, who acts this way and I certainly don't want to be her, so I maintained control and rescheduled the appoint in a calm way.

So think about the people you don't want to be like either, the people who you're ashamed to even be seen with because their attitude sucks and the way they act mortifies you---it's very helpful.
posted by discopolo at 3:44 PM on September 29, 2015

This is me! Sort of! I mean I have a constant little record player of crappy shit running through my head at all times when I am not sleeping. Literally all the time. When I am napping with my sweetheart and I am the happiest I am in the world? Yes even then. I hate it, but at some level there's a difference between being stuck with this record player and having this record player make the rest of my life into a pain in the ass. I am a bit combative, in my mind, about this. So now I actively fight the negative singsong and here is the thing I was not expecting: it's actually a bit more work to do the thing you want instead of the thing that comes naturally but it's not THAT much work and it's so much more useful.

So, an example. I am clumsy. I'll be winding down for the day and I'll trip and stub a toe or something. I'll say "ack, fuck!" or something. But then here's the crappy part: it stays with me and I stay rattled. I used to just think this was chemistry "Oh this is how I am" and some of it is but a lot of it is me sort of "choosing" (I put it in quotes because it's certainly not an active choice) to sort of dwell on how startling and irritating the thing was instead of being a little bit more accepting of the fact that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes people call it mindfulness, sometimes people call it being kind to your own inner child or whatever but for me it sort of almost a "flag it and move on" thing where you say to yourself "hey that thing happened, it wasn't great, it doesn't reveal a deeper flaw in you or the world, let's do the next thing. Stop thinking about it."

It's more work than you would think. But just politely redirecting my energies to something else besides grumbling about the same old grumbling thing can help kind of unstick my mind and move it to the next thing. And that's the way I think about it I get sticky I'm thinking about little hurts for reasons I'm not totally sure of--my mother is a grand grumbler and I think that was part of it--and I don't have to be thinking about them, and I certainly don't need to turn them into words or actions. Basically I think about not letting negative thoughts colonize my mind as if they were things "from away" and not just a natural part of being an alive human being. And that's been helpful for me.
posted by jessamyn at 3:46 PM on September 29, 2015 [8 favorites]

Look at mindfulness meditation. I was skeptical because its very trendy currently, but it really helps to slow me down when I'm getting upset. Once I get over the initial hurdle of grumpiness (which is hard sometimes!), I can use some perspective and calmly think about what it is that's bugging me, and constructively do something about it, or realize that it's out of my control.
posted by Fig at 3:47 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes to the mindfulness and constructive living- both awesome things!

You do sound like you feel a lack of control and don't realize none of these small things can actually "ruin" anything. There are as many small "fixes" as there are small problems. Pod casts, or audio books, cold/ allergy meds and making a rule to leave work at work are all great things, make a concerted effort to fix actual problems and give up stressing about the ones that you cannot. Acceptance and learning to put things in perspective go a long way.
Are you surrounded by people who constantly complain and sucked in? Disengage.
posted by TenaciousB at 4:07 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I play a little game with myself that helps me be the positive person I want to be. Whenever a negative thought come up, I turn it into a positive statement.

At work, I'm a signmaker so I always give a positive spin. Instead of "don't put your dirty fingers in the bulk bin", turns into Help us keep the bins clean, please use tongs."

"I'm so fat" turns into "I have really enjoyed eating all those nachos" and "I ought to not eat all these delicious nachos" turns into "I control what I eat and I'm deciding that these nachos are worth the weight gain".

I also watch people's eyes and expression. I always want them to be glad to see me, so I only say kind things. Even bad news can be said with kindness and compassion. It takes mindfulness and practice, but soon becomes second nature.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:10 PM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]

Look into mindfulness meditation to practice choosing where to focus your thoughts (delicious French Fries instead of mild cold) and experiencing the present moment (on preview: yes!)

You could also try self-compassion to cultivate a space inside your head where you have a kind, gentle attitude towards yourself and the difficulties you face in life just because you're human. I'm pretty new to it, but I do find that when my mind is capable of being kind and chilled towards itself, that attitude reflects a little on the way I see the outside world, and reduces the amount of "raging at the injustice of minor things" I get caught up in. Some free meditations here.

Re. your old boss - it's a MeFi cliché, but don't compare your insides with someone else's outsides. Who knows what thoughts might have been swirling around her head as she cracked those jokes. Who knows what other people are thinking of you while you're trudging through the mental swamp. Certainly they have no idea about the negative stuff you're thinking and might think you're quite delightful company.

And finally... there's a parable I think I came across on AskMe that seems to have stuck with me and pops into my head occasionally at useful moments. I can't find the original comment, but the story is on this page, about halfway down.

Sometimes you just need to put things down.
posted by penguin pie at 4:25 PM on September 29, 2015

You posted this under Health and Fitness. What are you trying to do to be healthy and fit? Don't separate the mental from the physical. Exercise every day, walk on your breaks or park farther from your building, eat smaller but more frequent meals, less sugar, more water, maybe get more sleep, breathe and stretch, and you will be happier, more relaxed, and more productive.
posted by serena15221 at 5:22 PM on September 29, 2015

Yeah, I would not let the fact that mindfulness meditation is currently in vogue among some of the corporate ass-hat class stop you from trying it. I found it particularly helpful because the focus isn't really on replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts: when I was starting out, that always just felt kind of pathetic and unconvincing in the moment. Mindfulness meditation (and I'm not an expert, so I might not be doing it justice) seemed to be more about just noticing when you have a thought, or a painful feeling, or an emotional response to something, and then labeling it as thinking, or pain, or anger, or etc, without either ruminating endlessly over it or trying to force it to go away. That was way more achievable for me, and still had the beneficial effect of getting me to detach a little from that kind of mental background radiation. It was only after doing that for a while that I started to become more comfortable with actually challenging negative thoughts with alternatives -- maybe because mindfulness meditation made it a little easier to think of thoughts as just sort of epiphenomena, things that happen, which might or might not have any basis in fact. There's a ton of guided mindfulness meditation .mp3s for free out there; every once in a while I like to Google search mindfulness mp3, because a lot of colleges now have programs in mindfulness-based stress reduction or something similar and they post the mp3s for everyone to download.

As maybe a more concrete example -- maybe this isn't exactly how you're experiencing things and I apologize up front if it's not, but it may be that the thought process you're having is something like, for example, 1. "Wow, I'm petting this awesome dog", 2. "Except [insert things] are still horrible", 3. "Oh my god, why can't I just stop worrying and just enjoy something for once? There must be something wrong with me." One of the things that stuck with me from a meditation workshop-type-thing I attended was that in this way, you're hurting twice over, and the second wound is sort of self-inflicted: that is, you have the initial negative thought, but then you take it as not just truth, but also as evidence of some kind of fundamental flaw. Whereas another thing you could do is to just say, "2.5. OK, that's a thought I'm having and it's just a thought, and it doesn't have to be true or to mean anything in particular." One of the things mindfulness meditation helped me practice was this kind of reaction to upsetting thoughts, feelings, or sensations. (And if you think #3 anyway, that's of course still fine and you're still allowed to think it without necessarily believing it.)

Also, commuting is fucking terrible and it is beyond normal to hate it. Nobody wants to be there, everyone is distracted, everyone is driving enormous hunks of metal that could kill someone, etc. It's a bad combo. If you'll indulge me one weird tip, I had started to realize I was getting really angry with people on my bike commute (which is not a good thing from a human-interaction perspective, but also really ill-advised from a needlessly-tangling-with-people-driving-things-that-can-easily-kill-you perspective) and one thing that helped was to repeat over and over to myself, before I got on the bike and again whenever I started to get annoyed, that if anyone pissed me off I was going to smile and wave even if I really felt like flipping them off and telling them to go fuck themselves. Repeating it consciously as an intention helped keep angry feelings from blindsiding me, I think because it made me more aware of when I was getting angry before the anger really "took hold" and ruined my day. Plus you get the smug satisfaction that you didn't rise to the bait of some flushable wipe in a Z4 doing a surprise lane change in front of you like you don't even exist, I MEAN, you get the quiet satisfaction of knowing that you conducted yourself with dignity.

The other thing that helped was to be perfectly honest, getting a public transportation commute where I could jam in earbuds and/or nap with impunity, but I recognize my privilege in having access to that option (still, I figured I'd mention it in case it is an option -- even a 90 minute public transportation commute would be vastly preferable to me compared to a 40 minute driving commute in traffic. If it's not an option, though, forget I said anything).

Also, podcasts and other sonic accessories can really make a commute a lot better. There's a ton of stuff out there so you don't have to feel limited to the perennial faves if they don't appeal to you. I know someone who listens to a ton of books on tape during long drives, which you can get from the library for free; there are also stand-up albums, if that's your thing (Maria Bamford has saved many a boring chore for me). Someone I knew in grad school made mp3s of all the Arrested Development episodes to listen to while she did boring, frustrating things, which I thought was genius. DJ mix sets are great if you're at all into electronic music; they can accommodate multiple levels of attention.

This is also a cliche, but moderately-strenuous exercise often puts me into a headspace afterwards where I feel relaxed and things don't seem so bad. For me it has to be something sustained and heavy, but not necessarily cardio -- for instance, despite being a collection of warped twigs in a human skin suit, I actually kind of prefer weightlifting, partly because it's hard to be thinking of something else when you're trying not to drop something heavy. Part of it is certainly the endorphin rush, but I think it's also partly that the harder you exercise, the less mental bandwidth you have for ruminating about other things -- strong physical sensations in general are a good way to interrupt racing thoughts. It also helps you sleep more deeply, which is also helpful.

I do think it is really worth seeing a therapist in this situation. It's an obvious answer to be sure, but that also doesn't mean it's the wrong answer. I understand if you're reluctant, though, and finding the right fit isn't trivial. I've had two serious shots at therapy: in the first I lucked into a therapist who helped me enormously, but the second (in a new city), despite being nice and competent and non-judgmental, ultimately just wasn't a great "fit" and we never really "clicked." So my advice if you do go down that route is to shop around a little; you can definitely make progress with someone who you don't click with if you are committed, but (and this isn't my field so apologies to actual therapists/psychologists if I'm fucking everything up here) my impression is that the specific therapeutic relationship or bond between therapist and patient is also very important.

Anyway, sorry I went on for a long time, but tldr, mindfulness meditation, consciously practicing alternative responses, podcasts, exercise, and yeah, therapy if you can swing it.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:31 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

> the person i want to be is kind, generous, laid-back, hard-working, focused, and personable. i don't think any of those are impossible things.

No, they aren't but they're also very nebulous things.

Also, ultimately you are what you do. You can grumble internally all day long and still be kind and personable. Make a list of tangible things you can do that you feel epitomise these traits, even if they are small. Then do them. Then make more lists and keep doing them, and eventually you'll embody the traits you want to have. You can like, try and train yourself to think a certain way but it might be easier to take up activities that have you conducive to being a certain way (volunteering with people for kind + personable, following through on personal projects for hardworking + focused, giving to charities for generous, forcing yourself to be chill about things even if you don't feel very chill for laid back, etc).
posted by hejrat at 5:56 PM on September 29, 2015

Funny you should mention charisma, because the most useful thing I have come across recently in terms of living my best life is The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane. I read it expecting it to be a little eye-roll inducing, but found the way it talks about addressing both internal thought patterns and external behaviors simultaneously to be surprisingly profound. It felt it took earlier work I'd done in meditation and therapy and mindfulness and wove them together into a plan for a better me. Her tone is gentle and supportive. In addressing your problem it's more of a sidling-up-to rather than head-on solution, but I think it'd be worth a look.
posted by Tentacle of Trust at 7:16 PM on September 29, 2015

I noticed that the best kind of people (generous in spirit, resilient, personable, etc.) are almost always those who operate on a mindset of putting others first, in a way that doesn't compromise their own self-respect. These people are able to remain centered in any situation and navigate the world with an inner peace with ample good will to share, because they live a "less-me" lifestyle and focus outward instead of inward.

I try to achieve this through: mindfulness in my thoughts, feelings, actions; prayer. When I fall short, I follow that mantra, "Forgive yourself each night, and recommit every morning."

Good luck.
posted by tackypink at 7:59 PM on September 29, 2015

Great advice in this thread! I think we all feel like this sometimes, and some of us feel like this a lot of the time.

I just wanted to say, I think you are doing the right things already by petting an awesome dog and hanging out with friends. Make sure to add concrete good things into your life, even though you feel like you're not appreciating them, even though you wish you could truly feel happy as a result - just keep doing it. I've quoted this before in AskMeFi, but let your pile of good things grow.

Gratitute journals sound like a pile of sentimental hooey but I have found them useful. When you know that at the end of the day you'll need to write down three good things about your day, you're more likely to go about your day noticing good things that you can write about.

And... exercise! Yeah I really don't dig the whole exercise malarkey - I don't really get an endorphin rush or anything - but it makes me feel physically better. I get colds less often. My muscles feel looser and more flexible. My sleep quality improves. Definitely worth doing some exercise on a daily or a few-times-a-week basis, if you're not already.
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:51 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I can remember, there are two sayings that help me defeat thoughts that get in the way this way. Ok, actually three.

1) Lester Bangs: "Lower your expectations and get to work." This reminds me that sometimes thoughts like this are ways to actually avoid engaging in something, but that is almost never the right choice. And, the saying reminds me to be realistic and kind with myself about my expectations.

2) Charlie Papazian: Somewhere in the Joy of Homebrewing, not only does Papazian say "Relax and have a homebrew," which may or may not be good advice, he also says something like, "Worrying is paying interest on a debt you may not even owe." I like this, when I can remember it. Things happen, when they happen we deal with them. Sometimes things don't happen and then we don't have to deal with them. Worrying means we're dealing with something that may or may not happen for longer than we would have to. The key thing here, at least for me, is that worrying doesn't change having to deal with whatever thing might happen. In other words, if my basement floods, I've got to clean it up, whether I was worrying about it flooding all night or not.

3) A guy at work: I was joking with a friend at work about how an email he sent "hurt my feelings." He said, "Cool, you've been thinking about that? Thanks for letting me live in your head rent-free." It was a throw-away comment, but it put into perspective what is at stake sometimes when I carry around anger or grudges or slights.

All of these are fairly trite, but I have to say that they can really help me to recalibrate. I am a therapist, and these phrases have still been helpful.
posted by OmieWise at 7:06 AM on September 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

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