Holding Myself Back

“I’m holding back.”  – A Self Reflection Process

Why am I holding back? What is stopping me?

Why do you think you are holding back? Some people notice a thought or behavior and they recognize that it is self-sabotaging. That shows good awareness but, the next thought they have is a criticism and it interrupts the observation. 

The criticism sounds something like,

  • “That’s a negative thought.” 
  • “I shouldn’t be so negative.” 
  • “I need to be more positive.” 
  • “If I keep thinking like this, I’ll never get anywhere.” 
  • “I’m holding myself back.”

Once the judgmental commentary or criticism begins, the benefits of awareness and self-reflection cease. Perhaps we are aware of a behavior: we procrastinate, waste time surfing the internet or don’t finish what we planned. As a result, we don’t achieve our goals, or effect personal change. Then our mind throws in the comment, “I hold myself back.” I’ll work with this thought to show what a self-reflective process might look like, when not corrupted with distractions.

What it means when you’re “holding back”

Looking more closely at the statement “why am I holding myself back” and its attendant feelings, we can see three different aspects in conflict.

First, there is a part doing the holding. This is the “I hold” part of the statement.  

The second part is the “myself” that feels held back.  

The third part precedes the other two and is drowned out in the reaction. 

It is the part that desires change and wants to go forward with action. It is not mentioned in the comment “I hold myself back,” and so our attention is withdrawn from it. Yet, it is the truest expression of our wishes, the one we started with before the distortions happened.

There are likely at least three emotions present as well. There is the desire to change. The second is the resistance and fear of change, which stops and holds “me” back. Then there is the feeling of being trapped, powerless or weak, in response to the sense of being controlled or held back by the fear.

There is usually another layer that follows as well. This is when we engage in self-criticism and self-rejection.  It might be embedded within the statement, “I hold myself back,” just by means of tone or attitude. The tone implies, “I’m doing something wrong,” or “I’m so stupid for doing this.” The message might also be silent, right after the statement of disgust or frustration.  In any case, there can be more emotions and agreements/beliefs than just the three. Sometimes people are in this state as they observe the thought, “I hold myself back,” and they think they are being self-reflective. They are not. If you are expressing disgust or condemnation for a thought or an action as you observe it, then it is not really a reflective process. It is an expression of rejection and is an emotional creation in its own right.

Succumbing to the resistance and fear may cause self-judgment. It says we are weak, undisciplined, and other things like that. This causes the Victim part of our mind to agree, often silently, as it is trained to take such abuse with 100% acquiescence. It’s incredibly disciplined that way, yet we convince ourselves with a story that we are not. Since the habit works against us, we don’t notice our own strength within it. This self-rejection issue causes us to expend energy and will have to be addressed separately. The pertinent point is that once we are engaged in these self-criticizing behaviors, we are no longer being self-reflective or aware. We are removed from a state of consciousness or clarity that would benefit us. Even in this paragraph, we have wandered off from any reflection on that one negative thought we started with.

When it comes to holding back, which one is me, or are any of them me? 

With all these different thoughts and feelings coming from different parts of our “self,” we can get lost wondering who we really are. Authentically, am I the part that wants to make the change? Or am I the one who is afraid, resists, and “holds back” the change? Or am I the one who feels powerless because of some socialized fear from childhood that has me trapped? Or is the real “me” aligned with the Judge or Victim comments about my procrastination and self-sabotage? Or, maybe, and this is one of the last options we would consider, maybe I have more to do with the awareness that observed these desires and comments? Sometimes you find your Self in the last place you look.

The question, who is the Real “I”, can be a not very merry-go-round that makes us dizzy. In this loop of questions with different answers, we are no longer effectively engaging in self-reflection, we are just spinning and creating the feeling of confusion. What you need is a centered state of mind with fewer stories, and more silence, from which to observe these different impulses. This centered state isn’t something we are born with. It is something we have to develop with practice.

There is more when it comes to holding back…

As we pursue these questions of self, we might wonder if we are spiritually evolved. But we might also consider that we are just distracting ourselves from looking more deeply into the fear and resistance that does the holding. Breaking down the fear and resistance into component parts will yield the most forward progress. In the same way we took the thought about holding ourselves back and found three different aspects of the mind with different emotions we can find the component parts of the fear as well.

For this inventory, it will help to have a system that maps these different thoughts and stories. Without a system that tracks these different impulsive thoughts and the parts of our mind which claim to be “me,” our attention gets tangled in a string of thoughts, each one taking us on an emotional ride.  In short time we are thinking about something else and no longer reflecting on the real problematic fear within the first thought. Now it is simply distraction that is “holding us back.” The Self Mastery course provides a system to separate out these different impulses and thoughts, so you can maintain a centered perspective. With a method to keep what goes on in your head organized, you aren’t as likely to get confused, distracted, or overwhelmed.

The mechanics of why we start holding back:

Jack, a coaching client, said something to me after a particularly bad week. “Gary, I was going to do one of your exercises to release some emotion, but then I thought, “Fine, you can let go of that emotion, but that won’t change the belief, so you’ll just create more later.” He believed that thought, and all the meanings implied by the thought. As a result, he didn’t do the exercise that would have released some of the fear and anxiety he was building up. Because he didn’t let go of any of the emotion, more fear and anxiety continued to build, almost to panic levels.

His idea was basically factual; the breathing practice would not have changed the belief and source of that emotion. But he talked himself out of taking an action that would have made him feel better. In effect, Jack’s logic amounted to, “I’m not going to do something to make myself feel better emotionally, or even a take step in that direction, because it isn’t a complete cure.”

It’s the equivalent of what some politicians say sometimes, when they are discussing changes in spending or taxation that would lower the debt. “Well, we can do that, but it won’t solve the whole problem so it’s not a viable solution.” The statement is factual, but the tone and attitude imply that if it is not a “whole” solution” then it is not a solution. Therefore, we are better off not doing it. Also implied is the notion that we should look around for a single solution that will solve everything. The naive fairy tale in this statement is that there exists a single action that will solve everything. That’s equivalent to saying, “We could do something that will help, but instead let’s not do anything and wait to be saved by a non-existent miracle.”

At a surface level, it sounds like a valid point, because they use the phrase, “it won’t solve the whole problem.” While this is true, it’s not relevant to the action being decided on.  The faulty logic results in resistance and inaction. The more relevant question to ask is, “Will this action improve the overall situation, even just a little bit?”

Imagine a friend of yours carrying debt on four different credit cards and he said to you, “I had the money to pay one of them off, but since I couldn’t pay them all off, I didn’t bother to pay down a one.” You’d probably look at him and tilt your head in disbelief. Yet these are the kinds of things we think and believe and therefore “hold our self-back” from taking the one action in front of us.

It would be true to say that practicing one of the exercises from my course, or any other activity, for one day won’t solve all your emotional issues.  It won’t change all of your emotional reactions.  But is that any reason not to something that would help?

What do we do when we start holding back?

Here is a list so far:

  • Getting caught up in self-judgment, instead of having an effective self-reflection process.
  • Chasing too many thoughts at once distracts us from focusing on the pertinent parts with the fear and resistance.
  • We don’t have a system to keep all these thoughts, beliefs, and false identities organized, so we don’t get overwhelmed during our introspection.
  • We tell ourselves partial facts and believe the rest of the irrelevant statement shielding the decision-making process.
  • Then there is an often a bigger one that we haven’t discussed.  It is the impulse to gather more information.  We read books on self-help instead of actually taking an actual to do something different. Reading this list and having an answer about how your hold yourself back won’t stop you from doing it.  Only some kind of new action will.
  • Then there is that fear and resistance feeling we still need to put our attention on.

Which mechanisms of holding our self-back are most worth finding? The mechanisms you use to hold yourself back will be the most valuable for you.

How do you stop holding yourself back?

Rachel was at an event I did last year. Much like Jack, she was very clever, and so was her ego.  She could see the value of doing each of my exercises, but then her mind would spin and find reasons not to.  Rachel would rebut with things like, “That will help for the 20 minutes, but then what do I do tomorrow?” At other times she would change the subject, “That only helps with this one issue, what about the problems in this other area of my life?” At other times, she would exaggerate a limitation and use that to justify something unrelated. “I just can’t imagine ever being happy so there is no point.” I saw that no sensible logic would work, since she was using a politician’s logic with every response. I decided to turn the tables on her.

We were out for a walk on the beach and I asked her where the house was. She pointed in the right direction.

I said, “I don’t see the destination so perhaps I shouldn’t take a step. Does that logic make any sense to you?”  “No,” she replied.  “So, I should start walking then.”  “Of course,” she said.

I took a few steps and stopped.  “I don’t think I am any closer. The house still seems far away.”  She looked at me almost with disgust.  “You have to take more steps.  5 steps won’t cover the mile.”

“But I don’t feel that I am any closer.  I can’t imagine that I will ever get there this way,” I said.

“You can’t measure by what you can see, or how you feel,” Rachel said.    She made me look at the steps I had covered to prove to myself that I was actually making progress.  I was making progress, but I couldn’t measure it by looking at the final destination so far away.  I had to look at progress I could see.

Likewise, seeing the faulty logic in our own head can be difficult at first. With practice, it gets easier. And with a good system to approach the negative and illogical thoughts, it gets easier and faster. The Self Mastery sessions will guide you to develop an effective process of self-reflection. That way you won’t fall for the false beliefs and thoughts that hold you back from making the personal changes you want to make, and from being happy.

Good luck on your own personal Pathway to Happiness.