I was not born a “go getter”. No one in school called me a “try hard”. I was easily frustrated by challenging experiences, and just got mad instead of trying to overcome the issue. As far as school went, math exemplified this. I can still remember angrily throwing my textbook, it flying through the room, hard covers and pages unfurling like layered wings.
Although I would usually still succeed, I didn’t always. I failed classes. Friends and family realized I was unreliable, guilty of promising things and not seeing them through. A lazy dreamer who napped to solve problems. (Spoiler alert: problems are still there when you wake back up).
It took really screwing up several times, then nearly losing my first teaching job, before I finally changed my course.
I was frustrated with my behavior patterns, and ashamed that I accepted failure as an option in my life. How would I ever achieve as a teacher, never mind create my dreams, if I didn’t have higher standards for myself?
My patterns were so self-defeating. Even when I did things well, I was so full of doubt and regret that it sapped away joy from the achievement.
The paths I had created in my mind were so powerful, and so full of negative behaviors. “Paths” is an understatement. I had paved roads that led me back to avoidance, anxiety, doubt and stress again and again.
As I have learned so many times about myself, when I lucidly recognize a problem, I start to develop ways to fix it. This time, my negative patterns held the clue on how to make changes.
Just like a trail in the woods, my behaviors had laid down a track, and the more I repeated them, the more my mind automatically returned to the same road.
But what if I started a new path? A way to achievement, success and satisfaction? Great idea, but I knew that to actuate it would take an incredible amount of work, and the development of a self-discipline that I did not have.
Changing took an immense effort. I forced myself to do work. Starting to follow through on my obligations to my wife, family and friends gave me a sense of satisfaction. More importantly, I began to shed my reputation as being unreliable.
It took me years to truly change. Time and again I reverted to my old ways, but each time I pulled myself back to the new trail. Slowly, the previous paths became overgrown, like woodland trails will if they stop being used. It became easier to avoid the pitfalls and obstacles I put in my own way. Eventually, I stopped sabotaging myself, and the positive pathways in my mind grew stronger.
In the end, the last thing to change was my negative self-image. It wasn’t until I realized how awful my inner voice was, how negative and judgmental: a powerful force that still held me back. I realized that, like every other change, I needed to practice to change the tone of voice used in my brain.
Honestly, I’m still working on that. I don’t quite know how to celebrate accomplishments, or feel a deep satisfaction about my achievements. And I think I have done things, and do things, worthy of personal celebration.
In fact, writing this has helped me clarify this problem, which I’ve had a hard time articulating. So, if my positive patterns are a reliable indication, that means I will discover a way to fix it. Stay tuned!