I went to a retreat once where the director used a reflection that stuck in my mind and bugged me for ages as I tried to work out what he meant.
He asked us to imagine ourselves as a boat floating down a river. Then he said, “Now imagine that there are many small boats all around you in the river, and in each of them is something about yourself. In one, may be your personality, in others, your roles, your job, the things you do. Another boat may contain your beliefs, another, your thoughts and feelings. Think about all these boats floating around your boat.”
I invite you to do the same now, to pause for a few minutes and imagine this.
“Now, let all those small boats drift away one by one until only your boat is left on the river. Who are you now?” he finished.
Who are you now? This startled me. If the ‘mother’ boat left, who was I? If the ‘beliefs’ boat left, who was I? What was left in my boat? What is left in your boat?
The answer started coming 4-5 years later when my counselor gave me these ‘truth coaches’ (more about those later), which will help you as much as they did me:
I am NOT my performance.
I am NOT my success.
I am NOT my abilities.
I am NOT my beliefs.
I started saying these over and over to myself throughout the next few weeks but the boats came back and haunted me. If I am not these things, WHAT AM I? WHAT’S LEFT?!
Here is what I finally got my head around, and believing this, really believing this, is the first step to unlocking the prison of perfectionism, the prison of perpetual discontent:
My thoughts and actions create the environment for my spirit to live in. They are important, but separate from me.
Once I started believing these things, I became less sensitive to criticism, less concerned about failing. The opinion of other people was no longer a threat to my value as a person. I did not need to defend myself because I was not in danger. The essential me, my spirit, was just as valuable, worthwhile and enough, as ever.
I invite you to tell yourself these truths, at least once a day, for at least a month, and see what happens. I’ll add more helpful truth coaches over the remaining articles. Pick out ones that resonate, re-word them to suit. These are your keys, they are also your swords. To be honest, I still struggle with criticism from time to time, because the lie that I have to be perfect to be loved still resurges whenever it gets a chance. I still do battle, but I am no longer unarmed.
More Helpful Truth Coaches
Their opinion only has the power in my mind that I allow it to have.
I will not allow other people’s opinions to decide what is a success or a failure in my life anymore.
This is just a question or an opinion, it isn’t me failing. No reason to get defensive.
They are questioning my beliefs; that’s ok because I myself am ok, and enough.
I don’t need to be defensive if they don’t agree with me, my worth is not in danger and it doesn’t equal failure.