Make Yourself Proud
When you’re struggling with changing a habit or pulling yourself out of a state of depression, it’s tempting to think that the cause of your failure is due to a lack of willpower, talent or commitment. It can be a crushing experience to dwell on how hard it is to take your life to the place you’d hoped it to be right now.
But the problem may have nothing to do with willpower. It may have nothing to do with “you” at all. The real problem may be with the identity you’ve constructed for yourself.
Victims of Choice: When Self-Talk Goes Bad
When you construct an opinion about someone else, you develop it based on a number of factors: what you’ve heard/read people saying about the person, what you’ve seen of their behavior yourself, and (most importantly), what you’ve decided those observations mean.
You decide someone else is generous or selfish, fun or boring, a success or a failure, based on the way you put those pieces together (whether your observations are correct or not). And once you construct that “first impression,” it’s very, very likely that it will never change.
If your first impression is overwhelmingly good, then you’ll “color” everything that person does in a positive light (we’ve all seen people who could “do no wrong” in another’s eyes). If your first impression is bad, then everything that person does gets colored negatively (and you’ve probably experienced this firsthand if someone gets the wrong impression about you).
In fact, your “first impression” may be completely influenced by what someone else has said about a person before you’ve even met them, locking in that perceived identity forever. You’ll never give that person a fair chance or see their actions in an objective light, and that’s tragic.
What’s even more tragic, though, is how this phenomenon comes back to bite you. If you believe people have negative impressions of you, then you start to “color” the perception of your own identity as well.
It could be as simple as someone giving you a funny look or ignoring you-you may find yourself asking “What’s wrong with me?”
Or perhaps a much-hoped-for goal doesn’t work out, and you imagine that people are disappointed in you, and you dwell on this thought: “Why can’t I get anything right?”
Notice I used words like “believe” and “imagined” in those earlier paragraphs – as human beings, we’re very quick to jump to the conclusion that people are thinking negatively of us. And of course, when that happens, we’re going to feel too ashamed or scared to ask people what they’re really feeling. So we stick with our imaginings.
The Downward Spiral
This kind of negative self-talk sets us on a downward spiral, where we worry more and more about looking bad in front of others and we get paralyzed wondering why we can’t be “better” people. With all the things we worry about on a daily basis, and in the shadow of all those other “successes” we don’t feel worthy of, is it any wonder we feel like failures and shams?
And the more we worry, the more we keep these worries to ourselves, lest someone find out “how screwed up we really are.” But the truth is, we really aren’t that screwed up. We’ve just taken all these observations about what we’ve done (or haven’t done) and combined them with things other people have said and things we imagine they must be thinking about us.
And all of this combined paints a powerful picture of ourselves that we strongly identify with … and that identity determines our actions – every single one of them.
Think about it:
- If you think you’re a failure, how strongly will you take action to succeed?
- If you think you’re unlikable/unlovable, how much will you put your heart on the line or pursue new experiences to connect with people?
- If you think you have nothing of value to offer the world (or even one person), how often will you actually try to offer what you do have?
- All this I say from my own experience. I’ve felt all these things myself, and I’ve traveled far and long down this downward spiral. And though I’m no psychiatrist, I can tell you a very effective way to start pulling yourself out of this painful descent.
Make Yourself Proud And You Construct A New Identity
What I’m going to tell you to do right now is so simple that you can get on it in the next 30 minutes. You may feel some significant resistance to it if you’re stuck far down on the spiral, but don’t give up on yourself. Here’s what you need to do right now: Take one small action that you can be personally proud of.
That’s all. Do one thing today that flies in the face of your negative self-conditioning.
- If you believe you’re a junk-food addicted slob, then trade one single can of Coke for a glass of water, or one piece of fruit for a bag of chips today. Make yourself proud of this tiny act of rebellion.
- If you’re telling yourself you’re a lazy couch potato, take one five minute walk today, or walk the stairs in your office one time. Make yourself proud that you did something today.
- If you believe no one wants to talk to you, find one person you know of and email them something supportive and make their day. Make yourself proud that you had the guts to try.
- I’m not telling you to do something earth-shattering here, but this one small act can have massive repercussions if you repeat it (or do similar actions) on a daily basis. By rebelling against your negative identity you’re effectively weakening it by example.
By making yourself proud on a regular basis, you’re going to gradually overwrite that negative identity as a positive one takes shape. If you’re that junk-food addict, you’re eventually going to start saying “I’m not really an addict- after all, I have one piece of fresh fruit a day,” and before long something amazing will happen: your new, positive identity will spur you to make better choices.
- If you’re used to eating a little fruit a day, you start seeing yourself as a more health-conscious person – it becomes part of your identity – and it makes it easier to make choices that are congruent with that identity.
You know this is true – just look at how your negative identity makes it easier for you to take the weak actions that support it. As you construct a stronger positive identity, making choices that support it won’t require as much effort. It will just feel like something that “makes sense” to do.
Your Assignment: Tell Me What You’ll Do To Make Yourself Proud
Take a moment and think of what’s bugging you in your life, and what single action you can take today to make yourself proud. Is it making one better meal choice? Is it closing all your browser windows and focusing for 45 minutes on your work? Is it taking time to spend with someone you’ve neglected?