I have a bit of a personal one today, that comes from a lesson I’ve struggled a lot with learning.
See, some of the stuff I share with you are lessons I’ve learned fairly easily, I see a better way of thinking or doing or being and I change my ways, without too much fuss.
Well, others I’m still learning. And each time I think I’ve got it – I get thrown back on my ass again, like someone telling me to get back in the ring, we’re not done!
Anyway, this lesson is more on that side. A bit of a slippery one, I tend to forget… until I realise I’m feeling all the feels. Exhausted. Frustrated. Resentful. Even mistreated.
But in any case, the only one who is ever mistreating me… is, ME!
OK so the lesson is: It’s OK to NOT do it.
It’s a bit of a weird one, because most of the advice or lessons or ponderings I share with you are actions to take or ways of doing things – but this one, this one is about NOT doing.
It’s about… identifying what you really don’t have to do. Moreover, it’s about dropping the GUILT that comes from not doing the thing.
Let’s get into some real examples.
Going out with friends.
A job from a client.
A collaboration with a fellow creative.
A new morning routine.
In any case, if you were to consult your rational, thinking mind, you’d probably rest on the side of doing the thing, going ahead with it despite your resistance because there are perfectly good reasons to. It will benefit you in the long run. Or it will make someone else happy. Or it will make you money.
All good things!
Unless, you’re soul is telling you otherwise.
OK, I won’t go too far down the esoteric rabbit hole here, but I will admit I believe in some part of us – and it may only be the unconscious mind, parts of our mind that we don’t have conscious awareness of, emotional centres and so on – but whatever you believe, I think most of us have a sense of something that feels, but doesn’t necessarily think. It’s THAT part of me I want to pay attention to more.
Why? Can’t I just overwrite my feelings with my more modern, progressive, thinking mind (the neocortex?) Well, no. Sorry. No matter how advanced you think you are, you’re still subject to the older part of your brain: and ignoring the signals it’s giving you is unlikely to end well.
It usually ends up in the therapists office.
But the good news is, is that this part of us – the soul or the unconscious – is giving us clues about what we should and shouldn’t do. It gives us clues about how we really feel about that group of friends, or what time we should wake up in the morning.
I’m using the word ’should’ here, even though I’m not a fan. The only time I like to use it is in this context: because in my experience, the only thing we should do is pay attention to what ’s best for us – and I know that might sound selfish, but the result of NOT doing what’s best for you is that you are going to be less helpful to those around you, in the long run.
OK so back to these clues we’re getting.
What kind of clues show up when you’re trying to force yourself to do something you don’t, deep down, want to do?
In mild cases, you might just feel a bit annoyed or less joyful than usual when you think about doing it. You might – unconsciously – procrastinate instead of doing it.
You might lose sleep over it. You might feel resentful to people involved. I turn into a moody little bitch.
In extreme, cases that extend over time, you might become chronically ill. Yeah. I’ve read some evidence to suggest that this is the kind of thing that leads to chronic illnesses, and while I’m definitely no expert, I do respect those who are doing research into this and the connections our mental wellbeing and physical wellbeing have.
OK so, before I start scaring you shitless – let’s go through the protocol I’ve been using to help you STOP doing the things you don’t really want to do.
1. Identify what’s not working
So the first step in saying no to something is of course, to work out what that thing is. It’s also the part where you have to determine whether it’s truly something that you don’t want to do and isn’t in alignment with your most ‘true’ self – OR is it just plain old fear rearing it’s head.
I won’t pretend this is easy, and no one but you can know what’s best – so I’d steer clear of advice from others on this one, UNLESS you take all the advice you get with a very hefty grain of salt. All the advice you get is telling you about the advice GIVER – not about you, so you can see it’s usually irrelevant. However, if you want to gather advice from others – particularly those who have been in a similar position before or whose opinions have proved useful in the past – feel free to do so.
One thing that can be helpful is to ask someone for advice, then check your response to what they say. The resistance or relief you feel will be a dead giveaway.
And that’s how this step works: that’s how you identify what’s not working. You feel inside for what brings up resistance OR what brings up relief.
A question I like to ask myself is: how would I feel AFTER I do (or don’t do) this thing. If it’s relief, then I follow through. If it’s ickiness, then I do something else. Asking yourself how you’ll feel AFTER is often very different to how you’ll feel DURING the thing. If you’re only paying attention to how you feel DURING something, you’ll likely be steered by your fear, not by your true self.
For example, public speaking. 9/10 times during the speaking gig I feel like CRAP. Anxious, insecure, judged, sweaty – all of it. But after? I feel amazing. So 9/10 times, I know it’s right for me to speak, despite the fear I have before and during.
OK so take some time to identify the stuff that makes you feel ICKY.
2. Have the difficult conversations
Now you know what you don’t want to do, it might be you have to have some difficult conversations. It might be telling a client you can’t take on their crappy project.
It might be telling a friend you can’t go to their house party. It might be more serious than these things, but hopefully you get the drift.
In any case, I want to encourage you not to bottle out at this step! This is the one that might require face-to-face communication, and some seriously uncomfortable moments. But keep in mind: this too shall pass.
No matter how badly someone takes your news, please be aware that the good folk will stick around if they’re worth your time and energy. The people who aren’t good for you will fall away. But this only works IF you’re true to yourself. Speak your truth, take the fallout, and wait to see what (and who) sticks by you, regardless of your truth.
3. Set your boundaries
I’ve got a whole mini-course on boundaries in the Creative Introvert Academy, but to summarise: boundaries are basically mental agreements you have with yourself, and sometimes others, about the world around you. So, a boundary for me might be: I don’t work in-house for design agencies for less than a certain amount of cash or over a maximum amount of days.
You might have personal ones, like you don’t speak to your mum on the phone more than once a week because it takes over your life or makes you feel like shit otherwise. In some cases you’ll tell others, in some cases you won’t: be your own judge of that. The important thing is that you are aware of your own boundaries, and keep the deal with yourself going forward.
4. Find your rhythm
I learnt this one recently from Rob Bell, who has an awesome podcast.
He was talking about having a rhythm that for him is something like every 6 months of work, he needs a solid break, I can’t remember how long for but it’s substantial, a month or more.
And that just applies to work; a rhythm could also apply to socialising or exercise or other parts of your life.
For you, may be your party rhythm is once a week, or once a month – or if you’re me, once every blue moon.
This does take some tweaking, but once you start to spot your rhythm, knowing it is invaluable. I know I need social contact every 3 days because if I don’t, I turn into a genuine hermit: I find it difficult to form proper sentences, and my personal hygiene starts to suffer. Not good! but I also know that if I have social events back to back for more than 3 days, I become exhautsed and grouchy.
But when I figured that out, I made changes. I make sure to have some kind of social event planned even if it’s a yoga class or a coffee chat every 3 days or so.
5. Check in
Part of this process is making regular check ins with yourself, to figure out if you’re staying true to your needs, managing your energy and to remind yourself of what you’re learning. If you had a really exhausting week, reflect on that. What got in your way? What did you feel pressure to do? What can you change next week?
Your checkins don’t have to be daily, though I do journal every morning without fail, they could be weekly. And they don’t have to be in writing, you might prefer to talk to your cat or your partner or a friend about how you’re doing.
Or you could do this as a meditation: getting into your body and figuring out from there how you’re doing and what you might need more or less of.
6. Forgive yourself
This is a process – and often, a messy one. There might be some sleepless nights, difficult conversations, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, broken promises, and so on.
BUT. I promise you: this is worth it. Because – and yes I’m going to say it – YOU’RE worth it. You’re worth respecting! That means, YOU have to respect your needs.
That means: you might have to say NO, despite what others want you to do.
So. Just know it will pay off. You’ll feel so, so much better when you’re living from a place that feels true, authentic and leaves you feeling energised and empowered.
Ahhh trust me – it really does feel good.
OR you could ignore everything I’ve just said, because… I’t OK NOT TO DO IT, including what I’m saying!
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