“Life is actually really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ~Confucius
There were times when I felt that my thoughts had complete control over my life. I could convince myself of anything, really. My thoughts would rarely lift me up and, instead, convince me I would fail.
I would fail at relationships. I would fail at my job. I told myself I was a failure.
I honestly believed that I was the only one who experienced this level of personal rejection. Of course, I knew that it wasn’t unique to me because I knew other people struggled with self-confidence.
Yet, the people in my life never talked about their lives in this way.
After years of feeling like this, I began to convince myself that I was indeed alone—nobody else could possibly have these crazy thoughts and feelings. As an introvert, even I wasn’t always comfortable talking about it.
I wanted to know why my stomach always hurt before I talked in front of people, why I always sweat when I was nervous, and why I pushed people away, even though I desperately wanted to feel connected.
As I discovered more about myself, I realized that I interpreted my emotions rather than actually experiencing them.
For instance, I continue to get nervous before I formally speak in front of people. I don’t know if this will ever go away. As an introvert, it’s just not something I’m 100 percent comfortable with. In the past, I would turn this fear into a story.
“I shouldn’t be nervous. I am better than this. I hate when I get this nervous because everyone will notice. I will look like a fool.” You tell yourself this often enough and you start to believe these stories. It becomes your identity.
Now, I accept that I am fearful before giving a speech. That’s okay. It’s a human experience and it’s uncomfortable for people like me.
I notice it and experience it for what it is. I don’t allow myself to make it something it’s not, and the nerves no longer snowball into the sweats, the stomach pain, the anxiety.
I did this for so long because I couldn’t accept who I was. I wanted to be something I wasn’t. I marveled at people who appeared to be so confident and put together all the time. I wanted to be someone else, and I beat myself up whenever I didn’t meet those standards.
The mind is a powerful thing—we all know this—so powerful it starts to analyze our basic human feelings, emotions, and experiences.
Over time, this can cause debilitating anxiety or depression.
After years of feeling this way, I got to a point where I was just exhausted. It was my own rock bottom.
As an introverted guy, the biggest lesson I had to learn was that it is okay to feel emotions. That was the first step.
At a deeper level though, it is also human to feel anything. This is just as natural as breathing, swallowing, chewing, and sneezing.
I had to stop trying to control it all.
It doesn’t mean I go around crying, laughing, and yelling at the world around me. I am just aware of my emotions, simply for what they are. Not intellectually aware, experientially aware.
When we become aware of our feelings, thoughts no longer have the power to interpret them into something they’re not.
I now understand that this is what connects all of us as people—our innate ability to experience life rather than analyze it.
We are all capable of this.
Despite this, why do we default to analyzing rather than experiencing our emotions? For one, I don’t believe we are taught and encouraged to talk about emotions. As a guy, this especially rings true. We are told from a young age to just buck up and figure it out.
To the best of our ability at the time, we also try and protect ourselves from the world around us. Perhaps it was something we learned to cope as a child or young adult. The emotions were there but for whatever reason, we didn’t allow ourselves or were unable to experience them.
But those emotions don’t just go away. So we busy ourselves to take our minds off of it. We rationalize how we feel (yet don’t actually feel). We overeat to mask how we are really feeling. Our stomachs continue to churn. We don’t sleep as well. We joke about our situation to make us feel better.
We consciously or unconsciously build layer upon layer of protection, which only covers up what’s really going on.
Only when we begin to peel away these layers and experience the pain we’ve covered up for so long can we begin to heal. The intellectual mind cannot do this because it continues to want to control and interpret how we feel.
The more I peeled away these layers, the more I was able to let go of who I thought I should be and to experience the pain I’d held on to for so long.
I thought I should be more successful. I thought I should be more driven. I thought I should be a better son, athlete, student, friend, and boyfriend. It was never enough.
Only when I experienced the pain of the shame I felt as a younger guy, who made mistakes but did the best he could at the time, was I able to let go of that pain.
The fascinating thing is after I experienced that pain, it no longer ate away at me. There was nothing to hide or cover up anymore. It was so simple. All of that pain was simply gone after years of it buried beneath protective layers of security.
I let go of what should have been and experienced what was.
The more you let go of control, the more you are able to experience an abundant life. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the happy, the sad—they’re all part of the human experience. When we allow ourselves to experience all of it, we can then set ourselves free.
We no longer act from a place of fear but rather a place of awareness.
Start by allowing yourself to sit with your thoughts. As a thought arises, observe it for what it is—a thought, something this is not a part of your identity. Detach yourself from thoughts and, as you begin to separate thought from experience, you will see the two are vastly different.
So, there really isn’t anything important in life to we need to make sense of, intellectually. Life is what it is and how we experience it. We need to remind ourselves of this:
It’s perfectly okay to be human.
Remember there are many other people out there struggling with some of the same things you are. After all, we are all human.
We are not alone.
Man sitting alone image via Shutterstock
About Shawn McKibben
Shawn McKibben is a personal development coach and founder of simplefellow.com, a website dedicated to teaching ambitious introverts how to be less socially awkward and have better conversations. He loves to teach, as well as learn from others, and has lived in four major US cities doing just that. Currently, Shawn is giving away his 21-page eBook, “An Introvert’s Guide to Engaging Conversation.”
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