As a new year starts, we are surrounded by advice on “How to Make 20xx Your Best Year Ever!”, with renewed enthusiasm for being our “Best Selves!” and vowing to finally change assorted things about ourselves.
This is not going to be one of those posts.
The problem with this comes when we start with the assumption that there is something inherently wrong with us.
It bothers me to think of the number of people (myself included) who might get to the end of their short lives having always been slightly at war with themselves. Seems like a waste, don’t you think?
Don’t get me wrong – we are all flawed. Everyone does and thinks things that aren’t so awesome. And because we are all flawed, this means we are normal.
My firm belief, having never met you, is that there is nothing weird about you.
Every habit you have, every pattern of behaving, every thought and feeling you’ve ever had, every quirk of your physical body – many, many other people do those and have had those too throughout time. Everyone’s a little bit different and a LOT the same.
Sure, some habits, patterns, and thoughts are unhelpful. They make our lives more difficult, less pleasant, less full. But they are still normal.
Loneliness. Anxiety. Depression. Anger. Self-sabotage. Self-destructiveness. Self-isolation. Fear. Laziness. Giving yourself a hard time. Worrying what others think. Over-reacting. Having difficulty getting over someone, or something. All painful and unhelpful, but very, very normal.
I’ve talked in my post about The Second Arrow that when we have one of these totally normal experiences, we tend to make it worse by chastising ourselves with how weird or useless we are for having it or acting that way.
But no-one ever got out of one of these patterns by shaming themselves out of it.
The way to get out of it is self-compassion. What helps me is to notice it for what it is – a painful, normal part of being human. “Poor brain”, I often say to myself, “it’s hard being human sometimes.” It gives me a little space around the feeling or experience. It doesn’t entirely get rid of it, but that’s not the point. It just helps me see that what’s happening is “real but not true”, as Tsoknyi Rinpoche puts it. It gives me a chance and a choice to try and see or do things another way.
Of course, serious issues such as depression or anxiety that interfere with your functioning over a period of time need more attention. But even those are normal these days. The facts are now that most people will experience anxiety or depression at some point in their lifetime. If it’s your turn, I’m sorry you’re hurting. Know you are not alone and you are not abnormal or broken, millions before you and after you will experience the same thing. There’s no shame in letting people know what’s going on and getting help for what is such a normal issue.
If you do want to make this year different – to make the most of it, to learn and challenge yourself, to have the most fun possible, to make the most difference in the world – I hope this gives you a place to start. When your resolve slips, or an old habit creeps back in, or a pattern is triggered, have compassion for how incredibly normal and human you are.
And bonus points if you can extend this compassion to others…