22 January 2016

Ten Things to Tell Yourself, Instead

"I am perfectly positioned." 
Instead of: I'm not complete. I haven't figured it out. I'm not ready. 

I'm offender number one of keeping things in draft mode, letting perfectionism drive my life & work. It's a huge barrier to human connection because it puts other people's reactions on a pedestal rather than rawness, honesty, and emotion. Maybe you are in the thick of it. And messy. Maybe you're supposed to be. Try to remember this -- whatever it is -- is fading. You will never be here again. You are perfectly positioned in your story. 

"Things are in motion." 
Instead of: I can't make up my mind. I'm unproductive. I feel guilty for not doing x, y, z by now. 

Great news. CHANGING YOUR MIND MEANS THINGS ARE IN MOTION. Whenever you feel anxious about your fluttering, indecisive heart, remember that at the most basic level of plant and animal life is movement. Do you know Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is one of the most widely misinterpreted poems of all time? It's actually not about the narrator arriving at a certain place because he chose a less traversed path. In fact, he discerned two paths  -- and from off these paths many multitudes more -- and he chose one (which at first appeared less traveled, and at second glance, did not) and he walked it. It's actually more about our tendency to retroactively attribute our successes or lots in life to single decisions we made on the way...when in fact, one would be telling a different version of the same story had he/she chosen the other road. This is more concerned with motion. If you live with anxiety you'll know how creating potential storylines, and worrying about the future can make you feel paralyzed. Sometimes, you just need to start walking a road, knowing you can always turn off, carve out your own cul-de-sac, change your mind -- regardless, you are moving. 

"This is an act of generosity, not a performance." 
Instead of: I'm unoriginal. This has been done before. I'm not doing this well, or perfectly. 

I came across this quote from Brenda Ueland and it changed my world: "Writing is not a performance, but a generosity." Put this one above your desk. The act of creation is a life-giving act. And creating begets creating. 

"I am full of contradictions and that's good."  
Instead of: I'm a hypocrite.

Contradictions make for the best storytelling. Our contradictions make us more interesting, more relatable, and humble us. And in order for them to work that magic in our lives, all we have to do is accept them. That's it! Having contradictions means, simply, you are complex. You are rich in memories of multiple lifetimes and selves, and thus rich in empathy for all you encounter. You are multidimensional, wonderful. 

"I will invest love."
Instead of: I'm jealous of so-and-so. Life is unfair. 

Increasingly, I find the antidote to envy or feeling personally inadequate...is to invest love. When you let love drive a small hole in your critical or envious perception of a situation or person, slowly, that hole will grow until it supplants your negativity. I promise. When you feel overwhelmed by these covetous thoughts, the best thing...is to uplift someone. Send a kind note. Leave an encouraging comment. Tell a friend why you appreciate her. Pet a dog. Clean your room. Nurture. Invest love. In fact, can you go do that right now? 

"How can I?"
Instead of: I can't. 

"How can I?" drives more action than "can I?" And certainly more than "I can't." Crumple that thought into a ball and toss it in the trash. It's easy to look at a situation and think of all the things you don't have / ways in which you're underprepared / personal (or financial, emotional, time, etc.) barriers. And some or all of those things might be true. But, instead: How can I? And suddenly you can. 

"I AM." 
Instead of "I'm not _______" (insert any quality you feel you aren't living up to.) 

I love in Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" that sweet reverberating chorus, "I am, I am, I am." Because in a world where we -- I feel especially women -- are defined and begin to self-define as objects, this small line reaffirms that we are the SUBJECT. "Am" is a verb controlled by a subject. I could give you a long list of things I'm not. I'm not particularly witty or fast on my feet, I'm not the funniest, I'm not always easygoing. But, when we define ourselves by not-ness, we reiterate that we're objects, and when we make ourselves objects instead of subjects, the matter of social comparison becomes a whoooole lot more palatable. When I define myself by what I AM -- sensitive, nurturing, intelligent -- I allow those qualities to come out. I recently left a social gathering feeling extremely down on myself because the conversation bubbled and swirled around me and I was just dead silent, had nothing funny or quippy to add, and when I was asked questions, literally mumbled my way through shy responses. I left feeling....purposeless. I really ruminated on it for a good day. And then, I thought, OK, I may not be the best conversationalist. But I AM kind. I am good at encouraging my friends. That evening, I sent out a series of texts to those friends, just letting them know specific things I was proud of them for, why I was happy to be their friend. I can bring that to my relationships. To the world. To my work. If only I can remember what I AM. 

"If I want, I can change my reality." 
Instead of: I'm spineless. I'm a pushover. 

I'll never tell someone to fundamentally change who she is -- including being, yes, a non-confrontational person. I get that. And I think the issue here is not with character, but with language. Even the most passive-seeming of people aren't truly passive -- meaning, being acted only upon rather than acting. Maybe we aren't the types to lead the discussion, but we make excellent listeners. And encouragers. Sometimes we say just the right thing. Sometimes, we change others just by being open to change ourselves. Or by being the positive person in the room. If you want, you can change your reality, even if in small moments. And you don't need to rewrite yourself to do it. 

"Loveliness is still an option."
Instead of: I'm having severe anxiety. Today is a loss. 

One difference -- of many -- between someone who gets anxious and someone who has anxiety is that for the latter, on some days anxiety is all-consuming. It's part of the package. "Loveliness is still an option" is something I've just started to tell myself on these days. And it helps. Maybe you just can't write today. Or think straight. Or even breathe. But you can be a little lovely. Even if you can't connect with other people, and you've been elusive or short...days can be redeemed. You can be lovely. Even if just to your soul. You can be lovely and you can be kind to yourself through tears, insomnia, panic. Sometimes that loveliness is acceptance of days like this. And knowing they don't define you. It might not be the defining emotion of the day, but it can be a spark. And no day is ever truly lost if it has just a spark of loveliness. 

"I am sensitive."
Instead of: I am overly sensitive. 

Those of us who feel our sensitivity is the absolute arbiter of our lives know that the fluid, amorphous space between feeling and action can seem...impossible to navigate. We feel immobilized by emotion. I have been called "overly sensitive" more times than I can count. And I began to accept this statement, trademarked it, stamped it on my soul. It became a point of funny pride, of self-deprecation. But I see now how this eroded me, too. How that one little, almost imperceptible word -- "overly" -- made a dent in my self-concept every time I said it. When you are a very sensitive person, you pay attention to things other people sometimes miss. Things are indelible to you. You remember not just mentally, but emotionally -- all over your body. Instead: I AM SENSITIVE. That can be enough. And so are you. 

And some books I am loving! After Kinsey recommended Brene Brown on her blog I thumbed through all her titles at Barnes & Noble and HAD to have them, so thank you to Kins for that. These are all amazing books that are truly rewriting my sense of self, my work ethic, my relationships. Also, not a book (...yet!) but I am loving my friend Madison's blog right now. 


  1. I just read your post and I am taking time to "invest love" ;)
    Thank you, some parts of it really spoke to me : the one about envy (and I won't say that I envy you, but I admire you for your brilliant, beautiful and inspiring writing), the one about conversing and being more of a listener, ...
    Okay actually all of it spoke to me ! I am - was lately - in the situation of not knowing what path to choose, feeling that my life was at a stop, and now I really feel that things are in motion, which is great and terrifying at the same time. But as you say, I' ve come to accept that some days are made of anxiety and fear, and that it always comes to pass.
    And what you say about passiveness and sensitiveness is so true !
    Thank you for this post, it was really inspriring.
    Have a lovely day and lots of love to your family, especially Archie !

  2. Thank you for posting this, dear.
    These positive affirmations will surely be helpful.

    Lately I have experienced so much anxiety that it's becoming somewhat difficult to sleep. I lie awake in my bed and try to knock down all of the anxiety and "story lines" that it creates - repeating to myself that it is okay, to let the anxiety come and go like crashing waves. It's difficult, but I'm trying.

    P.S. I saw on IG about Archie, I hope he is doing better.

  3. Things are in motion, I will keep that in mind !
    Good post, btw.


  4. I can't believe it took me 25 years of living to find your writing. This entire post spoke to me so strongly, and I'm saving it for future reference! Thank you for writing it.

  5. I love this! I hope it helped other just as it has helped me.
    |D I A N A|

  6. Love this post! I am... is such a powerful phrase, and truly underused. I'm constantly telling people not to speak negativity into fruition because it WILL happen.