A version of this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
How often have you allowed stress to affect your happiness by placing unrealistic demands on yourself resulting in negative self-talk? Does this sound like you? I used to fall victim to this exact practice regularly and, at times, I still succumb to negativity and destructive behaviors that prevent me from achieving everything I am capable of.
Here’s the reality. We all have certain strengths and weaknesses, but when we stop focusing on the strengths and start to have unrealistic expectations from the weaknesses, we are destined to fail before even getting started.
For instance, I like to juggle many things at once. My brain has always been wired that way and I have always been really good at managing a lot of balls in the air at one time. However, while my strength is in getting those balls in the air, my weakness is following through on the details of each ball.
I find that my own personal pursuit of happiness is affected when I begin to have high and unrealistic expectations around things I don’t do well – like managing all those details.
To offer an example: Many people can agree that a full inbox can often times be a destroyer of happiness and a significant contributor to stress in life. My inbox keeps getting longer the more time I spend trying to perfect my responses. The longer my inbox got, the more stressful my life grew, and the louder my negative self-talk became. As a result, I was locked into a vicious cycle of constantly struggling with a very distorted image of myself.
But these negative thoughts can often be traced back to childhood. I learned this thinking pattern as a child that was constantly verbally and emotionally abused. The more time my father spent screaming at me the worse my own self-image became. I began to falsely believe that happiness was something that can be given and taken away. The regular abuse was a stressor that kept me focused on my weaknesses rather than my strengths.
Growing up, this tendency made it very difficult for me to acknowledge my own accomplishments. In grade school, as I received honors for my grades, I began to shy further away from the spotlight. I learned a behavior that said if I got straight A’s I will be required to go in front of the class, so I better stop getting straight A’s.
Similar to my inbox, my relationship with my father put me into a position where happiness felt like it could be taken away. The longer my inbox, the more negative attention I would get from clients and it would, in turn, validate the failures in my life.
In retrospect, the greatest gift I could have given myself as a child would be to learn that happiness is a choice and that focusing on my strengths and accepting my weaknesses would have been the best self-care practice I could have engaged in.
I have learned through the practice of mindfulness, gratitude, and spirituality a new path to maximizing my own awareness and happiness. I have started putting negative voices in my mind to bed early and learning to accept and focus on my strengths. Now, when my emails are getting out of control, I simply respond or archive. I’m taking small steps to executing my goals, such as focusing on simply reducing the size of my inbox to as few emails as possible. Allowing things to linger for weeks while you wait to write the perfect response is not healthy. Just like with many things in life, clearing those old messages is one of the healthiest things you can teach yourself to do.