Fuck Your Morning Routines, Diets, and Self-Improvement Plans

Photo By fen-tastic

Photo By fen-tastic

Changing the patterns of our behavior that cause us suffering isn’t easy. Characterological change or change to the fundamental ways we do what we do, is exceedingly rare. In fact, it’s probably so rare that we should give up trying to change ourselves at all right now

Stop the “best morning routines,” the coffee with the butter in it, the latest productivity tips, the expensive cleanse, the demand to meditate everyday, the morning journaling,  the affirmations to love yourself, and a thousand other ways we bludgeon ourselves into trying to be better, smarter, richer, fitter, and happier. 

Just say fuck off to the endless prescriptions of how to live, to all the shoulds we read disguised as “just my experience” or “suggestions”. Give yourself a short break from our culture’s collectively imagined inadequacies. 

For this moment, you can stop pretending you have everything under control, that you’re the happy, healthy, inspired, nice person you tell yourself you have to be at the threat of losing your job, partner, and friends.

For this moment, just be the uninspired, overworked, over-it-all-fed-up-with-trying-to-change version of yourself. 

If your sitting, feel your butt in your chair; if your standing, feel your feet on the ground.

Notice your breath, your tiredness, the taste in your mouth. Notice the feeling behind your eyes as you read this. 

Just be there and don’t do a goddamn thing to change yourself.

(But keep reading.)

The More We Try To Change, The More We Stay The Same

The paradoxical theory of change is at the core of Gestalt Therapy and it’s a key antidote to what Svend Brinkman in Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze  calls our accelerating culture’s call to endlessly make ourselves better. 

The idea is that what you resist, persists

Another way of saying that is the more we try to change, the more we stay the same. 

Here’s how this counter-intuitive idea works:

When we don’t identify with parts of who we are, for example, our desire for rest, our anger, or our shame about our bodies, conflict is created and we are no longer able to direct our own resources toward change. 

Acknowledging the Whole Self

The roots of personal change lie in our ability to acknowledge and be with who we actually are in the moment. 

If we resist experiences we call negative or feelings we don’t want to have, we are telling ourselves that we are only acceptable to the extent that we feel good or act “good”.

Acknowledging our whole self means being with ourselves when we are relaxed, compassionate, loving, inspired, and joyful, as well as when we are anxious, petty, judgmental, depressive, envious, greedy and angry. It also means acknowledging the part of ourselves that hates being any of those things and resists acknowledging them. 

Here we are shining the light of our awareness on as much of ourselves as we can. The more we do this, the more we are courageously seeing what our mind tells us to keep hidden, the more we give ourselves permission to be the whole person we have felt habitually unsafe to be. 

But what does this have to do with the changes we want to make in out lives?

Change Happens On Its Own

When we acknowledge and be with whatever arises in the moment, we create the conditions for wholeness, growth, and change. When resistance is released, paths to change emerge on their own. 

Let’s look at a few common examples:

  1. You want to start exercising but each time you try, you last for a week and then stop. Or you keep exercising even though you hate it. 
     
  2. You’ve read a number of articles about how a morning routine is the key to improved daily performance. You do it for a few days and then lose steam. 
     
  3. You’re try to be less negative, so you keep a gratitude journal, and smile more (because you’ve read that changing your physical posture, changes your state). After a few weeks, you’ve discovered a new found negativity toward all the to dos you’re now committed to in order to get over your negativity.
     
  4. You’ve been trying to start a project that you tell yourself is important, but you keep procrastinating. You’re angry at yourself and often feel like a failure.

What are the most common responses to these kinds of problems?

You haven’t established a clear habit. Your why isn’t strong enough. You don’t understand how motivation works.  You haven’t committed fully enough. You don’t know your purpose. 

All of these ideas can be useful at the right moment, but they miss something that makes all the difference: 

Change based on self-acceptance vs. self-rejection.

Self-Acceptance Vs. Self-Rejection

Imagine how it feels when change is based on self-acceptance and when it is based on self-rejection.

In the first case, there may be a feeling of warmth and opening in the chest, a sense of being called forth, and an excitement about using your abilities. You accept that you are where you are and you’re ready for something new.

In the second, dislike of oneself, shame, and “shoulds” organize your change efforts. Tension reigns in the body, a demand has to be fulfilled, a commitment is sworn to. Struggle and overcoming are the key themes. 

The second approach, based on self-rejection, is the implicit message of most personal growth. 

We take the second approach because we fear the first one, based on self-acceptance couldn’t possibly work. Our mind tells us that real change can’t happen unless we punish ourselves, unless we envision some other version of ourselves that we want to become, and leave our shoddy, fat, petty, and lazy version behind. 

Fake it till you make it, we’re told. 

Gary Yontef, PhD, psychologist and gestalt therapist writes:

“Patients often believe that if they accept themselves, that undesired behavior won’t change, that self-acceptance means condoning or reinforcing the painful, the dysfunctional, and the immoral.”

But the situation is actually very different. 

How change occurs is counter-intuitive.

It is “by accepting and owning how one is, by knowing and accepting the reality of the conditions one lives or has lived in, the choices one makes in the situation of these conditions, and accepts that one makes the choice to be as they are, only then can the individual truly change self or environment,” writes Yontef.

In essence, self-rejection does not support growth. Self-acceptance creates the pathway to experimenting with change.

The Mind is a Tricky Fucker

Your mind may all too eagerly say, “Ah yes. Self-acceptance. Got it.” and then quickly forget it. The idea doesn’t serve our mind’s need to keep itself safe. 

But real self-acceptance, and thus real change, often requires more embodied experimentation than that. 

For example, during our weekend Honesty Labs, a group of people commit to experimenting with telling each other the truth. It’s such a liberating experience to be that free that our mind often can’t handle it, so we quickly revert to old patterns and identities. We want to pretend and fake it, leaning back on our usual forms of self-rejection.  

But the honesty trainers and the group itself start prodding each other to let it out, to stop play-acting and performing, and be who they actually are in the moment. 

When a person tells someone they are mad at them or attracted to them or wanting something from them and the two people stick with each other, they are implicitly supporting each other in self-acceptance. 

And then change begins on its own. 

Someone finally acknowledges their anger and shares it. The anger shifts and moves. The process of forgiveness begins. 

Someone tells a secret they’ve been hiding for years. Embarrassment, then relief. The behaviors used to hide the secret begin to shift.

Someone acknowledges and feels the shame they have towards their body. Over time, gratitude shines through and slowly change begins. 

Creating a space where people can be exactly who they are is an act of self-acceptance.

If we resist experiences we call negative or feelings we don’t want to have, we are telling ourselves that we are only acceptable to the extent that we feel good or act “good”.

The Personal Growth and Wellness Industries are Full of Shit

A whole industry of coaching, websites, and books sell us a thousand different plans to help us change. Most of them play on our self-rejection, marketing to the parts of ourselves that we disown while laying out a supposed plan to overcome them. 

Their common denominator is the essence of their failure; they jump too quickly to “change”,  orienting transformation into a step-by-step plan that skips over the most important part: self-acceptance. 

Which is understandable. Their creators play by the same rules we do; lie about who you actually are, perform the song and dance that you have it all under control.

Even programs focused on self-love and acceptance rarely have the courage to acknowledge and stay with the disowned parts ourselves. We might talk of them but then off we go into a fantasized world of desire and vision, losing touch with who we are right now.

And that’s the rub; real change occurs when we acknowledge and stick with who we are moment by moment, tell the truth about our experience, and recognize that self-rejection does not support growth.

And maybe you end up realizing, you’re pretty okay as you are, at least as okay as the experts hawking their wares at the self-improvement bazaar. 

Questions

  1. Think of something you are trying to change about yourself, are you coming from a place of acceptance or rejection? 
     
  2. What would it take to fully acknowledge the part of yourself you want to change? Find a friend and tell them about it. 
     
  3. True self-acceptance means being with who you are. Is there something you’ve been withholding from someone? Go tell them and pay attention to the sensations in your body as you tell them. 

Call to Action

If you like this article, you may like our weekly Honesty Inspiration Newsletter or our Radical Honesty Intro Video.

John Rosania