How does one move forward?
This is a question I face with nearly every patient I encounter in my office. My patient who has been off of work and struggles with the first job application. My patient who has a history of severe trauma and can’t seem to trust enough to stay in a relationship. My patient who once dropped out of college after a suicide attempt, and now struggles to return to finish her degree.
To be fair, this is something I too struggle with on a day to day basis. I think about all the possible next steps for deepening my writing practice…an e-book, a digital magazine, expanding my blog…and I freeze. What if I fail? What if I succeed? Do I know enough? Am I good enough? How do I believe in myself?
With my patients, I often describe moving forward as a stool with three legs. We need each of the three legs for stability and grounding, as we take those first tentative steps. Here they are.
The first leg is that of understanding where our fear comes from. Many of us carry stories from our childhood about what we can and can’t do, or what we are “good” or “bad” at. These can run as simple as “I am not good at math”, or run as deep as, “I am fundamentally flawed and don’t deserve happiness or success in life.” Taking the time to engage in therapy, and gain a deep understanding of the origins of our narrative about ourself, can be immensely helpful in dismantling it.
The second leg is that of mindfulness and self compassion. Can we be kind and present with ourselves as we struggle with understanding our limitations, and moving through them? Often times we believe that if we only push ourselves hard enough, berate ourselves loud enough, we will somehow motivate ourselves to get to the next level. I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. Adopting a curious, non judgmental attitude towards ourselves as we try to move closer to our goals allows us a sense of safety with those first tentative steps.
The third leg is practicing action with the smallest possible steps. What is the smallest task we can take on, the tiniest risk we can take? What feels do-able, so manageable that we could not fail at it if we tried? Can we write the first word of the book? Can we take a ten minute walk outside? Can we work on the first section of the resume? Determine an action that you can take today, even if it feels challenging. It is less about the nature of the step itself, and more about becoming comfortable with the fear that resides within us. If we wait for the fear to disappear, we will be waiting forever. We must learn to move forward, fear and all.
Each of these three tools has its own place in allowing us to step out of a place of paralysis, and into a place of action. Each tool alone is helpful, but not enough. We must understand our self limiting beliefs, and where those seeds were planted. We must hold that understanding, and our resulting emotions, with compassion and grace, as we practice forward motion anyway. The delicate interplay between understanding, mindfulness, and action, will slowly, patiently, ease us towards manifesting what feels most important to us.
So today, I invite you to join me in reflecting on an area of your life where you feel stuck. Is there a way to utilize the tools of understanding, mindfulness, and action, to allow you to gently move forward?
With gratitude, Monisha