For several months after I passed my driving test last October, each time I had to drive somewhere new or that in my mind was a “scary place” (Clapham Junction, the winding country roads near me and the M25 spring to mind), I’d quietly worry about the journey and anticipate drama – in my mind, I’ve been in many crashes! Clearly, I am fine, so when the same ‘ole thought pattern started several weeks back, I halted it in its tracks, laughing to myself as previous journeys flashed through my mind. My perception of where I can drive and what I can handle, clearly needed to catch up with reality.
It reminded me that before my ego, or inner critic, or inner child, or Debbie Downer and Doubting Dick, or Penny the Pleaser or whoever else chips in their two cents and rains on my parade, I might as well give things a try and pay attention to what happens, how I feel and what I learn as opposed to whipping me up into anxiety or curtailing me.
Clearly, what I think that I can or cannot do is inaccurate. This is true for a lot of us.
We don’t spend enough time in the present and either live in the past and use it as a predictor of the future (and tend to use dodgy reasoning rather than helpful lessons and insights) or we try to anticipate what’s next (and predict doom or over-egg it).
It’s interesting that despite us often convincing ourselves that something will be impossible or very difficult, when we do it anyway or it happens, we are slow to notice and accept this. We look for the catch.
We can be so entrenched in stressing ourselves out and focused on the story of our eff-ups and so-called imperfections, that we don’t internalise our accomplishments and achievements never mind the good stuff as it’s happening.
We convince ourselves that we’re a fraud and even if we do something a thousand times, we’re carrying on as if it’s a fluke or a con and that any minute now we’re going to be found out— Imposter Syndrome.
One guy I know has been in the same company for the best part of twenty years and despite advancing to a high level, somewhere inside he’s still the student who didn’t do as well as he had hoped to. Sure, it’s possible that he got the job by fluke or, maybe they didn’t care about his grades as much as he did and does. With all of his experience as well as the numerous promotions, it’s time for him to ask himself, At what point am I going to choose to pay attention to my accomplishments and achievements instead of criticising me?
If we don’t acknowledge the inaccuracies in our self-image, which is our perception of our appearance (physical and also where we fit in in a social context) as well as our personality, capabilities and our perception of our capabilities, we close our mind to the possibilities and remain in an uncomfortable comfort zone because we keep acting as if certain things of are off limits. We’re unavailable for what we truly desire.
When we don’t acknowledge the inaccuracies in the things that we’ve convinced ourselves of that they’ll be difficult or impossible, it’s as if we only remember the pain we felt at the onset of doing it or our predictions for how we might feel in the future (based on past mistakes or experiences) or what might happen.
We treat our feelings as facts and even when the facts turn out to be different, we focus on the feelings. We also don’t notice when our feelings change, so if we started out terrified but then as we went along and took in more information and had a go at whatever it was, our feelings changed, we keep re-traumatising ourselves over feeling terrified at the start. Sometimes we focus on the challenges we experienced along the way, failing to note how we overcame these challenges, which in some respects is like going through an agonising labour, having the baby and ignoring what follows and just remembering the labour itself.
When we don’t acknowledge the inaccuracies in the superpowers that we’ve given us to Jedi Mind trick others with our people pleasing and then we continue in painful relationships and situations, we’re also focusing on the beginning. It’s why we do the whole, “It started out so great, why can’t they go back to the person they were in the beginning?” There’s a brief period of time where we were in our bubble, convinced that our activities were going to pay off and that the slot machine was going to spit out the jackpot, and rather than acknowledge what’s so off about what we’re doing to ourselves or acknowledging the reality of what happened, we keep focusing on how we thought things were and how we think things ‘should’ be. We’d rather not acknowledge the inaccuracies— instead we attempt to collect the debt created by us feeling short-changed by our imagination.
Back in the day, I thought I could turn water into wine and turn Mr Unavailables into Mr Availables or get them to fill up my void and fix all of my issues stemming from childhood so that they could make me lovable. Note that most of us find doing the self-work intimidating enough to want to dodge some or all aspects of it that it is amazing that we actually think that somebody else who has their own set of stuff going on, would actually do what we’re expecting. I used to think that I could just go around doing what I felt was pleasing stuff and that someone somewhere would go, “Gold star for Natalie. Go and get The Perfect Man TM out of the secret cabinet and wipe out her issues while you’re at it”.
Our “I can” and “I can’t” isn’t always accurate. We need to pay attention instead of blindly accepting stuff that holds us back or causes us harm.
Going through this experience of being a new driver has taught me that when we fail to acknowledge who we are and what we have done and what we can do, we hold us to excessively high standards. We then experience an incredible amount of stress due to striving for a perfection that doesn’t exist and not acknowledging progress. Each time I forgot how I’d overcome each new challenge, I was carrying on as if nothing counted until I had this magic moment where I officially became The Perfect Driver. I would then be worthy of not thinking these things. No matter what I do in life, I’m going to have doubts and sometimes I’m going to have a hell of a lot of fear.
While we can’t help what pops into our thoughts, we have a choice about how we respond.
The more we feed us with junk food thoughts that erode our self-belief, is the less that we enjoy the journey. We feel tense and it has a huge knock-on effect. There is no magic moment and no matter what ‘tests’ we do in life, we’re always having those tests put to the test. There is no cruise control. We have to internalise our progress including our accomplishments, achievements and messages from our true self because there is not going to be this magic moment where we reach perfection and finally have permission to start.
Even if we discover that we can’t do something right now, it isn’t a permanent statement of the future.
We don’t know our full potential and we definitely don’t know what our full experience is– we haven’t lived it. We will continue to surprise and stretch us if we take the time to try even when we’re scared and to notice when what we fear is not the actuality.