Self Reflection vs. Self Destruction
"We are our own worst critics".
For a while, I've been trying to overcome this aspect of my personality. Very often I will mess up on something and, regardless of how big or small a deal it is, I tend to get worked up about it. I get worked up about it, and then rather than productively critiquing my habits, I fall into self Destruction. Recently, I've been trying to figure out why I deal with failure (or what I perceived to be a failure) in this way, and here is what I've picked up.
All or Nothing Mentality
All-or-Nothing Mentality is exactly what it sounds like: the act of thinking in extremes. When we have an All-or-Nothing mentality, we don't make room for nuance or a grey area. Either I'm a success or I'm a failure. I'm feeling like I'm on top of the world, or I'm in the darkest valley. I learned about this mentality through my fitness/wellness journey, only to realize that this is something that I've been unknowingly applying throughout all aspects of my life. In terms of my weight management, I used to think I had to go cold turkey on anything that would interfere with my weight loss goals. Oh, I can only have half a cup of rice? Then I don't want to eat rice at all! I can only get a small fry at the drive-thru? I think I'd just rather not have fries.
What I thought was a method that would help me was actually setting myself up for disappointment. I was in the mode of deprivation instead of moderation, and when we deprive ourselves we increase the likelihood of straying. In this example, it may have been rice or fries, two things I don't necessarily have to have. So what's the problem with not having them? The issue I was having is that 1) I believed that getting rid of them altogether would help me get closer to my goal and 2) I didn't find replacements for them that would help me feel full during meals without the unnecessary carbs/fats. Yes, cutting out unnecessary carbs and fats will help me in the short term but not necessarily for long-term growth. Am I expecting to never eat fries or rice ever again in my life? Absolutely not! So why not implement practices to help me moderate my intake?
The after-effect of the All-or-Nothing mentality is a greater disappointment when we inevitably reach a problem, a challenge, a slump, a plateau--whatever you want to call it. Somewhere along the line in my life, I convinced myself that making any type of error or mistake meant I was careless, dumb, weak-minded, etc. It made it that much easier to give up on myself instead of learning perseverance.
What Leads to Self-Destruction?
Being able to critique ourselves is vital when it comes to developing a strong sense of self-awareness. But if we are not careful, we can easily make the mistake of tearing ourselves down instead of objectively identifying and working on our character flaws. Here are a few examples of what can lead us to Self-Destruction rather than Self-Reflection.
1) Tying our worth to achievements or accolades - Living near the Metro DC area, I can honestly say that I've encountered plenty of people who put their worth and overall self-image into what they do for a living. I don't think there's anything wrong with liking your job or being excited about your career. In today's world, it's rare to see people who genuinely love what they do. However, this is different from people who tie so much of their identity to their job, what school they went to, what cars they drive, their luxury apartment, their home, etc. What all of these things have in common is that they are external objects that can be lost, destroyed, or taken away. We can get laid off from our job, our cars can get wrecked, and our homes can be gone in a natural disaster. Self-Destruction can easily make its way through our lives when we tie our worth to the wrong things. We need to be able to answer the question: "Who are you without xyz?"
2) Negative Self-Talk - I've mentioned this before in previous posts, but the way we talk to ourselves on a daily basis makes a huge difference in how we view ourselves and the world around us. When you critique yourself are you quick to resort to name-calling and 'should haves'? When you critique yourself, are the things you're saying something that you'd be comfortable telling to a loved one? Most of all, are the things you say to yourself motivating you to move forward, or are they making you want to wallow in self-pity? Not only does negative self-talk ruin our self-image, but it literally hinders us from being productive.
3) Being too focused on the past - Being aware of our past can be helpful, but it can also hinder our growth. Sometimes we think to ourselves: "I tried this last time and it didn't work out, so I shouldn't even bother doing it again". This is what it means to let your past dictate your future. It doesn't really make sense, but we tend to convince ourselves that something can happen because it didn't happen before. It is this mindset that keeps generational curses going and keeps us from fulfilling our calling. Another way to focus on the past is to hyper-fixate on our past achievements. We reminisce on our glory days, or we continue to boast about an achievement we met several years ago. While it is nice to acknowledge our achievements, a trap that we should avoid is falling into the idea that "the best has already come. It won't get any better. I won't achieve any more than that". There's a reason why our windshield is so much larger than our rearview mirror. Your rearview mirror helps you see where you've been and what lies behind you. Your windshield allows you to see what's ahead. We have to be careful not to drive our lives as if we're staring at the rearview mirror during the entire trip.
What is Self-Reflection?
For me, I understand Self-Reflection to be the antithesis of what was listed above regarding Self-Destruction. When we are truly self-reflective, we are able to place our worth in more tangible things like our values, our belief systems, etc. Being self-reflective also means that we speak to ourselves in a way that we would speak to someone we love. We acknowledge our mistakes without resorting to doubting our abilities and disregarding our efforts. We acknowledge the past and take it into account, but ultimately we make decisions and pursue things that keep us moving forward.
Overall, self-reflection helps us critique ourselves in a way that is healthy and productive. Self-reflection, when done correctly, helps us grow instead of shrink back into ourselves.
Last week, I did not make a blog post. I also ended up pushing myself very hard with exercise, resulting in me not being able to do as much this week because I was too busy trying to recover from the excessive activity. I'll admit, I was very disappointed in myself that I didn't keep up with my goal of making a new blog post once a week. I was also very disappointed in myself this week for not doing as much exercise and not just "pushing through the pain". So I took some time to reflect on why things turned out the way they did:
Why didn't I write a blog post? Because I was tired and drained
Why was I tired and drained? I did intense exercise four days in a row
Why did I do intense workouts four days in a row? Because I thought I'd achieve results faster (a very ridiculous notion, btw).
Was that four days of intense exercise helpful? No, because I wasn't properly stretching before and after sessions, and I also got less than five hours of sleep each night.
What can I do to prevent overexertion in the future? Proper stretching before and after sessions, as well as alternating exercises (i.e. planning my workouts according to strength or cardio, tailored to what I want to work on that day).
Am I still a good writer and a consistent person despite this mistake? Yes.
Honestly, I could have easily gone in the opposite direction in all of this. I can admit that if the same thing had happened to me last year, I would have used it as an excuse to fall off the wagon entirely on my wellness, my writing, and my overall productivity. I would have binged on something unhealthy and not even opened my drafts for months. It's an overdramatic response to something that I could easily fix and bounce back from. The core of self-reflection isn't for us to dwell on our mistakes, but to acknowledge them and to find solutions that can get us back on track.
It's an Ongoing Process
As much as I would like to say I've cracked the code and I will never run into the issue of self-destruction again, that's likely not the case. I've come to realize that my personality type is a lot more prone to experiencing anxiety or depression. Because of this, it has taken me some time to create routines and take advantage of support systems that help me through those rough patches. I will say, however, I do feel more equipped to deal with disappointments than I have in the past. Everyone has shortcomings, and no one is consistent 100% of the time.
We don't like to think about it, but self-reflection and developing self-awareness are ongoing processes. As humans, we are naturally inclined to choose a path of least resistance, aka choose whatever is easiest or takes the least amount of work. It's 100% normal that we don't want to do certain things even though we know we would benefit from them. When we want to stay away from doing things according to how we feel, it is a real and intentional effort to do so. But the biggest benefit of being intentional is the reward on the other side. That reward could be self-gratification, knowing that we handled something better than we would have in the past. When we are intentional about our efforts and understand where our worth resides, we make it easier to keep ourselves from self-destructing.