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Break The Cycle of Self-Shame

I’m writing this on a Thursday evening. My wife is out with friends, and I’m sitting on my couch watching a wrestling documentary.

And I’m fairly unhappy.

It’s been a rough 24 hours. Last night, I attempted to fix something on her phone, which wound up completely kicking it off our network (after a long discussion working through it with Ting’s excellent customer service team, turns out it was a bug in the phone).

So I stayed up late to work on her phone, and then worked on her phone some more pretty much the second I got out of bed until almost noon getting it all back up the way she had it before.

When things like this happen, it tends to derail my day. I start to get frustrated, and I don’t want to do anything. I putz. I delay. I procrastinate. And I get cranky.

I have this thing where I’m happy in life, but not happy with myself. I think we all go through this from time to time. Life is good, I love the people around me, I love my job, and everything is going well.

But days like today really rock my confidence levels. They start to eat away at me, and this annoying little voice sits in the back of my head, telling me any of the following:

  • “You’re a failure.”
  • “Your business is going to collapse because you didn’t work hard at it today.”
  • “You’ll never be a long-term success.”
  • “This side project you’re working on is going to go nowhere and you’re going to give up on it, just like all the others.”
  • “You’re not creative enough to do any of the stuff you’re working on.”

Talk about your annoying messages, right?

That voice gets louder as the day goes on and I realize how little I’m accomplishing. Whether it’s a blog post that I didn’t write, or research I didn’t do, or just time that I didn’t spend working through something creatively, that voice jumps at the chance to make me feel like complete crap.

As I was watching this documentary profiling one of my favorite wrestlers, his rough childhood and his determination to be better (it’s awesome – click here for more if you like stories of guys who work hard and overcome obstacles), I noticed something: when he gets crapped on, or he falls short, he doesn’t just sit back and whine about it.

He doesn’t feel bad about himself. He gets up and does something about it. He does what he can control. He accomplishes things.

At the point where I realized this, I sprinted upstairs to my office, grabbed my Chromebook, and ran back down to the couch. I opened up a new Google Doc and just started writing until I hit 1000 words.

Freewriting. Emptying out my brain. Going through what I like to call “therapy”. It’s my way of working through the problems in my head – even if that means giving that annoying voice the chance to talk freely.

About ¾ of the way through, I realized that I had a topic I wanted to write more about – and this is where this blog post gets a little “meta”. I started writing about writing this blog post, and a few points I wanted to make, so that when I was done freewriting, I could switch over and write this post.

I started getting happier. I started going easier on myself. That voice got a little less annoying.

Why? Because I was producing something. I was creating something. Even if it wasn’t anything ever worth re-reading again, it was something that I could look to. I could go into Lift and check off that I wrote 1000 words today. This post is already crossing over 600 additional words (ends up being over 800).

Writing almost 2000 words in a day is nothing to sneeze at. It’s not insane production, but it’s something I can hang my hat on.

If you ever find yourself getting caught in a self-shame spiral, remember what you can control. You can’t control how you feel, but you can control what you do with yourself.

Do something that you’re good at, or interests you, or whatever. If you write, like me, then just start writing – anything. If you play music, start jamming. If you like to draw, grab a pencil and a piece of paper and sketch something out. If you like to and/or are able to exercise, go get a little bit of sweat going.

It doesn’t have to be a lot, and the end product ultimately doesn’t have to be anything that you’re proud of. But the act of doing it – the work you put in, however minimal – is more accomplishment and satisfaction than you’ll ever have sitting on the couch feeling down on yourself.

That’s the honest truth. It’s what keeps me going. It’s how I get through life sometimes.

I work through unhappiness with production.

How do you deal when your annoying internal voice starts ripping you a new one? Share it in the comments.

freewriting, product, shame, ting