3 Benefits Of Developing A Practice Vs. Destination Mentality
If you’re doing your own mental health work, you’ve likely experienced an unpleasantly familiar moment where you pause and think to yourself, “I’ve been working at XYZ for so long, how am I STILL struggling with this???” or “Why is this still coming up? I should be over this by now!”
How did those thoughts make you feel? Angry? Frustrated? Hopeless? Like you somehow failed to grow and change? Chances are, you’re looking at your internal work as a place where you ultimately arrive or achieve, as opposed to a journey of consistent, authentic practices.
As a society that values instant gratification, we’ve been taught to seek destinations, rather than considering that what we’re doing is actually working to develop new neural networks and, slowly, rewire our brains. When we seek destinations, we push forward towards black-and-white goals — hoping for clean, linear paths so that we may one day achieve a permanent feeling of being our best, most enlightened selves.
This unrealistic expectation is often what leads to feeling discouraged and, at worst, stuck in a place of despair. Ironically, when we choose to listen to our inner critic (we each have one!) berate us for not achieving our ideal self, we end up essentially the opposite of where we want to be.
The truth is that nobody – not even the current or historical figures we glorify as being completely enlightened – are always 100% what they might consider their “best selves.” They just have practices that support them in slowing down, grounding themselves, and moving forward in the most intentional ways possible.
- Increased self-compassion → Working on our mental health quite literally helps us use our mind to change our brain structure, but we don’t become different people entirely. We may start to use different tools to more effectively get our physical, mental, and emotional needs met, yet, the old (likely less effective) tools are still there. That’s how our brain was trained for YEARS, and we don’t forget how we used to think, feel, and behave simply because we figure out more helpful strategies for taking care of ourselves. Use neurobiology and empirical data to remind yourself that “slip ups” (aka using old tools) or more difficult moments will inevitably happen, and instead of judging or shaming ourselves, we need to slow down and provide ourselves compassion to properly emotion-regulate. Want to learn more about how to quiet your inner critic? Check out Complex PTSD!
- You stop “shoulding” all over yourself → Ever said the words, “I should XYZ…”? The answer is yes, we all have. The “should’s” are inner critic language, and alert us that we’re placing external, inauthentic expectations on ourselves, that set us up to feel less-than. Practice swapping “should” with “could”, this at least gives you a moment to consider that whatever you’re presenting to yourself is an option and you have freedom to choose what comes next.
- You leave room for growth → Back to the science of the brain >>> Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experiences, and research shows that we can still learn new things as we continue to age. Avoid setting rigid, unrealistic expectations for yourself by offering the kind reminder that you’ll continue to learn and grow. Opt for “taking responsibility” rather than the need to fault or blame, and swap “mistakes” for “learning opportunities.” Less shame = infinitely more effective personal growth.