What’s kicking, chickens?
I’m calling you Dole-directly to address defeatist attitudes and getting down on yourself. In non-alliterative terms: today I want to address negative self-talk, and some strategies to avoid this pernicious, fruitless use of mental energy. I have ruminated on the external power of our internal narratives before. Today, I want to expand on my previous thoughts, and possibly offer some strategies to halt self-hating thoughts in their tracks so that you can devote your brainpower down a more productive avenue. I’m the farthest thing from a shrink or a life-coach, and these are issues that I myself am working towards. I decided to write down my thoughts on the topic to help myself out, I hope that what I say isn’t too trite, and maybe some of you smart people can offer some suggestions to the class as well. OK, buckle up, pop some pop-corn, and lets try and work on being kind to ourselves.
I had a terrible day at work yesterday. I work in a microbiology lab (studying DNA replication in my friend Bacillus subtilis); lately I have been attempting to develop a new and technically challenging protocol involving some difficult (and old-school) techniques.
Yesterday I managed to screw up my experiment. Twice. In bizarre and unexpected ways. The first time, I scrapped everything and started over: that was frustrating enough, but I was still optimistic. On the second go-around, it became painfully obvious that the likelihood of me getting good data was about as realistic as Paul Ryan’s budget plan (or marathon time).
As I used a disposable spork to scrape radioactive acrylamide out of the crevices of a 1500 volt power supply, I started thinking some….not so nice thoughts: “Everything you touch turns to crap!” “How are you still so incompetent after so much time in grad school?” “Why the hell are you even doing this, it will NEVER work!”
Life is chaotic, messy, and full of circumstances that we cannot control. I’ve argued before that we should, to a point, embrace the chaos because it makes life interesting. But sometimes, when you are navigating uncharted waters you run smack-dab into an iceberg. It is a natural reaction to get frustrated when things go wrong. The key question is: what do you do with that frustration? How do you respond when you’ve done the best that you can and things still go belly-up?
Unfocused emotions make human beings uncomfortable. When it’s hard to get a handle on what’s going on, it’s easy to get angry AT something or someone, even if that someone is yourself. The easy road is satisfying, gratifying and totally counter-productive. Negative self-talk makes your world small. If you’ve convinced yourself that you always screw everything up, why would you ever try to do anything properly? If you’ve told yourself that you are stupid, why would you even attempt to learn something new? If you’ve told yourself that your ideas are useless, why would you ever share them with anyone to find out if they have merit? If you’ve told yourself that you are ugly and not worth loving, why would you bother giving anyone your affection? It’s a vicious circle, a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it’s easier than addressing the underlying uncertainty. So we’ve identified this crazy-train running through our brains…how the hell do we find the conductor and tell him we’d like to get off and STOP the self-flagellation?
I’m not a self-esteem guru, a licensed psychiatrist, a preacher, a psychic, a bartender, or a hairdresser. I’m sure that people in these professions have much better advice than I do about battling the beast of beating yourself up. I am only a grad student who likes to run a lot, but I have a couple ideas.
Everybody needs a hobby. If that sounds trite, I want to expand the definition of hobby to “activity that is enjoyable for the sake of the activity itself.” For example: I love running, swimming and biking, and would happily do those things every day whether I’m training for a race or not. I (somewhat) enjoy strength training, but I hit the gym in service of becoming a stronger athlete (and, let’s be real, for vanity’s sake). These activities give me tremendous satisfaction. I try to use that satisfaction as a resource when I start hearing my brain creep up with some negative self-talk:
“You struck out the wrong strains and TOTALLY screwed up this experiment, moron”
“Shut up, brain, you also ran a sub-four hour marathon your very first try!”
“Your hair looks ridiculous, your skin is dry, you’ve got a chin-zit: you are disgusting!”
“Simmer down, cerebral cortex, you swam 3,000 yards this morning!”
I truly believe that every person on the planet has SOMETHING that they are good at and that they enjoy doing. Humans are awesome because we are versatile. Some people can play music, some people are great cooks, some people are voracious readers, and some people know a LOT about football.
Whatever it is that you like to do, be PROUD of it. Own it. And when you start feeling frustrated, and your brain starts to whisper in your ear: “you aren’t good enough, you aren’t smart enough, people do not like you!” Make an effort. Find what is FANTASTIC about yourself and use it as your anchor. You don’t have to be the best at your hobby, because your hobby should be something you do for yourself. Who cares if there are faster runners out there? Who cares if someone knows more about football than you? As long as there is something that you do that makes you feel good about yourself, hold on tight to your hobby and let go of the negative thoughts that do not serve you. I don’t pretend for one moment that this is easy: I struggle with it myself. But identifying these negative patterns is the first step in overcoming them.
I think that I have rambled on quite enough for one day and one blog post, so I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from RuPaul: If you can’t love yourself, how the HELL are you going to love somebody else?
Can I get an amen?
So what’s your fantastic, gentle readers? What are you good at? What do you like to do?