I can be better

A while ago, I started to open up to the idea of being more okay with things as they are in a way I maybe hadn’t been previously. It’s a little hard to describe, because it was a subtle shift, but there were a number of things I used to worry about a lot more, or saw as things I “couldn’t live with” in a sort of fundamentally anxious way. I still worry about stuff, but I have opened up to greater flexibility in how I think about the things that worry me, especially if that flexibility reduces anxiety.

A big theme of this change was improving my ability to accept things about myself that I didn’t like. There’s a lot of things, even fairly neutral things, that I would avoid doing soley because they made me feel like I was doing something wrong, or bad, or maybe just rude or thoughtless. I realized that a lot of the guardrails I was putting on my behavior were artificial and based on repression, not motivated by good reason or values.

Sunrise at Taman Hidup Lake, Argopuro Mountains
Photo credit: MrNamineSinten

Now, I tend to think that if I accept my motivations, imperfect as they are, I have the opportunity to interrogate them and potentially transform them over time. Sometimes acting in accordance with an ill-understood feeling, rather than supressing it preemptively, is the only way to find out whether my motivations are good or not. This involves accepting that I will mess up sometimes (a very difficult proposition for my perfectionist streak), but that’s always going to be true whether I allow it or not, and it’s the price I have to pay to keep growing.

Overall, I am pleased that things are moving in this direction. When I allow myself to operate this way, I feel better and more myself. But I also think that taking the “governor” off yourself, so to speak, involves some due diligence in the broader view, to make sure you’re not just allowing yourself to give in to bad motivations and go down a morally degrading path.

My level of general confusion with life waxes and wanes, but in times of greater confusion, this question of how to balance my freedom and my self-discipline has given me pause. I don’t always do the right thing, and I want to show due respect the damage that I can do to myself and others. I want to be able to properly mourn the consequences of my actions when I do wrong, without becoming fearful of continuing to live authentically. Even if I can accept my flaws for the present, I don’t want to become comfortable in them in a way that prevents me from growing and improving.

Just the other day, I was rolling the idea around in my head of finding a powerful little phrase I could keep and repeat to myself, that would give this season of my life a good focus. I’ve done this kind of naturally in the past as part of my normal self-narrativizing, and I think it’s time for another.

When driving home in the evening yesterday after having a lot of fun (went to see a musical), I kind of settled back into thinking about the question I mentioned above, and a phrase came very naturally to me: “I can be better”. To me, this phrase allows for acceptance: presenting improvement as an option freely available to me. And it balances that acceptance with proper responsibility: recognizing that I have room to improve, but that improvement is indeed possible, which is enough to motivate me to try.

I think my struggles normally arise when I forget some part of this idea on some level. If I think “I must be better”, the pressure to live up to some external standard feels crushing. If I think “I can’t be better”, I despair and stop even trying. But if I keep the proper balance, “I can be better!” tucked away in my heart, I will be able to move through the world more confidently and lovingly.

Have you struggled to balance different needs in your personality? Have you tried to balance your self-acceptance and your self-discipline? Do you ever find good phrases to repeat to yourself? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​ctrl-c.club.