I’ve been thinking about self-improvement lately, as I often meet folks who want to be a better person – either for themselves or so that their life might work a little better.
For some of us it’s about turning past regrets into more positive future actions and behaviour. There’s a lightness and confidence that acknowledges the past but is free of shame; we acted according to the best thinking we had at the time, and new thinking means new action.
But for some of us there’s a hidden fear that lies within our desire to do better, to BE better. A voice in our head – sometimes quiet, at other times articulated to others – tells us that we need to ‘work on ourselves’ because we are, at heart, broken.
We’re too much or not enough (usually too much of the ‘wrong’ thing and not enough of the ‘right’ one); we’re bad or defective (as our failed relationships, past traumas, and failures prove); we’re lacking in whatever’s crucial to being loved and accepted by another.
(Confession: I used to attend LOTS of online summits, without knowing that this was driving my motivation.)
We end up wrestling to ‘fix’ ourselves, in an attempt to avoid future pain, rejection, or discomfort.
And there’s the rub: the word ‘fix’. Because even if we’re not aware of it, it’s intrinsically linked to the concept of being broken, flawed, and wrong.
(I don’t know anyone who responds well to being considered broken, flawed, or wrong. Do you?)
So when I was flicking through my copy of Rich Bennett and Joe Oliver‘s great Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: 100 Key Points and Techniques, my eye was caught by chapter 73; “Our clients are stuck, not broken”.
Stuck, not broken.
Think about the word ‘stuck’ for a moment. What do you connect it to? Usually, a sense of movement. Sure, something might be really stuck, but you know that its natural state is one of moving again. It might take a nudge, it might take a little oil and a wiggle, it might need cleaning or a monkey wrench; but sooner or later, it can be returned to its natural state.
And really, if change is life’s only constant, then movement is built into the system.
(Simply noticing that something is stuck can get things – like our thinking – moving again.)
There’s a tremendous sense of kindness in ‘stuck’ versus ‘broken’; a release from fixating on a fix, from hiding what we consider the aspects of ourselves that others may judge and reject us for.
Because ultimately, we can never be broken.