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Authoring Your Life for Mental Wellbeing

I’m not worth the paper I’m printed on.

I need to do more to prove that I am worthy.

You’re not good enough.

You don’t know enough.

You’re not thin enough.

You’re not smart enough.

Why don’t I know what my next chapter is?

Never quit.

These are just some of the things people say to themselves whenever I ask, “What do you notice about your inner voice?” If these words were written on note cards I could fill a basement with hundreds of boxes and barrels. Moreover, I’ve said many similar things to myself over the years and have filled my share of them.

And that’s just it. These inner narratives are as old as time. They are so utterly human. ❤️‍🩹

That’s why noticing them is a brave and humble act of recognition. Sharing them is the first step toward releasing them into an ocean of compassion. Even if the first person you share it with is yourself. This doesn’t mean ruminating on the negative or asking yourself,  “Why am I like this?” “Why can’t I change?”  Or, “I’m so tired of myself.”  

Rather, the practice is more about stepping outside of yourself for a little bit and looking around. It’s like taking a walk with that part of yourself, shoulder to shoulder or hand in hand. When you notice the narrative, treat it like an old familiar sidekick. You can name it:  “Oh, that’s the part of me that is afraid to try something new… or feels so uncertain… or is afraid of what others might think.” Once you can notice and name that part, you can nurture it. 

Notice. Name. Nurture.

The poet yung pueblo, which is the pen name for Diego Perez, has a knack for putting such experiences into very simple phrases. In his volume “the way forward,” he writes:

Sometimes we go back to our old life for a little while to remember that it no longer fits. 

It’s funny, in a not so funny kind of way, how easily we catapult back to our old life in the present moment. For instance, whenever you perceive someone challenging your worth or diminishing your very existence. It could be a raise of an eyebrow, a tone of voice, a jest, or the time it takes to get a text message back, that can feel crushingly invalidating.

Sometimes it is not even about a relational exchange, but a fear of not knowing what’s next or a regret of a past action or inaction. Woulda shoulda coulda.

I have a very small part, Scarlett, who can be easily incensed, self-righteous, and passionate. She is quite tame now but shows up from time to time (often in election years) and wants to take a swing at someone or hightail it out of here. For some reason, listening to music on the car radio appeases her. Maybe it’s a visceral sense of freedom of being on a road trip, even if it’s just driving on Charlesbank Road on the way to work and not thinking about anything. The other day I heard a song, new to my ears, by singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, called The Life You Chose. Two lines stood out: 

Are you living the life you chose?

Are you living the life that chose you?

Great reflection questions. When I hear or read about people’s inner narratives, I know it’s a blast from the past here for a visit. And if you’re unaware of the visit, you might be living the life that chose you. But if you are aware that it’s a temporary stay for a moment or so, you can choose to live your life in a new way.

When thoughts show up like, “I’m not worth the paper I’m printed on” or “Why don’t I know what my next chapter is?”, you are being handed an invitation to choose a new direction. It’s a beautiful thing, really.

The psychologist James Pennebaker, known for his decades of research on “writing to heal,” offers a powerful but simple set of instructions (as stated on his website):

  • Find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed. Ideally, pick a time at the end of your workday or before you go to bed.
  • Promise yourself that you will write for a minimum of 15 minutes a day for at least 3 or 4 consecutive days.
  • Once you begin writing, write continuously. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. If you run out of things to write about, just repeat what you have already written.
  • You can write longhand or you can type on a computer. If you are unable to write, you can also talk into a tape recorder.
  • You can write about the same thing on all 3-4 days of writing or you can write about something different each day. It is entirely up to you.

I suggest you write about that inner narrative or part that just showed up from your old life.  You can also write about:

  • A worry or thought you can’t kick out of your mind
  • An activating experience that triggers intense feelings
  • Something that you are dreaming about or the life you want to create
  • An unhealthy habit that affects your life in unwanted ways
  • Something that you have been avoiding for days, weeks, or years
  • Someone you want to forgive (including yourself)

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Because we can be so hard on ourselves and it can feel awkward or inauthentic to offer yourself an affirmation, befriending yourself is simply another learning opportunity for practice! If you are an Insight Timer app subscriber, check out my Perfectionism: A Mindful Self-Compliment Practice. You can check more of my audios on my Insight Timer Profile, too.

Books Photo by Fiona Murray on Unsplash

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