“I should be practicing more than I am.”
One of the most common sabotaging thoughts a person has is, “I should be doing more than I am.” It can sound like a statement of fact, but it is really a judgmental self-critical thought. And a debilitating one at that. The result is an emotional shot to the gut, perpetuating feelings of unworthiness and failure.
Our mind can quickly imagine a more perfect scenario than where we are. It can imagine that we practice our mindfulness exercises 16 hours of the waking day, and some dream work while we sleep to get the full 24 hours of consciousness training. But you know what? That’s just not realistic. Being consciously aware and present at that level is something that you have to work up to. Because our mind can imagine a “perfect self” or a “disciplined practice” doesn’t mean that we should be doing it. I can imagine running a marathon, but I’m not ready for that. To do that smartly, I’d have to work out and train for that kind of distance. I’d have to start small and build up to that level. It doesn’t make sense to imagine running a record-setting marathon after a few months of training and then compare and reject myself to that imaginary standard of achievement
The same is true for our progress to greater happiness. That’s partly why I call it “Pathway to Happiness.” It’s because it is supposed to be a path of many steps. It’s not called, “The one move that will change your life,” or “one leap to what the critical voice of the Judge says you need to do to be perfect and acceptable.”
Take a moment to recognize that thoughts like, “I’m not doing as much as I should,” have a negative impact while not adding any benefit to your progress.
You can tell two kinds of stories.
Suppose you do some journal writing for 20 minutes. You can tell yourself, I should have done more. I should have gotten up earlier or not watched that TV show and written another 20 minutes. The result of which is that you feel like a failure. And when you think about doing a practice later, your mind will attach those feelings of failure and associated unworthiness to not doing more. That negative feeling will cause you to practice less because of the way that kind of story makes you feel. You don’t want to feel bad, so your mind instinctively shies away from thoughts of journal writing.
You can also tell yourself a different kind of story. You can tell yourself, “I did 20 minutes of practice. That’s twenty minutes more than zero.” When you tell your self that kind of story you feel good about what you accomplished. You could have done zero, but instead you took initiative and did some work. Now you feel good about what you did. You did the same amount of work, but you feel good about doing it instead of bad. That good feeling conditions our emotional self to feel better about doing the exercises. We are intrinsically wired to feel good, so we are motivated to do some more practice when we think about it that way. This kind of story adds emotional motivation instead of the other kind of story that builds an emotional barrier. Both are compared to imaginary standards.
To build long term momentum going forward, consciously change the kind of imaginary comparison you make about your practice
Shifting this one story about our process might not be enough to turn everything around, but it is one step in the right direction. Take another, and another, and another, and they will begin to add up. If you are like many people you have bought into this kind of criticism dozens or hundreds of times. Changing this one type of story isn’t just taking one step, it has the effect of hundreds of steps over time.
The Right Amount of Time and Practice for You
There is the possibility that we just don’t have the time to devote to working on our process one or two or four hours a day. One of the things you won’t find in my program are suggestions about how much you should be doing. There isn’t a requirement to do an exercise 4 times a day, or for 20 minutes in the morning five days a week. Why? Because everyone is different. Some people are unemployed and so they might do 2 hours a day for a while until they start a job. Someone else might have a job and raising a family. They try to set aside 10 minutes in the evening a couple of days a week for some practice but still don’t always get to it. They might have to make time by listening to audios on their work commute. Besides time, there are factors of motivation, and resistance to the process that slow us down. What does resistance look like? Resistance can be disguised in pseudo encouraging phrases like, “I’m not doing as much as I should,” or “I really need to get his perfect before I move on.” That thinking makes us feel bad about practicing, even though at a surface level it sounds like we are trying to kick our self to do more.
The reason I don’t tell people how much to do is because the right amount is different for everyone. Only you can know what is right for you. Only you know the factors in your life. Those factors also change over weeks and days. You can find my interviews with people who have dome my course in the Free Audio podcasts. These are people who created big changes in their life. There is a potential upside, and a potential downside to how someone listens and interprets these. The upside is that it helps to know that change is possible, and how different people go about it. It’s also good because it can inspire people to take action and make changes in their life. The downside is that it provokes the self-judgment response in some minds. The Judge comes in and compares them to how other people approach the process. The resulting story is something like, “I’m not doing as much as I should.” The comparison to an imaginary self has more believability if there is an audio example of someone else to help prop up the story. Please be mindful to use those audios in ways that help your process and avoid the self sabotaging thoughts that hinder.
Back to Marathon Proportions
Even if I have the time to exercise all day, I also have to build up to working out over time. I can’t go for a run and do 15 miles today. My body isn’t ready. I am probably not mentally ready either. I have to work up to it. In the beginning, a person might start with a 20 minute walk. Then they get into a habit of doing that several times a week. When that feels good, the walks become longer. Jogging is added, and then running. A person needs to build up their mental focus as well as physical endurance. The same kind of build up applies to our mindfulness and Self Mastery practices. You don’t get into physical shape overnight. It is a lifestyle change. The same is true for effectively changing our beliefs, emotional states, and behaviors. Being happy, mindful of your attention, emotions, enjoying moments of the day, and how you express your self is a lifestyle change, give it time.2