“I’m fine.” “I don’t mind.” “It’s no trouble at all.”
How quickly have you said one of these phrases without thinking, and then regretted your response later?
You may have become so conditioned to answering quickly that you don’t always take into account everything on your platter. Then you dread that commitment you made. Which brings up a totally different dilemma — to follow through begrudgingly, or try to wrangle out of the commitment?
This doesn’t just happen with small requests. How often have you agreed to chair that committee, take on the extra project or host the next extended family gathering?
The July Fourth holiday period may have provided some insight. If you had company, did they stay longer than intended? Do you feel like you caved in on too many things?
To be fair, you may have made the choice to get through the holiday period and keep the peace. That’s perfectly alright as long as you realize it was your choice and you dealt with it accordingly. There are likely situations in which your response may not be flexible. More often than not, though, you could have more choice in the matter than you think.
When you give yourself up to accommodate someone else’s agenda, there can be a payoff. Maybe you want to gain their approval, fit in or be helpful. You may gain a little ground in someone else’s eyes by doing this, although you could be losing yourself in the process.
Why not just communicate directly and honestly up front and save yourself all this trouble? While that’s easier said than done, there’s hope. You can train yourself to get better at this.
One-day mental cleanse
If you want to get better at alignment with your authentic self — rather than automatically responding to external forces — there’s a technique offered by psychotherapist and author Martha Beck that might be helpful. It’s a one-day mental cleanse, one day of inner honesty, for your assessment only.
If this speaks to you, grab a timer, a pen and some paper. Set the timer when you know you can put aside what you’re doing, whether that’s in 30 minutes or a couple of hours. Now, write down one question: “Am I living my deepest truth right now?”
Go about your life. When the alarm goes off, it’s time for an honesty check-in. Open your journal — or look at your paper — and reread the question. Let the answer come up. Think about what you were doing right before you sat down. Where were you? Were you in contact with anyone? What were you doing or thinking?
Do these choices feel genuine and perfectly honest? That may be a tall order since we live in a world of cooperating with others. If you take the time to do this little inventory on a periodic basis, though, you may well discover some patterns — and options.
If you’re not quite sure about your answer, Beck said, don’t worry. Just asking and waiting will gradually reveal “you” to yourself. You may have been on autopilot so long that it’s hard to stop and discern. That’s the whole point of the exercise.
The truth will set you free
At your first few check-ins, you may not notice anything at all. In the beginning, you could have a tendency to rationalize. In time, though, you may realize you’ve been making too many compromises and your authentic voice will come through.
You might also feel a twitch or notice some sadness, Beck notes. Ask yourself, “What could this sensation be trying to tell me?” If no answer arises, just write, “I don’t know.” Set the timer again, and repeat later.
“Your truth is like a wild animal,” Beck explains. “If it’s been attacked or suppressed, it may take some time to show itself.” Be patient, and you’ll eventually connect. The truth isn’t something you think up — it arises by itself from within.
When you do get a “hit,” write down that thought. Maybe you don’t want to say no to your mother for fear of losing her love. That’s certainly a consideration to take into account — whether it’s true or not. The important thing is that you remember it’s your choice. That will ease any resentment. And that’s authentic.
“Just write down everything without judgment,” Beck said. “If you’re smack dab in pure authenticity, write about the joy. If you’ve been lying until your pants burst into flames, write about the misery or anger.”
While this might sound a bit dramatic, an “honesty day” can be quite revealing. With each check-in, you’ll come closer to your real moment-to-moment truth. Awareness is the first step. Over time, when you become more aware of the ways you deceive yourself, you can begin to make behavioral shifts.
Obligations that have been shrouded by fog could become crystal clear. Demanding relationships may well reveal themselves, then you have the opportunity to look at different choices.
“This is addictive stuff,” explains Beck. “My first honesty day led to another, then a week, a year and then an indefinite commitment. The more honest you are with yourself, the more you’ll find yourself doing what you love, with people you love.”
It’s a process, though. Baby steps give you the option to make small changes that can build on one another. And you won’t have to keep telling yourself — and others – those little white lies. It’s your choice.