Each day I try to grow as a human being; for me that is one of life’s greatest purposes (and challenges). Committed as I am to that purpose I always do my best to see both life and the people I meet through a positive perspective (as I’ve talked about in my last few articles). What’s more, I try to live by the basic principles of humanity: respect, courage, honesty, empathy and compassion; and I try to live a life of worthwhile purpose. In short, I try to live a life that’s both personally fulfilling and one that makes a positive contribution to the world.
Sometimes I fail…or at least I feel as if I’m failing. Sometimes, no matter what I do, I can’t help but feel bitterness, impatience, intolerance, resentment, irritation or annoyance towards others. Sometimes I can’t help but feel those same emotions towards myself, borne out of frustration for my own self perceived weaknesses. Sometimes, despite a firm conviction in my personal mantra, ‘Good only comes out of staying calm and in control’ I nevertheless lose my head – my stress levels will sky rocket out of control; I’ll lose my temper with those I love; and I’ll feel overwhelmed by the pressures of life. Sometimes I feel deep insecurity, not only over my own intrinsic shortcomings as a human being, but also my lack of control over extrinsic circumstances such as finances, health and relationships. Sometimes, I’ll feel miserable and depressed, and detached from the world.
Quite a confession for someone who professes to be committed to a life of self-growth isn’t it? And yes, it is a confession; a cathartic one at that. But one of my core principles is to live, or at least try to live, as authentically as possible; to live as I am, not as a pretence of who I think I should be (or others expect me to be).
Indeed, living authentically – being true to yourself – is in my mind, at the very heart of living a positive and fulfilling life. Only by letting go of the ‘act’ can you follow your passions, find your true purpose and develop an intrinsic sense of self-worth; a sense of self-worth that’s entirely independent on other people’s views of you. And without all those gifts that flow from being in touch with the authentic you, life is only experienced on a superficial level. Your attitude remains manipulative as you try to secure approval from friends, family, co-workers or even society in general. At the core of such inauthenticity are the constant preoccupations, ‘What are they thinking of me?’, ‘How should I behave?’ and ‘What’s in it for me?’
I am therefore, happy to share my negativities and my weaknesses, because as someone who believes in the genuine good that comes about from living authentically, I have nothing to fear from revealing who I really am.
We All Fall Short Sometimes
But this article isn’t intended to be a confessional…neither is it intended to be a master class in learning to get in touch with the authentic you. Instead, my confessions are laid bare for a higher purpose: to show that no matter how positive our underlying intention may be, we all sometimes fail to life up to the ‘ideals’ we set ourselves, even when we’re dedicated to those ideals.
Should you berate yourself when you fail to meet your own expectations?
No…That is the last thing you should do. Self-criticism can only ever lead to one thing, a negative emotional state; one where frustration and despair compound your sense of failure; and one which gives rise to such insidious thoughts as, ‘I can’t keep anything up…I’m useless…I always fail…What’s wrong with me?’
To that end, self-criticism is entirely counterproductive. But what’s more, it turns your perceived failings into self-fulfilling prophecies. If for example, you condemn yourself for failing to live up to an ideal (for example, by indulging in a bad habit or falling back into old unhelpful ways of thinking or acting) and consequently, you fall into a self-pitying trap of confirming your ineptitude through such negative self-statements as, ‘I’m no good at anything / I can’t keep anything up’, then what do you do? You give up!
You’ve told yourself you can’t do it, that you’re a failure, or that you’ve failed, and by default, you turn that negative belief into reality.
Beliefs, as I’ve talked about many a time on HelpfulHabits.net, are powerful things – they define who you are and consequently, they shape your reality. We act in accordance with our beliefs: tell yourself you’re a failure and that’s exactly what you’ll do…you’ll fail. Paradoxically of course, telling yourself you’re a ‘winner’ won’t necessarily have the opposite effect – if only it were that easy But having a resolute belief in your abilities and your strength to carry on regardless of the obstacles that litter your path will never, in the long, let you down.
I wrote in my previous article that a ‘failure fails once, a successful individual fails many times’.
That is the key point here too. Failing to live up to your own ideals (in whatever shape or form) is only a failure if you perceive it as such – it’s purely a state of mind.
The reality is that we are human, and despite our infinite potential to grow, learn, improve and achieve, and despite the many virtues of being human, we also have weaknesses and we are imperfect. And if imperfection is a hallmark of being human, you can guarantee that we all, from time to time, will succumb to that imperfection – we will let ourselves and our ideals down. To accept that as a normal part of being human is the key to having the resilience to bounce back from failure and to have the boundless determination to carry on.
It’s those people who look at themselves and the world in terms of black and white, dichotomies of win or lose, succeed or fail, who either end up failing miserably at everything they set out to achieve or alternatively, have an extremely hard time succeeding. Those on the other hand, who have the flexibility to recognise their failings not as a failure in an absolute sense, but as an intrinsic (and necessary) part of the path towards achievement, are the ones you succeed; and who do so without incurring the emotional battle scars of those who subscribe to the win / lose ethos.
Thomas Edison provides a classic example of the persistence, tenacity and resilience that this non-rigid perspective encourages. ‘I have not failed 800 times, I have found 800 ways that don’t work’ was his response when questioned as to whether his countless attempts to develop a functioning light bulb had left him at all demotivated.
You too, never fail; your failures are simply a part of the learning curve on your pathway to success; as long as you treat them as such that is.
Compassion and Acceptance
So imperfection is part of being human; and to that end you will, like me, let yourself down from time to time, regardless of how motivated or committed you are to your cause – it’s an inevitable fact of life. Likewise, your ‘failures’ are simply a state of mind; and to that end you can choose to see them in an absolute sense – ‘I have failed, I am an utter failure’, or you can choose to see them as part of life’s rich tapestry of growth and enlightenment.
Bearing in mind those two above mentioned principles will help you to move away from the destructive effects of self-criticism and move towards the peace of mind that flows out of having a compassionate acceptance for your weaknesses. That ability to forgive yourself for your imperfections (because they are just part of being human) and to accept yourself for who you are, how you feel and how you’re acting right now in the present moment, gives you the contemplative solace, free from negative emotion, that’s absolutely vital to overcoming your setbacks.
In fact, that last sentence needs further elaboration because it forms such a vital key to dealing with problems…any problem. I talk a lot about positive thinking on HelpfulHabits.net – but the fact is, not thinking negatively forms a vital prelude to positive thinking; because it really is impossible to attempt to look at something in a positive light until you’ve let go of the negative.
It sounds like common sense doesn’t it? But the fact is, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of ‘trying to look on the bright side’ when deep down you’re holding on to a great deal of negativism. It’s a lesson that’s rarely given the attention it deserves, and one that I learned the hard way from years of unsuccessfully trying to think positively. So never forget, you must let go of negativity before you can act or think positively.
Having compassionate acceptance for who you are, including your weaknesses and failings, helps you to do just that…to let go of the underlying, often subconscious negativism.
It’s important to remember that having compassionate acceptance for your personal failings and weaknesses is all about putting yourself in the right positive state of mind to keep working and improving on those weaknesses. It’s the antidote to the destructive and limiting effects of self-criticism. It’s borne out of hope not hopelessness.
Accepting your weaknesses should never be about making excuses for those weaknesses, or a means of resigning yourself to fate. The philosophy is not borne out of the sort of indifferent or apathetic perspective that says, ‘I’m not to blame…this is just the way I am…there’s nothing I can do’. I firmly believe there are few things that we cannot do, achieve or become if we put our minds to the task, so to use acceptance of your shortcomings as an excuse to explain away those shortcomings would really be to let yourself down.
The acceptance I’m taking about stems from having the courage to acknowledge your failings or weaknesses and then having the further courage and responsibility to do something about them, by putting yourself in the right state of mind to regroup your inner resources. It’s about choosing a positive emotional response to your situation.
Always remember that the single point of adopting a philosophy of compassionate acceptance is to counteract that one thing that can never help you to resolve your difficulties – self-criticism. If you’re a naturally very self-critical person (as I am myself) you’ll already appreciate that fact. In fact, if you are very self-critical by nature, you’ll know that it’s not making mistakes or the being less than perfect that you fear, it’s the prospect of the ensuing self-criticism that sends a shudder down your spine. It’s that self-critical response to your mistakes that grinds you into the ground, which consumes you with feelings of frustration, demotivation and despair – the emotions which then in turn complete the ‘failure circle’ by turning a short term slip-up into a finite, irredeemable catastrophe.
Through compassionate acceptance your attitude becomes, ‘I am disappointed with my actions (or thoughts), but I am not disappointed with myself. I am just human; I make mistakes and I am imperfect – therefore, I will sometimes fail to live up to my own expectations and ideals. Feeling angry, frustrated or upset with myself will not help me to resolve the situation; those negative emotions that arise from self-criticism will just make the situation worse. Therefore, I will not indulge in such self-pitying behaviour, but instead will feel compassion for my human weaknesses and accept my short-term failings. From that attitude of compassionate acceptance I will have the peace of mind and the positive resolve to get myself back on track.’
Whenever I lose my temper, feel stressed, start focusing on the negative or give in to the multitude of unhelpful acts and thoughts that we all seem quick to default to as human beings, the one thing I’ve consistently programmed myself to do, is to ‘let go of it’ by adopting this very philosophy.
By doing so, my weaknesses never get the better of me for too long; and they certainly never gain the strength to define me. In fact, I learn and grow from my failures and I work harder to overcome them. I accept where I am in my development and wonder how I can improve.
To that end, it’s a powerful philosophy of encouragement and inspiration, one that never fails to keep me steadily growing in character and resolve; one that if you’re similarly prepared to adopt will have an equally powerful effect on you.