Focusing On The Good In Ourselves
My last article entitled “The Many Things People Are” talked about how I’ve learned not to dwell on the areas I wish others would improve in their lives. My next challenge is focusing on the positive and extending the same acceptance and love towards myself.
Ironically in life, when it comes to our accomplishments, failures outnumber successes. It’s just the way it is. Chances are, for the major things you’ve achieved throughout life, you didn’t succeed on your first attempt. The road to success is usually littered with setbacks, potholes, distractions, and failures.
Radio talk show host Mike Rosen loved to use baseball as an analogy to life. So, keeping his comparison more current, I looked up the top batter in Major League Baseball and discovered he batted an average of .346. This means he succeeds only 34.6% of the time he goes up to the plate. However, that percentage is enough to be considered among the world’s elite and demands millions of dollars a year in compensation. Think about that. The best in the league fails while batting 65.4% of the time. Moving this analogy out of the baseball stadium, people who succeed around 33% of the time are probably among Earth’s most elite. If we could ask Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, or any person you would consider among our most successful, we would find out they too had many failures.
Having fewer successes than failures, it should be easier to remember the successes. But I’ve found it’s usually just the opposite. I can easily remember the time in elementary school when I froze on stage in front of the entire school and couldn’t go through with my lines, and yet I remember barely anything about my high school graduation. I can remember every embarrassing, disastrous moment of my life, but I struggle to recall many of my most amazing accomplishments.
When I realized this, I spent a great deal of time thinking about the many successes I’ve had in my life. I made a list of my greatest achievements—any and everything I was proud I had accomplished. I then tried to remember all the details and feelings associated with each event. Believe it or not, some of it came back to me. This exercise taught me I can choose to remember and relive my high moments and accomplishments, instead of the times somebody hurt me, I
was embarrassed, or things didn’t work out. Since then, I’ve had to work daily to keep my attention and focus on my accomplishments, good qualities, and what I do well. I’ve found by doing so, I’ve brought more happiness and joy into my life.
For me, focusing on the many things I am instead of the few I am not, will be a lifetime of work. The good news is, I can say without a doubt the progress I’ve made thus far has proven to be time well spent.
And while I continue to work on the areas in my life that need improvement, I try my best not to dwell and beat myself up about them. This is easier said than done, as most of us are our own harshest critics. We can be so terrible to ourselves, while not even realizing it. I’ve caught myself saying things inside my head like, “You’re so fucking stupid. God! You’re an idiot.” Can you imagine saying this to someone you love when they make a mistake? If we talked to our loved ones the way we talk to ourselves, we would be horrified.
Ever said to yourself, “I’m getting drunk tonight!” to try erasing the pain from the day? I have. When I’m depressed, I can sit in front of the television for hours, eating junk, not exercising, and feeling sorry for myself. We beat up our physical bodies to numb out or punish ourselves in many ways. We overeat or eat poorly, smoke, drink, chew tobacco, vape, take pills, or do drugs—sometimes many of these combined. We do it because it makes us feel better and gives us some relief from our pain. Do you know, if we poisoned and beat up the physical bodies of our beloved children or our pets after they made a mistake, we would cry in sadness. We would never dream of doing such a thing, yet we think not twice when it comes to hurting ourselves.
I’m sure it’s a fine thing to numb out occasionally or to overindulge here and there as a method of release, but here I’m talking about long-term, sustained abuse of ourselves as a matter of coping with our pain and failures.
Irritatingly, I remember every painful detail about two times in my life when a person I was in love with walked out on me. While they are both good people and I’ve come to accept the loss and understand why it was they left, the act of them leaving still hurts. People say, “The sadness and pain will stop when you deal with it.” I think that’s a poor choice of words. A pain, loss, trauma, or hurt never disappears and can’t ever be fully “dealt with.” Even after you process it and move to acceptance, you can still think back to how you felt the day it happened, and still feel the pain. The key is not to relive the hurt every day for years and years.
Even though I worked through it and am at peace with what happened, it doesn’t take away the hurt I experienced. There will most likely always be a part of me that wishes it would have worked out more to my approval. I say that not as a discouragement, but as a fact of life. If we know this is the case, then we won’t continue to waste time trying in vain to stomp out any negative feeling associated with that event. We can all accept and understand it will just be present there forever. These negative feelings won’t be as loud or as strong as when the incident occurred, but they’ll be present and that’s just going to have to be ok. It’s part of life for all of us, and what we have been through makes us the unique people we are today.
I’ve heard it said no feelings are inherently good or bad, they just are. Traditionally, we label pain and sadness for example as “bad” emotions and don’t like to feel them, so we avoid them. We label happiness and joy as “good” and seek them out. When we know pain is coming we all say, “Oh, man! I don’t want to go through that! That’s going to suck!” I’m not sure we will ever look forward to experiencing pain and sadness because we were successful in convincing ourselves that emotions are neither good nor bad. The better way is to accept we will not get out of this life without experiencing loss, pain, or sadness.
I think it’s also important to point out there are good and bad sides to both “good” and “bad” emotions. I believe it’s in the difficult and painful times we see the most interpersonal growth. This usually isn’t clear until long after these difficult moments are over, but if you look back, I think you’ll find this is true. Sometimes, you can see a series of events that occurred because of your loss and pain, which pushed you forward into a new, better and prosperous time in your life.
Conversely, we don’t try to avoid the good emotions. The problems begin when we cling to whatever is providing us the good emotion. For example, we can get sad and depressed when an amazing trip or experience is going to come to an end, so much so, that many times we ruin the good moments, fearing their conclusion. Other times, we won’t let go of someone or of something bringing us joy. We hold on so long and tightly that all the joy dries up, leaving nothing but fear and pain.
I think much of our anger and suffering occurs because we want to be more in control. We are angry we can’t do more to direct our own steps. We can’t prevent our loved ones from dying. We can’t stop someone who walks out on us. We can’t control if we get sick. Most of the things we wished we could have avoided in life were far beyond the reaches of our control.
I think the real secret is learning to accept all the things that come with this life. The realization that as long as we are breathing, there will be times where we will experience loss, pain or sickness. This is really the key to acceptance. We do what we can to make good decisions and minimize the risk to ourselves, but ultimately we hand over the reins to God, or the Universe, or to happenstance. Whichever you believe that is up to you!
For many of us, celebrating and remembering our successes, our good qualities, and the positive will take a long time to make into a habit. I’ve been at it about a year-and-a-half so far, and there’s more work yet to be done. Reprogramming our thinking to accept some harsh realities of life is also no easy task. But as we move forward on our individual journeys, the real skill I want to develop and one we do have control over, which I’ve found to be the most powerful tool on Earth—learning how to frame the events and circumstances in our lives in a better way.
**Steve Warneke is an award-winning author, writer, contributor, and speaker. Steve’s book and more are available at www.stevewarneke.com.