We’ve looked at self-talk and self-discipline, but what do you do if you fail? What do you do when you tell yourself to settle for less or you tell yourself you are not worthy? What do you do when you break the promise to yourself and you fail in a daily practice, or you don’t follow through on a task you set yourself?
If your answer is to self-flagellate, then you need to go back to square one. Re-read the first post in series. The answer is not to beat yourself up. Too often, whether we are conditioned by parents, religious leaders, society, ideology, or politics we are conditioned to grovel when we make the slightest mistake. Seeking forgiveness from others has its place when we have truly wronged them. If you hurt your friend by lashing out at them, you should seek their forgiveness. If you succumb to your own trauma responses and have hurt your family, then ask their forgiveness for hurting them. However, that doesn’t mean that you should continue to beat yourself up over and over again.
Instead of creating strong, self-assured people, this practice only creates people who are so afraid of living that they have, in a sense, already died. If you live in fear of hurting someone else, you only end up making yourself more and more dependent on others for not only your self-worth, but for your very ability to provide for yourself, to make decisions for yourself, and to be a productive and whole member of the human race.
What is your response? Is it to give up? To wallow?
How do you forgive yourself? Well, what do you do when you ask forgiveness of others? In the first place, you must have either an understanding of the hurt you inflicted (i.e. you know why it was hurtful and you know that it was hurtful) or you must acknowledge the hurt they feel (i.e. you don’t understand why they are hurting from what, to you, is a difference of opinion, but you know they are hurting nonetheless). Then, you must ask the hurt party (and only the hurt party) for their forgiveness and either rectify the mistake (in the case of physical hurt) or at least to part ways amicably. We don’t like thinking of the latter, but sometimes it has to be done for both parties’ sake, particularly if the hurt results from a fundamental difference of opinion. Agreeing to disagree and letting other people live the way they are bound and determined to live is just sometimes the only peaceful way to resolve anything.
Forgiving yourself looks rather the same way: you have to acknowledge to yourself where you failed, know why you failed, take steps to rectify the failure, and then move on. For instance, you make a promise to yourself to write for at least one hour a day and you plan to do at least 1k words in that hour. You do well the first few weeks and then you hit a rough spot and you stop for 3 days or more. What is your response? Is it to give up? To wallow? Or, do you take a look at those three days and why you weren’t able to complete your promise to yourself. Perhaps you weren’t feeling well? If so, then don’t blame yourself. Were you inundated at the last minute with other tasks? If so, then don’t blame yourself. Did you oversleep your alarm that morning? If so, then don’t blame yourself. Life does not always run on a timetable, however much the world outside tried to make us do so.
If you weren’t feeling well, what are some things you can do to either make up the time you lost, or perhaps make it possible for you to write even while you’re feeling poorly? Make a list, save it on your desktop, cell, tablet, or keep it in your journal. More importantly, take a look at how you are treating yourself on a daily basis. Are you eating healthfully? Are you practicing habits which enable you to write and keep your mind and body disease-free? If you are, like so many famous writers, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, staying up all hours, and not eating properly, then you are not making your life conducive to your chosen craft and it’s time to make some changes.
If you were inundated at the last minute, why were you inundated at the last minute? If the reason why you were inundated can’t be helped, then it can’t be helped. Look at your writing plan and try to plan for days when you, for whatever reason, cannot write as you intend. If, however, the reason is that you didn’t set boundaries, or someone else failed in their own tasks, then consider either saying “no” next time, or setting firmer boundaries for others in your life. It doesn’t take much either: all you have to say is that you are not available in this particular time frame and you ask they please respect that.
Finally, if you failed to get up with your alarm the mornings you missed your writing time for the day, take a look at your daily habits. Are they ones which allow you enough rest? Are you overtaxing and overworking yourself? If you are a woman, are you supporting your biological cycles in a healthy way? Yes, ladies, your cycle can affect your writing and you should be prepared for it. Perhaps you failed to get up with your alarm because you actually needed the extra sleep that day. If so, then reevaluate how you’ve planned your day and try to lighten the load. Or, perhaps adjust your schedule so you have a day or two where you can sleep in to make up for the other days.
Once you have identified the reason you failed, if reason there is, then muscle up, accept that you failed and then move on. Put your new plan into practice. If you fail at that too, then keep working at it until you do not fail. It’s not necessarily about success vs failure either but finding a pattern and a schedule which works for you, your body, and your lifestyle.
Most of us write in addition to other things. We are freelancers, administrative professionals, factory workers, managers, mothers, fathers, caregivers, and all sorts of other things too. So, be prepared for days when you aren’t able to write according to plan, when you let your creative fields lie fallow, and when other things in your life take over. If you don’t practice self-forgiveness, it can be really easy to backslide into old habits, old ways of thinking, and old ways of talking to yourself. If that does happen, and you can’t stop it, then know how to press your own reset button and start again. You don’t have to start over, just start again.
Ultimately, forgiveness is about moving forward.
How do you press your own reset button? What is something which helped you clear out the bad emotions, negative thoughts, and the damaging self-talk? One of the things which I have as a depressive is an idea of things which help me when I can feel an episode coming on. One of my favorites is knitting while listening to an audiobook. Usually, I listen to Rob Iglis read The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Sometimes, it’s an Agatha Christie as read by Joan Hickson. It’s soothing and it takes me out of myself for a little while. Knitting, at any rate, is very meditative and I especially like doing it if there’s a problem to solve. Another one of my favorite things to do is to cook. When I’m really upset, I usually end up chasing everyone out of the kitchen so I can just be with the pots and pans, the ingredients, and the basic technique. It’s creative with method, and it’s a service to my family. Win-win situation. My family agrees. Other times, my reset button is taking myself away for a week somewhere by myself so I can just leave everything behind for that one week.
Whatever it is you chose to do, whether that’s working out, baking, cooking, going to a concert, listening to music, attending religious functions, or going to that farmer’s market you’ve always wanted to try, choose things which speak to a part of yourself. For me, being creative and a depressive, its things which allow me to suspend my view of reality for a little while. None of it is self-destructive, or destructive to other people. If your reset button is shooting yourself up with cocaine, for instance, then you are not developing a healthy way of dealing with life at all. Find healthy ways of resetting yourself–things that allow you to get back into a positive mindset so you can get back on track and start moving forward again.
Ultimately, forgiveness is about moving forward. It’s not about destroying other people or yourself. It’s not about making other people or yourself submit to opinions which are not in alignment with who you are as a person for the sake of agreement. It’s not about blackmailing or bullying other people into your version of reality. Nor should it be about you accepting their version of reality. Forgiveness, Self-forgiveness especially, is about learning to let go of mistakes, letting go of the negative emotions which resulted from making mistakes, and learning to either not repeat them, or learning the ways in which more healing is needed.
If you have trouble with self-forgiveness, then perhaps you need to ask yourself why you struggle with forgiving the one person you are going to be stuck with no matter what–yourself. If you can forgive others easily but you can’t forgive yourself, then before you do anything else, you need to address that first and foremost. Your BFF today may not be there 30 years down the road. Your family may all pass away before you do. Friendships are fleeting. Work relationships are fleeting. Guess who will still be there on your deathbed? You. You are the one person in this world who is there when you are born and still there when you die.
Go back to the spiritual drawing board, and find out why you can’t forgive yourself. I’d be willing to bet the reason why is that you have some false beliefs about yourself deeply embedded somewhere. Seek those out and root them out. They have no place in your life either as a person or as a writer.
So, if you have tried and failed, as I have often tried and failed, then be comforted. You are not alone, you are not the first nor will you be the last. Keep going. Keep working on positive self-talk. Keep creating self-discipline in your life, and above all, keep up the practice of self-forgiveness. You will need all three as a writer. Our craft is one which everyone needs but few appreciate so keep up the good fight in all of your undertakings.