So, I have a confession to make. It’s a pretty damning confession from someone who writes about personal development and motivation and discipline. For those regular readers of my articles, you may have noticed that I have not posted in a while. Sorry about that. But holy shit, have I been in a rut. That is a hard thing to admit but God it feels good to say. Just admitting it makes it easier to accept. I don’t know where it is coming from. I have tried to dig it out. I just feel, hollow and lost. Like I am missing something in all of this or like I took a wrong turn somewhere. I know it is a temporary thing. It has happened in the past, and I will figure out the cause, but it has me in it’s grip and it is not where I want to be.
I don’t want it to be true because I want to maintain the image that I am constantly making mountains of progress and slowly evolving into the perfect version of myself since I decided to undertake this personal development journey in earnest a couple years ago. But it’s just not true and I don’t want to be disingenuous to myself or to anyone else.
The truth is, this is not a linear path, this life committed to bettering yourself. It ebbs and flows. You win sometimes and other times you find yourself staring down the repercussions of a regrettable situation, yet again. People think that as soon as you commit yourself to personal development that somehow, overnight, you just change and all the stupid shit you used to do you stop doing.
But that’s not how it works. Personal development is a constant fucking war. It’s messy as all hell and you are going to lose as many, if not more, battles than you win. But that’s ok. A war is won by losing the right battles and winning the right battles. And we focus on winning the right battles by knowing which fights are winnable and which are worth winning. By deciding where we need to focus our attention and retreating from the fights we just can’t win right now.
I don’t ever see anyone in the personal development world talking about this, though. No one is talking about the occasional stagnation and backsliding that happens when you are seriously committed to the difficult work of bettering yourself and your life. The reality is, we are all just sloppy, distracted monkeys trying to be better for ourselves and for the people we love and for the world and being sloppy, distracted monkeys we are going to constantly stagnate or backslide into old, negative habits if we let ourselves.
But there are ways that we can regain ourselves when we are threatened with stagnation or returning to old negatives and directionless actions.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
This is my go to move. As soon as I catch myself moving back into old habits I start punishing myself in my mind. That comes from years of abusive voices saying it in my ears when I failed, so I have been trying to soften that voice into my own, but I don’t always win that fight.
I do know that, when I am soft and compassionate and kind with myself when I eventually fuck up, I feel better. I feel stronger and instantly more committed to returning to my progress of development instead of focusing on the mistake I made or the old habit I returned to.
There is something about being able to nurture yourself that is empowering. To be able to scoop up the pieces of your own broken things is a remarkable talent and it is an instant indicator of future success. If you can heal yourself after a defeat. Fuck. That’s a superpower.
And we heal ourselves after our mistakes by remembering that nobody has all of this shit figured out and we are going to fuck this up more often than not. It’s hard work and it’s painful work and it scary, sometimes directionless, lonely, occasionally upside work but it’s worth it and if we are committed to it we have to take the ups and downs with compassion and understanding.
The world is going to throw punches and shade and all kinds of other painful potentials at you. There is no reason you should do the same to yourself. Try to be gentle with your mistakes and remember that you spent years doing the stupid shit you are trying to change. It doesn’t happen overnight and you get nowhere by beating yourself up when you make a mistake.
Revisit Your Inspiration
Something pushed you over the edge last time. Something stark and vivid and you need to return to that moment. Very few people turn to a life of reflection, wisdom, and improvement without some higher motivation that slaps them on the back of the head when they are not looking.
Sure it creeps in slow but the moment of inspiration is a lightning strike. It is a crystallized moment of undeniable force and intensity. A loved one dying. A near death experience. A desperately low point. An epiphany of philosophy. A visit from the divine. Some tragedy or revelation. Something exploded inside you to set you on a course to live a life in accord with something higher in yourself and you need to get back there with all your senses and bring that inspiration back to life.
Meditate on it. Bring that moment back with as much detail and veracity as you can. Feel it and breathe it and let it burn inside you again so that you are fueled by the fires of it. Memories are powerful things and powerful memories are sacred. Use the divinity of them to reignite your purpose and discipline.
Pull The Weeds That Grew
And when you are reinvigorated from the memory of your inspiration, you set your heels in to doing all the dirty work of getting started again. Yeah. That’s the price you pay for neglecting your progress for a while. You get to start all over. Ok. Not all over. But you do have some serious garden tending to do.
Near the end of his satire, Candide, French enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire said that we should all “tend our own gardens”. Voltaire here is suggesting that we are all responsible for keeping our own affairs in life and his metaphor is an apt one for my own suggestion regarding the work we must do after a hiatus from our progress.
In this beautiful garden we are striving to grow in our minds and our lives, we are responsible for the maintenance of it. Our decision to make changes in our life had us begin the tilling and preparation of that garden, and we slowly began planting new seeds in there that would grow in place of the weeds that grew there before.
But those weeds are relentless and they will grow again in your garden if we are not vigilant and take efforts to constantly pull them out as they surface. And those weeds will always try to grow back when we are not looking. And there will always be a few hanging around that we miss, but you have to make sure we are constantly pulling what weeds we see and making sure our garden is more of the seeds we planted and not strangled by the weeds.
Is that metaphor too convoluted? Fine. Moral of the story is this – when you neglect the attention of the good habits you are trying to build, those pesky, motivated bad habits are going to resurface in their place, so you have to restart the good habits and keep a close watch on there redevelopment in order to be successful with them. They take care and patience to be become the good habits we want to replace the bad we don’t.
Ignoring The Critics
Ok. So you backslid. Or made a mistake. Or got distracted for a month with travel and a lack of inspiration and motivation. Whatever. As soon as you try to get back on track and return to the progress that you were trying to make you are going to hit a brick wall of uninformed critics. I can promise that. People calling you out on your lack of authenticity or mistakes. That is just how some people are.
If you do anything even remotely abnormal, like trying to follow some pesky dream or trying to pursue some imagined better life, there are always going to be assholes who try to shit on your parade. Always.
But if we get comfortable identifying and devising a strategy for dealing with critics they become nothing more than testament to our progress. Because the more we improve our lives the more critics come out of the woodwork as they look at their own shitty, stagnant lives and try to bring you back down to their level.
These are people who just straight up don’t like your shit. They were never on your side, never pretended to be on your side, and are going to take every chance they can get to talk shit to you and about you. These are usually people who don’t know you. Their criticisms are usually false and fucking ridiculous but they can occasionally score a hit on some sensitive part of our lives.
When they do, we have to just let that shit slide off of our backs. Anyone who is actively pursuing an assassination attempt on your character or trying to dissuade you from a dream chasing idea or habit is obviously not worth your time. Easier said then done, I know, but a good strategy is to ask yourself what pain or misery that person has in their life that is prompting them to attack yours. Most people you criticize others are merely vocalizing the dissatisfaction they have in their own lives. If we can develop a little compassion for our critics we can easier accept their childish attempts at sabotaging our progress.
The most magical superpowers of the best critics is that they know exactly when to strike and how deep to cut. The best critics come out in the darkest parts of your night and they cut the deepest wounds. Friends and family are particularly good at this because they know you the best. These are usually your covert critics.
The reality is, most critics don’t think they are being critics. They think they are saving you from something. That by pointing out the impossibility of something they are saving you from some future hurt. You know what the problem with that is? By saving us from a future hurt you are just causing one perpetual one.
By telling someone that what they are going after is not going to work out, or it’s too hard, or now is not the right time, whatever, you are causing a constant level of doubt, dissatisfaction and anxiety that their dreams are unreachable. Who the fuck has the right to tell anyone that? Seriously. No one has any idea what someone else is capable of or what lives in their heart. No one has any right or reason to save anyone from a future hurt that is gained in the pursuit of a dream. I think almost everyone would rather fail in pursuit of a dream than succeed in the mundane.
So when these covert critics pop up and try to stealthily sabotage your progress, just remember that they are usually coming from a place they think is good and it is enough to smile, nod and go fucking prove them wrong.
If you are pursuing something great in your life, there will come a time when you are going to run face first into a wall and it is going to stop you dead in your tracks. It happens to everyone. Be it a lack of motivation, a general lack of confidence or progress, a fading of your inspiration, or the stinging words of critics. Whatever it is, something is going to threaten your continued progress down the path you want to take in this personal development journey of yours. But that’s ok.
It happens to everyone. Just because we choose to follow some great, distant dream of our future does not mean that the clouds will part, the path will become obvious, and we will skip our merry little asses towards it without any difficulty. In fact, the opposite is true.
Once you decide that you want to change something – that you want to go after something – that is when you prepare yourself for the impending war against the bad habits of your old self and negatives of the world that try to keep you from your progress. You will fight a million battles, each threatening to remove you from the battlefield, but every loss is an opportunity to strengthen our resolve and return again to the reasons for our conflicts and the purpose for our pain.
You won’t always get this right, and sometimes you will have large lapses in progress, but the goals isn’t to get to where you want to be following a straight line, it is to stagger your ass over the finish line in any way that you can. The only things that matters is relentless forward progress. Nothing else matters. And that means that every time you take a step backward or you stop moving, you find the strength and the reason to begin again. That’s all this is, this idea of betterment. It is a constant offensive against the powers, internal and external, that would have us lose the war for our happiness and well being. So, we fight like it matters and we never accept a temporary defeat as a sign that the war has been lost. You only lose if you stop fighting.