– by Wes Colton, Introvert Unbound
Those of us interested in doing “inner work” have two conflicting schools of thought to choose from. The Self Help school teaches us to tackle our weaknesses while the Self Love school wants us to accept ourselves for who we are, flaws and all. Pretty much all of us end up enrolling in one school while ditching the other.
Self Helpers tend to focus on transforming their old “loser” self into a more successful version. Of course, since most Self Helpers set unattainable goals or goals at odds with who they truly are, they rarely achieve them.
Self Lovers prefer cultivating a mindset where they’re okay with their failures. Naturally, this reluctance to take action often means that their actual life situation doesn’t improve.
But what if you didn’t have to choose between the two schools and instead could embrace the paradox of self love and self help?
A paradox is “something that appears to be contradictory on the surface, but deep down actually expresses a truth about our existence.” One example is the concept of the “wise fool,” a silly jokester who ends up saying deep, meaningful things. As you begin to shed black and white ways of thinking, you’ll realize much of life is made up of paradoxes.
The paradox of working on yourself is that you can only take effective action if you’re coming from the right mindset. If you do it from a desperate place, you won’t plan out your next steps very well. It’s like going grocery shopping when you’re starving: Because of your caloric deficit, you’ll crave a bunch of sweets and snacks that might take the edge off your hunger but won’t provide the nourishment you need over the long run. In this headspace, you’re far more likely to fall victim to any number of “life hack” scams—the self-development equivalent of “get rich quick” schemes—that are more about marketing than meaning.
So what’s the right mindset? Self-affirmations à la Saturday Night Live’s Stuart Smalley (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”) can work for some, but ring hollow for those of us evidence-based people who like to look before we leap.
For those, I’d suggest taking your inner temperature (not in that way!). Basically, sit down in a quiet spot and ask yourself, “How am I doing?” Not, “How should I be doing?”—which is projecting into the future and can make you anxious—nor “How have I been doing?”—which is reviewing the past and can make you depressed.
Instead, focus on the here and now and really consider your current situation at this exact moment in time. If you’re not in severe physical or emotional pain, you might be able to answer, “I’m okay.” After all, chances are you’re sitting under a roof, warm, dry, well-fed and hydrated—all of your needs (if not wants) being met.
This isn’t necessarily an exercise in gratitude (though it could be), but more about taking inventory of your current state, observing without any value judgments. When you do this, you might discover a lot of your negative feelings come from the sense of not having measured up in the past, or fear of failing in the future. I’m not saying those things aren’t real, but for the present moment, they’re irrelevant, no?
If you really get down to it, you might realize you’re not lacking for anything as you sit there, that no matter what you think may be missing in your life, everything is actually “all good.”
Now, if all you did was contemplate your navel, nothing would change. Even enlightened masters accept the need to get off their asses now and then to interact with the world.
But once you’ve got the proper perspective of being fine with who you are right now, you’re in the best situation to decide the next step forward.
The paradox as introverts is being able to accept and love our introverted ways while at the same time acknowledging how our natural tendencies to avoid socializing can hold us back from the life we truly want. Because the truth is, we can both set aside plenty of time for our own solitary pursuits while also putting ourselves out there in the world to cultivate the personal relationships crucial to our social and professional success.
Wes Colton is a former dropout and graduate of the schools of Self Help and Self Love. You can ask him all about it at firstname.lastname@example.org