By Sophie Gayle
Throughout my life, I have struggled to accept that no one is perfect, that perfection does not exist and therefore cannot be achieved. Perhaps this is because it has always felt like everyone else in my life is perfect—everyone else is the traveling dreamer, the one nobody forgets, the one whom friends flock to, the one dressed to perfection, the one whose intelligence people want to tune into. A culture of motivation has also taught me that if I want to achieve something, I can, with just enough drive and intention—but when does motivation and personal criticism become destructive?
I know my imperfections all too well, and I think most people can relate when I say I am my worst critic. Over the years, I have said I feel as though I’m “mean” to myself. I was not nice to myself the way I was to my friends. I have had arguments in my head that even the worst enemy I could conjure up would not have with me. It did not matter how many clubs I was involved in, how many friends I had, how good my grades were, how I managed my time … it all amounted to nothing, because, at least to me, it was never “enough.”
Then, I came across a piece by Yoko Ono that changed my thinking entirely. It stated: “Try to say nothing negative about anybody. A) For three days B) For forty-five days C) For three months. See what happens to your life.”
I knew I needed to reflect on my thinking habits. I began to ask myself: “Would I say these things to a friend who was in the same situation as I am? If someone else were being this mean to me, would I believe they were right? Would I defend myself? WHY am I so mean to myself all of the time?”
I realised I would never say the things I said to myself to a friend; in fact, I would probably tell them how much worth they actually have. I would never let a friend put me down the way I put myself down; I would actually be extremely offended by their words and hurt that they felt they could say such things to me. And I didn’t know why I was so mean to myself—but I knew if I kept being so, I truly would never see myself as “enough.”
That moment was a big turning point for my perspective, and I decided to make it my mantra to be as positive as I could.
The first thing I noticed was that I was not the only one viewing my life with negativity. I began to realise how often people are negative, and I commonly heard the use of the phrases, “I’m tired,” “It’s cold,” “It’s cloudy,” “Traffic sucked this morning,” “I’m going to bomb this test,” “My day has been so crappy,” or “I just want to go home.”
I was in shock. I had not made a conscious effort before to see not only how negative I was toward myself, but how negative our normal, passing conversations with friends or even strangers can be. I thought about how I could change the conversation around if I was the positive factor. How could I be the catalyst in changing these conversations?
So, for every negative comment someone made, I counteracted it with a subtle, positive one. For every person who passed me and seemed to be having a bad day, I smiled their way. I came to find that not only did it change my entire outlook, but it changed theirs, too. My friends lit up more when they were around me. People started to say they were proud of me or they noticed the hard work I put in. I noticed within myself that I was just simply happier. I wasn’t constantly putting myself down for not doing enough; I was instead praising myself for the wonderful things I did accomplish and learning to love the mistakes I made, even turning them into lessons and more opportunities.
However, positivity is also something that can easily fade, if you let it. So I came up with some ways to sustain my positive thinking. I started a positivity wall with words of encouragement, pictures of places I have traveled, letters from family and friends, fortunes, drawings, photography … if it inspires me, I display it. I started to write down one thing that made me happy each week, as well as one thing I would have liked to improve upon (that was realistic). I started to use facial feedback by making myself smile when I was frustrated. I began turning my dreams into actions by pursuing hobbies, goals, and even overcoming fears by actively taking myself out of my comfort zone. I learned to love the crazy turns life threw my way. I stopped trying to plan my life and instead started living it. And every time mean thoughts started to arise, I’d simply stop, take in the thought … and then let the criticism go.
I am so grateful for the life that I have, the people in it, and the opportunities I have been given. I still find myself getting into bouts of trying to do everything and to do it perfectly, rather than just trying to do my best. But these bouts don’t last nearly as long as they used to. By having more confidence and focusing on what I am rather than what I am not, I am much happier—and I see now that that’s “enough.”