Don't Worry Be HappyArticle by Jillian Mitchell // July 31 2012
Has the bump and grind of life got you frownin’? I feel you. Just remember, when you expect success and say "I can,"you fill yourself with confidence and joy--and soon your life will reflect these qualities. Here’s a little something from Tiny Buddha founder, Lori Deschene, to dust you off and keep you rocking. For your reading pleasure, the addressed parallel is the relationship between positivism and success—both personal (mental, emotional, physical) and professional. (She’s awesome! Trust me.)
“In our personal development-focused, life-coach dependent world, it’s all too easy to think you need to change. Not just the things you do, but who you are.” Can you elaborate on this idea?
This is something that I know all too well. I grew up thinking there was something wrong with me—that I had some huge internal flaw that needed to be fixed. As a result, I never fully recognized my worth, and I never felt satisfied with any positive changes I made in my life. No matter what I fixed, I still felt less than other people.
This is largely what led me to become a self-help junkie; and although my interest in bettering myself may have seemed positive to others, it was actually a way to avoid sitting with myself and finding answers within. I didn’t realize that in order to help myself I had to first love and accept myself.
I now focus on making tiny shifts, first in my thoughts, and then as a natural extension, in my actions. It’s no longer about escaping myself, or desperately searching for answers as to how I can be better and happier. It’s about honoring and nurturing myself, one small improvement at a time, and finding happiness in the process.
In one of your articles you talk about your own personal experience with intrinsic self-loathing: “It’s one thing to invite transformation for the sake of growth, improvement, and new possibilities. It’s another thing to feel so dissatisfied with yourself that no amount of change could possibly convince you that you’re worthy and lovable.” Would you mind sharing a bit of your own personal journey and what prompted you to create Tiny Buddha?
Sure! Like many of us, I dealt with some difficult experiences in my childhood, and I coped by turning my anger inward. I struggled with depression and a serious eating disorder for more than a decade, and I ultimately ended up overmedicated, isolated, and convinced the world would be better off without me.
I started tinybuddha.com after moving from NYC to San Francisco (I’m originally from Massachusetts). I’d spent a couple years touring around the United States for work, and I’d hopped around the country a lot in an attempt to outrun myself. But things were starting to improve in California.
I’d learned and overcome a great deal by then, and I was starting to understand that the only thing that truly held me down in the past was myself—not my circumstances, and not people who had hurt me.
That’s what motivated me to start a community blog, where anyone of any age could submit a story about overcoming life’s universal challenges: I wanted to create a space where we could all help ourselves and each other, and in doing so remember that we are never alone in the world.
In continuation of the previous question, what, in your opinion, is the cause of this seemingly “natural” self-loathing behavior? Why isn’t self-loving the norm?
I believe self-loathing comes naturally to a lot of us because we are the constant in all of our struggles. And it’s tempting to blame ourselves for them, especially if we grew up in environments where other people did the same.
We’re not always taught to honor, respect, and love ourselves, and we also don’t learn growing up how to monitor our thoughts, and dispute the negative ones that don’t serve us well.
There may also be an evolutionary explanation. We all naturally have a negativity bias, which, at one point, helped us protect ourselves from potential harm. Perhaps we’re hard on ourselves in an attempt to protect ourselves from pain down the line.
The irony, of course, is that when we’re hard on ourselves, we might prevent pain in the future, but we also cause it in the present.
One of your theories is to encourage individuals to embrace perceived personal flaws as assets instead of liabilities. How can one adopt this philosophy (I’m assuming baby steps on this one)?
I think it starts by accepting that we all have traits that we might label as negative; we all have a shadow side. If we can become aware of what we dislike about ourselves—about the behaviors or feelings that cause us shame—we can make a proactive choice about our behavior without beating ourselves up.
So for example, I know I am someone who can be overly emotional. For a long time, I saw this as a major flaw. And I was embarrassed by it. This made it even more difficult to regulate my emotions, because I felt guilty about needing to do it.
Now I recognize that my tendency to be over-emotional is a big part of why I created Tiny Buddha. If I didn’t feel emotions so deeply, I wouldn’t understand others as well, and I might not have the same compassion.
In seeing the value of this perceived flaw, I am better able to respond to it rationally, as ironic as that might seem! When I find myself getting worked up and perhaps losing clarity, I remind myself, “There is nothing wrong with me. But I can choose my response right now. I can choose to take a few deep breaths, and if I still feel overly emotional, I can accept it and let it run its course.”
It takes the sting off this perceived flaw, in that it allows me to embrace it.
When it comes to success, our underlying beliefs can make or break us. Once one gains the knowledge of how to change for the good, how can one apply it (and make sure it sticks)?
Sometimes it takes a while to truly change what we believe, and that comes from consistent action and observable progress. What helps me is to start with tiny changes and then build on them.
There was a time when I didn’t believe I could write a book. I felt convinced I could only write short pieces, like blog posts and magazine articles, because I thought I lacked the focus and discipline.
Then I started writing a book, and realized it was essentially many short pieces strung together. By coming to my computer every day, I changed my belief, one page at a time.
What are five things one can do today that can make for a more positive day?
- Start the day with 10 deep breaths (or a short meditation if you feel up to it!)
- At the beginning or end of your day, jot down at least 5 things you’re grateful for.
- Make a list of simple things you enjoy, and incorporate at least one of them into your day.
- Make it a point to catch yourself when you’re getting down on yourself in your head, and instead talk to yourself with the same compassion and encouragement you’d offer a friend.
- Smile—as often as you possibly can!
About the Author
As a professional vocalist (and self-professed grammar nerd), Jill brings a fresh perspective to The Black Page. In addition to earning a B.A. in music, creative writing and English, Jill has also studied vocals with Philadelphia-based vocal coach Owen Brown, known for his work with Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, and Wyclef Jean. Jill makes up the other half of world soul group The Mitchells, alongside Black Page creator, Sean Mitchell.
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