Don’t be self-destructive.
Since the rise of personal digital technologies and the consequential shift in the way we engage with the world, we’re beginning to reimagine our expression of power and control. One by-product of the mandatory nature of curating a self on social media is that our primary focus for our sense of control is ourselves. We must create physical/digital spaces that are healthy and safe. And yes, we try our best to manage ourselves, to focus on the self, to make New Year Resolutions that make a difference: to write a novel that connects with people, to read 40 books to understand ourselves and others better, to travel to 2 new continents to learn and experience different values, but along the way I want you to pay attention to the moments where we’re being self-destructive.
Noticing self-destructive behaviour can be difficult. Often they’re our worst habits and can’t be rid of easily. Because these habits or actions are so familiar, it’s easy to relapse. But what counts as self-destructive behaviour? Here’s a link to a list I found very helpful. (It doesn’t mention endless scrolling on social media when it doesn’t make you feel good, but that’s another one.)
In this post, however, I want to focus on three self-destructive behaviours that have affected me personally and the mindsets I’ve developed as a result.
1. Self-pity, self-loathing, self-defeat
This is a huge one that affects a lot of us: the feeling that we aren’t enough or we aren’t capable and that we’re a failure even before we’ve started. I have had awful moments of self-doubt in 2018 where I’ve felt like I can’t do anything right, but one of the things that helped me most is to change perspective when it comes to how I look at myself.
Comparison is often a damaging measure of success/failure, but we have to look at ourselves as we hope others might see us. Our sense of self is often a cumulation of the reinforced “being” people tell us/suggest we are. We are what we think others think we are. We are, essentially, what we accept ourselves to be. This gives us a fair amount of power. We get to reimagine our “being” as whatever we like. The hard part is accepting the reimagining. I might look at myself from the inside and think I’m awful at everything, but pretend I’m looking from the outside, I’ll see a person who pursues her dreams. The only reason there is an “everything” is because I try more than one thing.
Where possible, take advantage of the fact we listen to the people we trust. In 2018, I made sure I kept a list of the nice things people have said to me about myself and my work. I read them back whenever I feel particularly downtrodden. You can write your own, too. Someone once told me to write a list of 25 things I liked about myself or was proud of myself for. It might take you a while to remember why you’re so good–and I have definitely misplaced the notebook where my own list is–but it’s an exercise in the opposite of self-loathing: self-love.
Final note here: you’re allowed to give yourself compliments. Yes. Come on, the current President of the USA literally bigs himself up with lies. You’re allowed to big yourself up with the truth. If you’re anything like our usual readership, you’re kind, (quietly) ambitious and creative. That’s 3/25 things already!
This was really difficult one to accept. For me, over-eating (snacking on chocolate and biscuits all day) made me feel both good and awful. And the reason I knew it was over-eating is because I knew I was full. Part of me didn’t want to miss out on whatever it is I spotted. I wanted to eat just to have something to do, something to distract. One alternative was to swap out a snack with water or a cup of decaf tea–much more soothing. But the real alternative is to notice and accept when you are feeling full and also learn to say no to yourself. You’re probably at an age where you’ve already tried most of the food in your house or that appears and tempts you at your workplace. Exercising willpower is hard when you want something but don’t need it.
Of course, a lot of the reason people over-eat is stress, so another way to combat over-eating is do other things that are self-soothing. Take a long shower, dance, run, walk to your favourite tree, understand why you are stressed and, again, shift perspective. Do something that reminds you that your current stress is not permanent. (Nothing is permanent.) Listen to a song you like or call a friend for 10 minutes.
But also understand that while over-eating is a self-destructive behaviour, don’t stress. If you notice it might be a problem, seek help from your GP. We all need reminders that there are practical ways to refocus, because for things like this, it can definitely feel uncontrollable.
One final thing to remember is that food is fuel. Use it. The food you eat is literal fuel for the things you do: go to work, look after family, write, learn, educate, socialise, exist. Spend time doing those things instead of searching the cupboards for something to distract you. Feed yourself wholesome books, a new language and society instead.
3. Spending too much
How many times have you bought something you instantly regret? I’ve bought so many clothes and so much make-up that I barely use and scented candles I didn’t need and shoes and books I didn’t really want to read. Buying things is a way we express having some sort of power, but it’s mismanaged power. It can get to be self-destructive because objectively it can’t be healthy owning a bunch of things you don’t use.
The problem, of course, is that living in a capitalist world means buying power is a measure of success. I implore you, friend, recognise when you don’t really need something. (N.B. It’s most of the time.) We over-buy all the time. But the reason we buy is because we think if only we had this, we’d be so happy. But when things we buy go untouched we start to resent them. You know the most meaningful thing we have on this planet is “human” connection, whether it’s with family, friends, strangers, animals, the Earth or ourselves. Spend your money on things you need, care about or enjoy. Don’t spend money just to own something you won’t appreciate or have something arrive in the post for you that you’ll just return a day later.
You know what a great alternative is? Writing letters. Write letters to friends and family. Then they’ll get something wonderful in the post, and if they reply, so will you!
This is going to sound preachy, but if you have money to spare, spend it with heart. Appreciate that a lot of people do not have your capacity to buy rashly. Yes, you earn your money and you have the right to spend it how you wish, but you’re reading a Lucent Dreaming blog post and we only exist because a group of humans choose to volunteer their time and money to make it exist. Spend towards something, don’t just spend.
One of the underlying reasons a lot of us feel hollow these days is that we think we don’t have purpose. Well, the reality is your purpose is to look after yourself, the world and the people around you. You can do that it multiple ways, pursuing a career you love, having a job, learning how to express yourself, getting a degree, volunteering, donating, teaching, etc. Developing your skills, helping people or earning money to survive are all constructive things you do to look after yourself and improve your life. You already have a purpose. Take pride in it. It’s forgetting that purpose–a recognition of what we owe to ourselves–that in part allows for some of our self-destructive behaviours. Remember you matter!
So, when you think about the rich, privileged folks with all that money and power to change the world and how you wish they might use their money better, you can’t not think about yourself too. Notice your own privileges like relative health or disposable income or talent or drive and passion that you can employ to improve your own life, the world and the lives of people around you.
While we’re all capable of self-destructive behaviours, we’re also all capable of constructive behaviour too. Recognise the ways you are being constructive and continue to appreciate and value that, but also recognise your self-destructive behaviours and make 2019 the year you leave it behind.
If there’s one thing to remember in 2019 it’s don’t be self-destructive; be constructive.