Never Stop Learning
Getting bogged down in old stories stops the flow of learning by censoring our perceptions, making us functionally deaf and blind to new information. Once the replay button gets pushed, we no longer form new ideas or conclusions—the old ones are so cozy. But becoming present puts us back in reality, where we can rigorously fact-check our own tales.
Try dredging up one of your favorite stories—maybe a classic like "I'm not good enough." Treat it as a hypothesis. Research it. Is there any evidence that contradicts it? Have you ever, in any way, even for an instant, been good enough? You may need to ask someone for coaching at first. Evidence that contradicts your hypothesis will be hard for you to see, while to an objective observer, it's obvious ("Well, you're good enough for me, your dog, and everyone down at the bingo hall, you dumb cluck"). However you get to it, the moment you absorb a fact that disproves your hypothesis, you're half out of the mire.
Insist On The Truth
Whatever terrible things may have happened to you, only one thing allows them to damage your core self, and that is continued belief in them. Kristin's mother may have been Stalin in a bra, but by the time Kristin got to my office, what was silencing her was the conviction she'd formed during interactions with Mom: "It's no good to speak up; no one will ever hear me."
Kristin couldn't redo her past, but she could change that belief. In fact, the loop she replayed in her head was the one thing standing in her way, since evidence disconfirming her hypothesis was everywhere. Lots of people listened to Kristin. Once she acknowledged that, she couldn't be a tiny victim, waiting haplessly for her chakras to open. She was just a woman with a scary job to do. I know how much this realization bummed her out; it always bums me out. But then, it's also the doorway to freedom.
Oh yeah, that.
Put All Your Energy Into Your Life's Work
The moment you lift your gaze from your old stories, you'll see your life's work. I don't mean a gilt-edged proclamation from God, describing every step you are to take for the rest of your existence. I mean the next step, which is usually very small: Ask for the promotion. Pick up the kids. Take a nap. Then take the step that comes after that.
From time to time, as you continue along, a Big Dream will coalesce out of the swamp fog. The way forward is to shake the quicksand off your feet and take one small step toward that dream. Trust me, it will be all you can do. Taking things step-by-step means working—working hard, working scared, working through confusion and embarrassment and failure. I've met many people the world thinks of as "lucky," and all of them operate this way. I've come to think that the main purpose of rumination is work avoidance. Dwelling endlessly on the past keeps us from the wild, exhausting, terrifying tasks that create our right lives.
When I become a little more ruthless with myself and a lot more present in what I have to do, I see that writing a humble column is my next step—and I have writer's block. I'd love to enter therapy and figure out why, but I don't have that kind of time. Instead, I'll focus on a saying from the Ojibwa tradition, one that deserves the attention I customarily lavish on my problems: Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the while I am being carried on great winds across the sky.
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