blog, Uncategorized

What acceptance looks like when you’re not in “doing” mode

Winter break.

The classic time for me to dread each year as the sudden shift in how I spend my time throws me off my routine. Not that I spent 2020 following a consistent schedule . . . but that’s for another post when I’m feeling more forgiving of myself. The stretch of days where I feel empty and disconnected. It even caused me to create this meme:

However, this year, winter break has provided me with insight about self-acceptance.

First, this break has let me realize that my identity can’t be bound up with doing and accomplishing. If you think of yourself based on just what you do, then a pivot in how you spend your time toward a vacation is going to derail your sense of self. At the same time, you’re going to be stuck in a mindset of celebrating accomplishments as a reflection of your self-worth.

Which means that when you’re not doing, doing, doing, you feel lost.

In addition, winter break has allowed me to take a step back and ask why I’m doing a lot of things in the first place.

Too often, I’m finding that I’m just acting either out of emotional reasoning—a sense of I feel, therefore I behave—or a belief of conditional acceptance. I’m only as good enough as my last achievement. Neither of these mindsets have been health for me, and you might relate to them as well.

For a lot of us, the language we use on ourselves about what we are or aren’t doing is (hopefully) lightyears away from what we would tell others. Would you tell a friend that was struggling with a project that they were less of a person to you, that they were unacceptable?

Yet I tell myself a lot of those messages on a near-constant basis.

Last week I listened to a podcast episode about self-respect. The host, Kimberley Quinlan, LMFT, does an incredible job discussing how self-respect often is about showing up for ourselves, even when it can be difficult.

I wanted to extend this concept to everyday tasks I face and how I think of those tasks.

One approach we can use is the concept of being endothermic (like a reptile that has to sunbathe to warm up). This seems to be the more popular mindset I’ve found in our society. We think that what we do affects how “enough” we are, and the more we do, the closer to being “enough” we will be. The less we do, though, when we’re unproductive for myriad reasons (people do get sick every now and then, but our culture doesn’t know what to do with it), we somehow become less acceptable, less “enough” as a person.

Or we can take an endothermic approach. Just as—under normal circumstances—a human is always 98 degrees even if it’s 45 degrees outside, we can recognize ourselves as already being enough, no external accomplishments required.

For instance, in writing this blog post, I can take either approach. I can view this as a do-or-die act of conditional acceptance . . . or I can think of it as just committing to a value of creativity. I’m going with the latter route because I want to follow my aim while also knowing that I don’t have a sense of acceptance to lose in the process. It’s a bottom-up mindset, whereas conditional self-acceptance would tell me that I have everything to lose, even my enough-ness, if this blog post doesn’t succeed.

What does accepting yourself look like to you when things, such as how you spend your time, change? How do you think of yourself, your whole self, during those times? Although a lot of our behavior might not change too much through unconditional self-acceptance, we can approach those behaviors from a more promising, respectful place. 

blog, Blog Posts

you don’t have to do anything . . . to be enough (part 1)

Seven months.

That’s how long our world has been turned upside down because of COVID-19. Here in the U.S., that topsy-turvy feeling is probably going to extend well-into spring of next year, with cases and, tragically, deaths expected to surge into the winter months.

There has been absolutely nothing good to come out of this pandemic—and I always cringe when I read tweets or articles trying to spin this awful event into somehow positive terms—but the side effect of having to stay at home for about two months (late March through late May) did prompt in me quite a bit of reflection. Nothing too existential, considering that with my depression, those sort of meditations unfortunately can lead to suicidal thoughts.

I did, however, realize something so simple it’s kind of stupid when I say it out loud: you don’t have to do anything to be enough.

Now, this being a blog about self-acceptance (and self-compassion), that should be pretty inherent. That statement is analogous to the heartbeat of this blog.

What I want to emphasize in this post is the word “do” in that sentence.

I’m an American, and specifically a Midwestern American–a big part of the culture here is doing. If you aren’t doing, you are nothing. In this way, you become what you do. Until what happens when you can’t do that anymore?

That’s what we faced in lockdown this spring.

We couldn’t do the things we were used to doing. Now, of course any time a routine is thrown out of whack, it’s normal to get cranky about it. But I think what we went through in the spring, at least for me, touched deeper than that. A lot of what I had enjoyed doing pre-pandemic (reading, writing fiction) that I still could do under lockdown (thank goodness for ebooks) . . . well, those got chucked out the window as well. In hindsight, it’s as if I went from doing less to doing nothing at all.

This was in no way a pleasant period of time. My grades were on a shaky basis, my sleep cycle was beginning to be a trainwreck (hello midnight doomscrolling for updates on COVID-19), and my junk food intake levels jumped way higher than I had ever thought they would.

That said, I came to understand what a lot of the researchers and experts on self-acceptance (like Tara Brach) had been telling me and others all this time: you don’t have to do anything to be enough. Even outside of the basic psychology of not having to always be doing, doing, doing, articles like these have helped shift perceptions away from trying to be productive amid unprecedented times.

Maybe you’re like me. Spring was a blur spent staying inside and just let each day go by without writing that next Great American Novel, or teaching yourself basics of graphic design, or anything else society and social media have pressured us all into thinking we must do if we want to be enough, if we want to be acceptable.

Other than coursework, honestly the only “productive” thing I did that I can remember was rearranging the order of apps on my phone about once a week so I could get the aesthetic just right.

At the end of it all, though—the end of staying inside all the time, I mean—I can see that I was still, at core, the same Ethan that I am now writing this out. Did I somehow during that hazy stretch of spring become less than enough? Or unacceptable? Did you? Did anyone else?

As I mentioned earlier, a lot—I might argue a vast majority—of our identity is tied down in what we do. But doing isn’t the same as, well, being, as any good article on mindfulness should tell you.

What you do is what you do. But if it defines all of you, your entire sense of self, than you risk feeling like you’re less than enough when you aren’t doing just that. For instance, pre-pandemic, I used to define myself in terms of numbers of words bashed out on Word and pages that I had read; if I didn’t meet those goals, I was beyond disappointed—I honestly felt that there was something wrong with me and that I needed to meet those targets each day if I wanted to accept myself.

This relentless pursuit of conditional acceptance through the aura of “productivity” has reached a point where we have to be busy if we want to, well, be in the first place. (For more on our suffocating culture of busyness, I’d highly recommend checking out what Dr. Lissa Rankin wrote about it in Psychology Today.)

So, from the perspective of accepting ourselves unconditionally, we can be kind to ourselves for not achieving all that maybe we had thought we would have during those months spent at home, or in any moments in our life where it feels like we must do X if we want to one day think of ourselves as enough. Because that day is already here.