Train Your Mind Using the "Puppy Method"

The mind can be trained to do almost anything.

It can be trained, for example, to get used to any situation, like sitting in silence for a long time, or concentrating on a task.

However, usually we’re training our minds to do what we don’t want: be distracted, give in to cravings and urges, complain, avoid discomfort, procrastinate. We do this by rewarding our minds for these behaviors — if we do any of these things, we give the mind something pleasurable or comfortable. That’s exactly what we’d want to do to reinforce these behaviors.

Think about it: you’re not feeling like doing a task, and the ideal behavior would be to open up to the task, see its importance, and stay focused on it. But the behavior we normally do is put it off (procrastinate) and head to our favorite distractions. The distraction becomes its own reward, so this behavior is reinforced.

We do this all day long. Every day.

What if we wanted to train our minds to do something different?

The Superpower of Training the Mind

We can get the mind used to anything:

  • To enjoy eating healthy foods

  • To shun junk food

  • To not need to have alcohol, coffee, sugar, cigarettes, drugs

  • To not need to have video games, Youtube/Netflix, news or blogs, porn or social media

  • To stay present and mindful

  • To turn towards feelings instead of avoiding them

  • To be perfectly OK in discomfort

This then becomes a superpower. We spend so much of our time and energy avoiding things we don’t like, and trying to get things that comfort us. What if we could train ourselves to not need to avoid uncomfortable things, and not need to run to comforts? We’d be gods.

If you go to an uncomfortable social event, instead of needing to avoid, hide, or find a comfort zone … you could just stay in the discomfort and talk to people you don’t know. It wouldn’t be a problem, because you trained your mind to be fine with the discomfort.

If you normally have to have your comforts (coffee, sugary foods, soda, TV, alcohol, pot, cigarettes), you’ll spend a lot of money on them, and in many cases worsen your health and your bank account. You might avoid going places where you can’t get these things, and spend a lot of energy to make sure you could have them every day. But what if you trained your mind to not rely on them for comfort and relaxation? You could slowly get the mind used to not needing these, one at a time, so that it would be free.

It’s possible, using training methods used to train puppies.

The Puppy Training Method

The mind is like a little puppy. It responds to rewards, but needs to be trained a little at a time, until you get it doing what you want it to do consistently.

Now, I’m not saying we can 100% control our minds. Just that we can apply some reinforcement methods to get it to adjust to whatever we’d like, over time.

So let’s look at this puppy training method, and how it can be applied to our minds:

  1. Decide what your target is. If you want the puppy to do a behavior, you have to decide what that behavior is, exactly. The same with the mind: do you want it to focus, to stay in discomfort in social situations, to turn towards feelings, to be present with bodily sensations when you’re stressed, to be compassionate when someone complains? Pick one target at a time.

  2. Define a reward. What does you mind enjoy? If you like having a cup of tea, or watching TED talks on Youtube, or reading my blog posts … pick one of those for your defined reward. Try to pick something relatively healthy (don’t pick donuts), that you can give yourself immediately after you do the behavior.

  3. Train yourself in small doses. It’s unrealistic to expect your mind to stay focused all day long. It gets tired. Trying to be perfect all the time is a good way to set up failure. So instead, pick small doses — 10 minutes of meditation once or twice a day, focused work in 20-minute intervals (and only do 3 intervals) with breaks in between, 30 minutes a day of complaint-free time, for example. Once you’ve done this training in small doses, you can expand it slowly, and have confidence that you’re able to do at least small doses. Gradually, your mind will be trained to do more.

  4. Reward yourself when you hit the target. If you do 20 minutes of focused work, give yourself a small reward. For example, you get to look at your favorite social media for 2 minutes after 20 minutes of focused work. I like to drink a certain kind of coconut water after doing yoga. It’s a treat that reinforces the behavior you just did.

  5. But for difficult targets, have intermediate targets. If you want the puppy to do something complicated, you have to figure out an intermediate target. For example, if you want him to go to a certain spot, first reward him for going to the right room, then the right area of the room, then the spot. You can do the same with your mind — if the target is too difficult (a week of meditation), have a smaller target first (10 minutes of meditation) and let yourself slowly move to the target. Reward yourself for the smaller target at first, but then after that gets easy, only reward yourself for hitting the next harder target (20 minutes of meditation).

  6. Don’t punish bad behavior. But don’t reward it either. If you give in and do the negative behavior you don’t want to do (smoke pot, for example), don’t give yourself the reward. But beating yourself up isn’t helpful either. It used to be a common practice to smack the dog with a newspaper, but trainers today believe that doesn’t work as well as positive reinforcement. What do they do instead? Either ignore the bad behavior entirely (seeking to reward behavior that’s at least close to what they’re looking for), or making it clear that the bad behavior is not wanted, with a firm “No” or a firm but gentle hand interrupting the bad behavior. With the mind training, this might look like a simple firm interruption of the bad behavior (“Nope, we don’t want to keep doing that”), and then trying to go do the good behavior, and getting a reward for it. So mostly ignore the bad behavior or be firm that it’s not good, but don’t beat yourself up about it.

  7. Train one behavior at a time. Most people are tempted to try to train everything at once. That’s more of an advanced training, once you’ve trained individual behaviors. For example, if you want to stop watching Youtube, try going half a day without it (rewarding yourself with something else, not Youtube), then after you get good at that, do a full day, then two days at a time, and so on. Then you can do similar training for video games or porn, then social media. But don’t do all of them at once, unless you’ve done them all individually before.

As you can see, this isn’t as simple as just flipping a switch. This kind of training can be messy — you’ll mess up, and it won’t be simple and clear. But if you stick with it, you’ll be amazed at what you can get your puppy of a mind to do.

-AG

3 Simple Mindset Shifts to Transform Your Work Tasks

The two biggest obstacles to doing meaningful work are familiar to many of us:

  1. Burden & complaint : The work feels like a burden (difficult, overwhelming, annoying) … you might do the task but you rush through it or mentally complain about it, not wanting to do it.

  2. Unimportant & putting it off: It doesn’t feel important to do this difficult task right now … so you feel like putting it off. You rationalize why it’s OK to put it off.

Either of these sound like you? You probably recognize yourself in at least one of these (if not both), as they’re incredible common.

The first pattern makes our work (and things we have to do in our relationships and personal lives) feel like a huge burden, which makes us have a negative attitude towards the work. If you do this with your partner, they’ll feel it. If you do this with your kids or other family members, they’ll feel it. If you do this at work, your work will suck more.

The second pattern makes us rationalize not doing something we committed to doing, which makes people trust us less and makes us trust ourselves less. We don’t really feel 100% committed to anything, and are avoiding the tough commitments because they seem uncomfortable.

What would happen if you could transform those patterns and everything you have to do? What would happen if you felt 100% committed to the things that are truly important to you? What would happen if you felt joy in being able to do your tasks? It’s possible.

If these are patterns for you, I have a few simple mindset shifts to try out, that I think will transform everything:

  1. See it as a “two-way gift”. When you have a task to do, it can feel like a burden … but you could also see it as a gift. For yourself, and for others. For example: if I have to write an article, I could feel the burden of writing it … or see this opportunity to write and help others as a gift I’ve been given. And my writing as a gift to others, that might help them when they’re struggling. What a beautiful thing, to be able to receive this gift! And to give a gift to others is an incredible privilege.

  2. Remind yourself of it’s importance. Does it feel like the tasks you have in front of you aren’t that important, so that you can rationalize putting them off? Then either you’re picking the wrong tasks (pick ones that feel connected to something you care about), or you’ve forgotten the importance of that task. Making lunch for your kids? Serving your loved ones and putting food in their bellies is one of the most important things many of us do. Need to make some phone calls? Serving the relationships that those calls represent is an act of devotion to the people you care about. Same with emails and other messages. For me, writing for my blog or my social medias is important because it connects me with others who are struggling, who are practicing, who are on this beautiful journey with me. All of your hearts are incredibly important to me, and every act I do for you guys is of utmost importance. I just need to remind myself of that now and then (more often than I would often admit), and connect my heart to that meaningful mission.

  3. Meditate (briefly) on the shortness of your life. Finally, you might try reminding yourself that death is coming. That might sound morbid and unnecessarily dark, but it’s a certain fact. We only have a limited amount of time left, and we don’t know how much that is. We like to pretend that it’s forever, but it’s certainly not. If you only have a year left, how do you want to spend it? If you have limited time left, how do you want to spend today? Forgetting about what’s important and being distracted? Or pouring yourself into meaningful work and connecting your heart to what you truly care about?

With this precious day that you’ve been given as a gift … show up fully committed. Show up fully devoted to the people you care about. Show up with fierce love that is a gift to all those around you. Show up with full loving appreciation for those you’re connected to, and for the gift of this moment.

-AG

The Guide to Insecurities You’ve Been Waiting For

Everyone feels insecurity. It’s a part of our lives, which are filled with uncertainty, no matter how much we want to get rid of that uncertainty.

We often use the term “insecure” to negatively label a person who doubts themselves, but in truth, no one is free from feeling insecure. We feel self-doubt, we feel anger that stems from a feeling of insecurity, we feel fear and groundlessness and frustration. All of this comes from the insecurity of the uncertainty of life.

And none of it is a problem.

It’s not a problem that we feel insecure sometimes. It’s not a problem to feel fear or self-doubt or anger or frustration. These are just feelings, and they come up in response to the uncertainty of the world.

The problem comes from how we deal with the feeling of insecurity. We might curl up and hide, lash out at someone in a hurtful way, harden our rigid views of the world so that everyone else is wrong and we’re continually angry. We might procrastinate and run to distraction, use social media to avoid feeling insecurity, try to control others or the world around us to end the feeling of insecurity.

And so in this guide, I’m going to share a method for dealing with feelings of insecurity that are more helpful. But first, let’s dive a little more into where the feelings of insecurity come up, and how we usually deal with it.

Cause & Effect of Insecurities

Let’s look at some common examples of feeling insecure, where the feelings come from, and how people often react:

  • Jealousy in a relationship. You get jealous of someone who seems to flirt with your partner (justified or not, it doesn’t matter). The cause: You feel uncertainty about whether your partner loves you, is attracted to you (or the other person), will leave you, will hurt you. This uncertainty is certainly understandable, relationships of all kinds are filled with uncertainty. Common reaction: Lashing out at your partner (or trying to control them), making them feel less trusted, possibly hurt, possibly defensive or closed off, damaging your relationship.

  • Jealous of someone on Instagram. This applies to all social media — you see someone on there that has qualities or a lifestyle that you want (they’re beautiful, fit, living glamorously, etc.), and you feel jealous. The cause: Insecurities about yourself, whether you’re good enough in the ways this person is showing up. Also understandable, as we all have uncertainty about ourselves. Common reaction: You feel bad about yourself and/or irritated with the other person, and these can lead to a number of actions, like stalking the person with jealousy, criticizing yourself more, or comforting yourself with food, distractions, shopping, etc.

  • Irritated with the way someone acts. You see someone acting a certain way (maybe they’re being annoyingly brashly confident) … and it irritates you. The cause: Often it’s not really a problem with the other person, but more of an insecurity about yourself — you’d like to be more confident (for example) and so when the other person seems confident, it touches a wound of uncertainty about yourself. Common reaction: You get irritated with the person, shut yourself down to them, judge them, putting up a wall between yourself and others.

  • Feeling self-doubt. We all feel self-doubt about ourselves, and it can come up in many ways. The cause: This self-doubt stems from not knowing if we’re good enough to deal with the uncertainty of the world around us. We don’t know if we’re strong enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, likable enough, interesting enough to be liked, admired, loved, successful in this world. Common reaction: There are a lot of common reactions to self-doubt — hiding from doing hard things, criticizing yourself frequently, projecting your doubts on others, and more.

  • Procrastination on a difficult task. We all procrastinate, not because we’re lazy and weak, but because a task is uncertain, uncomfortable, overwhelming. The cause: The insecurity of the task comes from not knowing how to do it, fearing failure, feeling like it’s too difficult for you. Common reaction: Put off doing the uncertain task, going to a distraction or easy task that feels more secure.

  • Worried about an upcoming trip or event. You have a trip or upcoming event that feels uncertain, so you’re worrying about it a lot, maybe even thinking about not going. The cause: Just the uncertainty of the upcoming situation causes insecurity — it’s not your usual situation that you’re comfortable and familiar with. Common reaction: Lots of worrying, trying to control the situation by overplanning, lots of research, considering avoiding the event/trip.

  • Feeling overwhelmed or behind on everything. Many of us feel this almost every day at some level, but even higher when we are forced to take a break (when traveling or when we get sick, for example) and feel like we’re really behind. The cause: The uncertainty of whether we’ll be able to handle the huge workload we have, or a huge and complicated task. Common reaction: When we get this feeling, we commonly get some anxiety, and either want to shut down and run to distractions, or we lash out at others or ourselves because we don’t like the feeling, instead of just doing the work. These reactions often make the problem worse.

  • Not wanting to take part in something out of your comfort zone. Let’s say a workshop or other kind of activity that is not familiar, overwhelming, strange to you, not your usual thing, and so you might want to just avoid that kind of uncomfortable thing. The cause: The activity is completely out of your comfort zone, and causes you all kinds of uncertainty about what it will involve, how you’ll do, what you’ll be asked to do, what kind of other people will be there, what they’ll think of you. At the heart is uncertainty about whether you’ll be up to the task and whether you’ll be OK. Common reaction: Avoiding these kinds of uncomfortable activities, which means we never stretch beyond our small zone of comfort into something bigger. We limit ourselves.

As you can see, these situations (and there are many more common situations involving insecurity) all have a couple things in common:

  1. Cause is uncertainty: Our lives are uncertain. Projects and tasks and events and trips and activities are uncertain. Relationships and how other people act and what they think of us are all filled with uncertainty. Our minds feel this as a kind of insecurity, felt within the body. And then it triggers a thought pattern about ourselves, about the situation, about the other people.

  2. Common reactions are unhelpful: We avoid, shut down, run away, procrastinate, lash out at others, complain, beat ourselves up, run to distractions, shut our hearts to others, limit ourselves. These are not usually helpful patterns, but they are the ways that we habitually deal with the feeling of insecurity.

We can’t avoid the feeling of insecurity in our vastly uncertain lives. But we can find more helpful ways of dealing with the feeling.

A More Helpful Method

In short, a more helpful way of dealing with this feeling of uncertainty is to just stay in it. Learn to be OK in it. In fact, learn to see the deliciousness in it, so that we no longer have to run to our old patterns.

Here’s how I’d recommend working with the feeling of insecurity:

  1. Drop in. Notice that you’re feeling a feeling of insecurity in this moment, and drop your attention from your thoughts about the situation to the sensations in your body. Stay here for a moment, turning towards in with curiosity.

  2. Don’t act on your feeling of insecurity. Whatever you do, don’t take action from this place of insecurity. Not yet. Notice your first urge, what action you want to take … but don’t follow the urge. It might be to judge someone, complain, lash out, run to distractions, procrastinate, comfort yourself, shut your heart down, hide, avoid, quit. Don’t take that action. Just stay in the insecurity for now.

  3. Relax into it. We often feel tension and anxiety around having a feeling of insecurity. Allow yourself to relax into it, relaxing the muscles in your body that have tensed up because of the feeling of insecurity. Open your mind to this feeling, allowing it to be there, finding more curiosity about it.

  4. See that you’re OK. Sitting there in the insecurity, not acting, relaxing into it … you can check to see if you’re OK. Can you breathe deep into your belly? If so, you’re OK. You’re not in physical danger. The world isn’t literally falling apart, even if it feels a bit like it. You’re OK. Feel the goodness in your heart, that’s always there. Feel your OK-ness.

  5. Be centered in the midst of it. The feeling of insecurity hasn’t gone away, but neither have you. You’re sitting or standing in the middle of a sea of insecurity, feeling into it, relaxing into it, centering yourself in stillness. Feel your breath. Be the presence & consciousness in the center of the chaos.

  6. Find joy, gratitude & deliciousness. In the middle of this feeling of insecurity, see if you can find a little gratitude for being in this space, alive and witnessing the beauty of chaos. See if you can find a little of its nourishing deliciousness, filling yourself up with the life force of insecurity. See if you can find joy, being alive right now, fully feeling your insecurity. It’s not a problem, this feeling, it’s a beautiful experience.

Through this practice, we start to change our relationship to this feeling of insecurity. It’s not a problem, it’s completely OK. We can be friendly with it instead of needing to get away from it or banish it. It’s just a part of our human experience, nothing to panic about.

And from this place of OK-ness, we can start to find the deliciousness in this experience, the joy in it, and witness the awesome beauty of this moment, insecurity and all.

-AG

WHAT ARE YOU CONTRIBUTING TO THE WORLD?

In life a lot of things can happen, good or bad. However we as humans always have the ability to make it worth while. But also we live in a world full of negativity, that's why some of us are have been program to be negative and instead of working on ourselves and for our lives.

Our mission on this planet, is to pass through our minds. The reason why is because, life is too short and unpredictable to have negativity in our lives. We are here to guide ourselves to have a better mindset about our life.

SO, WHAT ARE YOU CONTRIBUTING TO THE WORLD?

-AG

Your brain is a computer.

Your brain is a computer.

When you first download a new operating program into a computer, it will take time to adjust as it works the bugs out. Your brain works EXACTLY the same way.

Your body is an engineered machine that runs on changeable software. Nothing about you is hard wired. Anything can be reprogrammed at any time.

For example: in the past I would say “no problem” when someone thanked me. I decided I didn’t like saying the word “problem” because saying it so often will attract problems. I decided that I would say “my pleasure” instead.

This process of reprogramming my default response from “no problem” to “my pleasure” took 1-3 months. Every time I said “no problem” I would stop myself and correct myself out loud and in my mind.

Now, 2 years later I instinctively say “my pleasure” because I programmed that as my default response.

It now comes natural to say “my pleasure” and I no longer have to correct myself because the new program is set.

This process of reprogramming can work to change anything because your brain is a computer and you are the programmer.

Take control and reprogram your brain to match the best version of yourself. Your thoughts, feelings and actions are all programable by you.

-AG

A Hidden Source of Power

Almost every one of us gives away our power, unthinkingly.

For example:

  • Someone does something inconsiderate or infuriating that frustrates or angers you. You fume about it for hours. You've given this person the power to make you frustrated and angry, to ruin your day, often without them even realizing it.

  • You are lonely because you are alone, no longer with the partner who broke up with you. You have given away your power to feel loved to someone else, who perhaps doesn't want to give you that love.

  • You walk into a social gathering and hope to impress people, to gain their approval, to be liked. You've given away your power of being approved to others, who don't even know they have a responsibility to validate you.

  • You are still angry at your parents (or one of your parents) for the crappy way they raised you, or for certain things they did that screwed you up. You've given away your power to shape your own life, to people who haven't been responsible for raising you for years, since you became an adult.

In all of these cases, and many more examples throughout our day, we've given away the power to be happy, to be content, to be joyful, to other people, who haven't even asked for that power or realize you've handed it to them.

But actually, the power over these states of mind — approval, love, anger, joy — resides completely inside of us.

This is the hidden source of power that we don't tap into.

Let me give you an example. Let's say you're pining over a lover who has rejected you, and wishing you had those incredible moments back, where they made you feel happy, loved. But actually, the source of that love was inside of you, not outside of you. When you were with your ex-lover, they were there in the room with you, but the source of feeling loved was in your own mind, in your own heart. You made yourself feel that way, by how you perceived the situation.

That means that you have the power to make yourself feel loved. At any time. It's always available to you. It depends on no one else.

You have the power to make yourself feel angry, or at peace. To feel hurt, or joyful. To feel connected, or disconnected. To feel accepted, or rejected.

That's not to say that other people don't do crappy things. But those crappy things don't have to make us feel horrible — we can let them slide off of us, and decide how we want to feel. Sure, that's easier said than done, but it's still a power that resides within us.

That's also not to say we don't need anyone else. Or that we're an island, standing completely on our own. In my view, we are more interconnected than we realize. Choosing to see ourselves as already interconnected, always connected to the hearts of others, is actually a way to tap into our inner power. Turning towards others and seeing their pain and love, not just our own, is a fantastic way to tap into the power to make ourselves feel purposeful, to feel loved.

But make no mistake: the power is inside of us, nowhere else.

We can make ourselves feel loved, by loving ourselves and othersWe can make ourselves feel liked and approved of, by seeing ourselves and finding the miracle in what we see, finding contentment in who we are, just as we are.

We can make ourselves feel peace, by letting go of slights and judgments of others, and finding contentment in how things are, loving things as they are.

We can give ourselves joy, by realizing our interconnectedness with others, by caring about others, by appreciating the heartbreaking beauty of this moment, just as it is.

-AG

What is gratitude?

What is gratitude?

It’s a conscious mental state, a deep and joyful feeling of the heart and a mindful effort not to take anything to anyone for granted. It’s when the soul is simply happy with little or much, small or big, pretty of ugly, sweet or bitter, and etc…It’s just the act of learning how to appreciate each moment or situation with a thankful attitude.

EMBRACE GRATITUDE! 

-AG

When Fear is Stopping You From Pursuing Meaningful Work

I was having a discussion with a friend recently who is holding himself back from doing the purposeful work he thinks he wants to pursue.

What’s holding him back?

Fear of putting himself out there in public. Fear of failure. Fear of being judged. Fear of choosing the wrong path. Fear of not being good enough.

Do any of these fears sound familiar? They’re very common, and hold a lot of people back from pushing themselves into the discomfort and uncertainty of meaningful work.

These fears cause us to procrastinate, distract ourselves, comfort ourselves with food and social media and shopping and games, avoid even thinking about it, and beat ourselves up for not doing anything.

If we could deal with these fears, we’d be rock stars.

I’d like to share a few techniques that will help, if you put them into practice.

Exposure Therapy: Don’t Start at the Superbowl

Most people make the mistake of imagining themselves at the scariest part of the journey of their meaningful work — speaking in front of a huge crowd if you want to do public presentations, having an audience of hundreds of thousands of people if you want to write a blog or do a podcast, managing a huge team if you want to run a non-profit organization.

But that’s like wanting to be a football player and starting at the Superbowl. You’re not ready for that kind of pressure. Instead, start with youth football, high school football, and then college football before even considering the big leagues.

If you’re an author, this means just write one blog post. No one will read it at first, so there’s no pressure. Then write another.

If you want to do public speaking, just speak in front of a few friends. Then a group of 10 people. One small step at a time, and you’ll get more and more prepared as you do each step.

This is known as “exposure therapy” — exposing you gradually to the thing you fear, starting with the least scary version of it. It is quite effective, and you can use it by structuring your progress gradually, starting very small.

Allow Yourself to Feel the Fear

This is where we bring in mindfulness — when you’re feeling fear, instead of turning away from it or trying to escape/avoid it … try turning towards it. Actually allow yourself to feel the fear. We don’t often want to feel it, but we have a greater capacity to feel fear than we give ourselves credit for.

Try it: notice how the fear feels in your body. Not your story about it, but the actual physical sensations of the fear in your body. Allow yourself to stay with it, to be with it, to tell yourself that it’s OK. Be friendly towards yourself and the feeling of fear, gentle, curious, open.

You will transform your relationship with it, even if it doesn’t go away. In fact, you’ll start to realize that you don’t need to get rid of the fear, you don’t need to do anything about it. It’s not a problem, it’s just a feeling, just an experience, just a part of the meaningful work you want to do.

Practice Dropping Your Ego

Fear comes up because we have a story about what might happen to us — for example, “If I try to write this book (or start this business), I’ll fail, people will judge me, because I’m not good enough.” (The last part might not be vocalized but is underlying the story.) This is natural, and it’s good to notice what our story is, to become more aware of it, and then to start to see its power over us.

Once we become more aware of the story, we can practice dropping it. And dropping the ego (self-centeredness) that is at the center of the story. How? By dropping into the present moment, becoming aware of the sensations of the body, the breath, the fear, and everything that surrounds you.

Dropping into the present moment, becoming fully immersed in what is happening right now, our ego drops away. The story about what might happen drops away. We can’t think about both at the same time. So the story will come back (along with our self concern) and then we practice dropping everything again and being present. Arise and drop, over and over, until we get good at letting go and being here.

Being in the present, we can do the work. Take the next step. Not worry about ourselves, but instead take action for the sake of the people we most deeply want to serve.

Open, Open, Open to Joy

So we’re taking small steps (exposing ourselves gradually to the fear), we’re feeling the fear, we’re dropping the ego and stepping into the present … now from this place, we can practice opening.

What is practicing opening like? Imagine that you have to do the hard work to get your meaningful project started. You feel the fear and resistance, stay present with it, but open to the action of the task in front of you. You become fully present with the task, opening your mind and heart to it. You start to fully appreciate the beauty and joy of the task, opening yourself to this incredible experience, which might include discomfort, uncertainty, fear and resistance. All of it.

It’s all mixed in with the joy and gratitude you feel for being here, now, with this task. Doing it for people you care about. It’s fantastic, and you have the privilege of being able to do it.

-AG

A Guide to Dealing with Dissatisfaction with Ourselves

The more I talk to people about their struggles, the more I realize that we all have some sense of dissatisfaction with ourselves.

I have it, and I’d be willing to bet everyone reading this does too. Consider some of the ways we’re dissatisfied with ourselves:

  • We constantly have a feeling that we should be better, doing more, more productive, more mindful, and so on.

  • We doubt ourselves when we have to speak in a group or in public, and feel that we’re not good enough to contribute.

  • We are unhappy with certain aspects of ourselves, like our bodies, the way our faces look, the way we procrastinate or get angry or lose patience as a partner or parent.

  • We think we need to improve.

This is a constant condition, and even if we get a compliment from someone, we find a way to undercut it in our minds because we think we’re not good enough for that compliment.

It affects our lives in so many ways: we might not be good at making friends, speaking in public or in a group, finding a partner, doing the work we’re passionate about, finding contentment with ourselves and our lives.

And we don’t like feeling this way, so we run. We find distraction, comfort in food or alcohol or drugs or shopping, lash out at other people when we’re feeling defensive about ourselves. It’s at the heart of nearly all of our problems.

So how do we deal with this underlying problem? The answer is profoundly simple, yet not easy.

Before I go into dealing with the problem, we should discuss something first — the idea that we need to be dissatisfied with ourselves to make life improvements.

Unhappiness with Self as a Motivator

I used to think, as many people do, that if we’re unhappy with ourselves, we’ll be driven to get better. And if we were all of a sudden content with ourselves, we’d stop doing anything.

I no longer believe this. I do think we’re often driven to make improvements because we’re dissatisfied with ourselves, and that’s not a bad thing. We have hope for something better.

But consider:

  • When we are unhappy with ourselves, it’s hard to be happy when we do something good. We’re still dissatisfied. So doing something good, then, isn’t the reward it could be.

  • We have habits of running from this bad feeling about ourselves, so procrastination and distraction become the default mode, and this gets in the way of our efforts. In fact, we’ll never solve the problems of distraction and procrastination until we can learn to deal with this problem of unhappiness with self.

  • Unhappiness with self can get in the way of connecting with others (because we think we’re not good enough, and so can feel anxiety about meeting others). We can’t solve this, no matter how much we want to improve, until we address the underlying issue.

  • Even when we make an improvement, the feeling of dissatisfaction with self doesn’t go away. So we try to improve some more, and it still doesn’t go away. In my experience, it never does, until you’re ready to face it head on.

  • During this awesome period of self improvement driven by dissatisfaction, we don’t love ourselves. Which is a sad thing.

So is it possible to get things done and make improvements without dissatisfaction with self? I’ve discovered that the answer is a definite “yes.”

You can exercise and eat healthy not because you dislike your body and want to make it better … but because you love yourself and want to inspire your family. You can do work out of love for the people it will help. You can declutter, get out of debt, read more, and meditate not because you’re dissatisfied with yourself … but because you love yourself and others.

In fact, I would argue that you’re more likely to do all of those things if you love yourself, and less likely if you dislike yourself.

Dealing with Dissatisfaction

What can we do about our continual dissatisfaction with ourselves? How do we deal with self-doubt, feeling like we’re not good enough, unhappiness with certain parts of ourselves?

It turns out that these feelings are perfect opportunities — to learn about ourselves and how to be friends with ourselves.

Here’s how:

  1. Each time we have these feelings, we can pause and just notice.

  2. Turn towards the feeling, seeing how it feels in your body. Be curious about how it feels, physically.

  3. Instead of running from this feeling, stay with it. Instead of rejecting it, try opening up to it and accepting it.

  4. Open yourself up to the pain of this feeling, and see it as a path to opening up your heart. In this way, getting in touch with the pain is a liberating act.

  5. See this difficult feeling as a sign of a good heart, soft and tender and loving. You wouldn’t care about being a good person, or a “good enough” person, if you didn’t have a good heart. There is a basic goodness beneath all of our difficulties, and we just need to stay and notice this goodness.

  6. Smile at yourself, and cultivate an unconditional friendliness to all that you see.

Now, I’m not claiming that this is an easy method, nor that it will cure our difficulties in one fell swoop. But it can start to form a trusting relationship with yourself, which can make an amazing difference.

I recommend that you practice this each time you notice self-criticism, self-doubt, unhappiness with yourself, harshness towards what you see in yourself. It only has to take a minute, as you face what you feel and stay with it, with unconditional friendliness.

If you really want to focus on this powerful change, reflect on it once a day by journaling at the end of the day, reviewing how you did and what you can do to remember to practice.

In the end, I think you’ll find that love is a more powerful motivator than unhappiness with yourself. And I hope you’ll find a friendship with yourself that will radiate out into your relationships with everyone else you know and meet.

-AG