So often when I’m feeling unhappy and stuck (whether in my life or in my creative work), I find myself frantically trying to control circumstances.
My thoughts go something like this: “If I could just get rid of [X circumstance] and find [X circumstance], and get [X amount of money], and if [X person] wasn’t so hard to deal with, I could stop feeling so bad.”
Or sometimes it goes like this: “If I could just figure out if what I really want is [X] or [Z], then I could move forward. But I’m so confused; I can’t figure it out. So I’m unhappy and I’ll be unhappy until I figure it out.”
There’s a kind of paralysis that sets in when I believe that circumstances are causing my unhappiness. It’s often a breed of analysis paralysis, closely tied to perfectionism, where I’m sure that if I choose the “wrong” thing, I’ll increase my current unhappiness in spades. So I don’t choose.
It usually takes me a while in this spin cycle before I remember: Ohhh. Waiiittt.
It’s not about circumstances. It’s not about making the “right” decision.
It’s about kindness. The kindness I’m forgetting to give to myself.
I don’t know about you, but when I remember to treat myself with kindness, there’s a palpable shift within myself. I feel it in my abdomen first, then my jaw — my entire body softens. I literally feel the rigidity seeping out of me, almost like it forms a puddle around my feet. And then I feel a surprising thing: hope.
From this place, there is fluidity — there is movement. How can that be? I haven’t changed my external circumstances, and yet, there’s movement?
Yes. Martha Beck, with whom I trained to become a life coach, likes to remind her coaches that our circumstances do not create our feeling states; it’s the opposite. Our feeling states create our circumstances.
When our focus is outside ourselves, on what we’re sure the “right” circumstances will bring us, we are disconnected from what’s inside us. We forget where our power actually lies — in our ability to choose how we relate to ourselves, and how relate to the world around us.
And here’s how this relates to our creativity: As I’ve often written on this blog, creativity, as I define it, is nothing more or less than the life force within us.
That life force needs to move. It needs to flow, and to ebb.
When I try to control circumstances, or second-guess my decisions, or try to make the “perfect” choice, that life force gets frozen in time. I’m teetering on the edge of the belief that the “reward” lies on the other side of “right” or “wrong” — when, in fact, the “reward” is right here, within me, if I can remember to treat myself with kindness.
Some of my clients say at first that they simply don’t know how to treat themselves with kindness — or that it seems self-indulgent, or a waste of time.
But my clients are often the kindest people I know — they are truly skilled at directing kindness outside of themselves, toward others. They just haven’t practiced directing it toward themselves.
And there’s a distinct difference between kindness toward ourselves and self-indulgence: Kindness creates movement that comes from the heart; it radiates outward. It’s intimately linked to “inspired action.” Self-indulgence, like a clenched fist, closes us off from ourselves, from the world. Rather than engaging the heart, self-indulgence feels like avoidance of something we fear. Kindness feels like an openness to what we love, to what inspires us.
Sometimes, when I think about doing something like, say, write a blog post about the importance of remembering to treat ourselves with kindness, there’s a hard, embittered piece of me that says things like, “Kindness? How cliche and cheesy and abstract is that?”
And then I have to laugh, because that’s exactly the voice that makes treating myself with kindness my last resort so much of the time. I often come to kindness — or it comes to me — because I’m at the end of my rope with treating myself harshly.
I come to kindness because I realize I’ve literally exhausted all my options if I’m viewing myself, and life, with harshness. Most importantly, I’ve forgotten to acknowledge that I am suffering. Of course it seems like I need to manipulate circumstances and choose perfectly if I’m coming from a harsh, rigid place. Wherever I go, there I am.
So, if I feel backed into a corner, if I believe I’m trapped and there are no good options — whether in my real life or in my creative work — it may be that I’ve forgotten this oh-so-basic step: Treat myself kindly. Exquisitely kindly. Time and again, I learn that from that space of kindness, unseen options emerge.
(To learn more about the amazing benefits of treating ourselves with kindness, check out Kristin Neff’s work at http://selfcompassion.org.)
Do you remember to treat yourself with kindness? Do you think it’s worth doing? Do you apply it in your creative process? I’d love to hear, in the comments.