It only takes a few minutes of TV to hear promises of a thinner waistline, a better internet deal, a sexier drink choice, or an improved relationship. Ads bombard us all day on our phones and computers, always luring us to something. They hit us through comparison of another’s better car, newer technology, or more comfortable lifestyle. They make promises for tangibles and services, and yet truly are hooking us with the enticement of positive feelings.
There is an infinity loop of sorts that directly relates to the kind of lives we want to lead. It looks something like this:
Advertisers love this because they sell us a promise of a feeling if we treat ourselves to their product. And for a minute we can feel absolutely awesome. The new car smell or the latest iPhone do indeed communicate to us a message about how we think and feel about ourselves. We are worth it! We will make it! Life is going to be ok! We feel better and think more highly of ourselves because we did something that told us we are ok, we are normal, and we are worthy.
Long-term, however, this rarely works because the feelings associated with the “new” fade and we are left with the same thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards ourselves as we had before. The new phone becomes old and normal, the fancy jewelry doesn’t heal our hearts, and the thoughts of how we are still left aching only create more discomfort.
So how do we impact how we feel for the long term? How do we change what we think about ourself?
While some folks may awaken one day with a renewed sense of self-worth and love, this is rare. Still, this is what we all are wanting. When I feel like working out, I’ll get up and make it a priority. When I think it’s going to be ok, I’ll stop drinking so much. When I feel like it’s too hard, I’ll break up with him. When I think I’m more financially secure, I’ll balance work and family better. Simply put, we want our thoughts and feelings to line up with our ideal lives and lead our behaviors onward.
Yet many of us are still waiting because when we do things this way, we let our negative self-talk or pain-filled feelings take over and determine how we treat ourselves. Doubt and “I’m not worthy,” keeps us stuck. Anger and “Life’s not fair,” keeps us hurting. Sadness and “What’s the point?” keeps us isolated. And we perpetuate the cycle in a downward spiral, making choices that confirm our low self-worth and compound the unwanted feelings and thoughts.
There is hope though. Given the cyclical nature of the above diagram, we simply must start on the other side of the equation. We must begin treating ourselves in ways that line up with the values we hold and men and women we want to be. We must choose not based on feelings, but on facts found in our identity. We must choose not based on our sticky self thoughts, but on foundations upon which we want to build the lives we long for. And we must practice, practice, practice.
Just as someone who is a “healthy eater” must practice daily healthy eating, we must practice daily behaviors that line up with who we want to be — often times regardless of how we feel or what we are thinking. We must take the effective action, not necessarily the behavior that feels easiest or we can best justify. If we know we want connection but feel lonely, we must reach out and push ourselves towards others. If we know we want balance but feel the pressures of work, we must create ways to have boundaries and stick to them. If we feel worthless, we must make even small choices that demonstrate the opposite to ourselves.
How we treat ourselves not only impacts others, but most importantly, these actions impact ourselves. So if we want to change how we feel and think, we must impact these by how we treat ourselves. It’s not magic, it’s simply that we change what we do, what we practice, and how we show up.
And as we learn to treat ourselves with value, to make ourselves a priority, to show up in a way we are content with, our feelings and thoughts will catch up and even change. We will wrestle to keep making the same choices — to not let feelings and thoughts keep us on the sidelines of our own lives — and yet, one day we will arise from the struggle with renewed self-worth and different thoughts than we’d deemed possible.
Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC
If this resonates with you, I invite you to contact me today to discuss more!