Auto-Correct

A few months ago, I took an old notebook, half-filled with Russian words, out of a cupboard, and appointed it my new diary notebook.

It has more ink in it now than it could ever have as the kind of notebook you take to classes. In fact, it’s almost full by now. When I wave it goodbye and take on a new one, I know I’ll remember it with fondness because it is the place where I’ve learned and am practicing a new life skill: auto-correct.

The pages filled with Russian words are the only pages from my notebook that you're allowed to see...
The only pages from my notebook that you’re allowed to see…

Let me explain. For most of my life, I thought I lacked self-confidence but that that was the way I was. I thought that not being sure what you want and not believing that you can get what you want was something you were born with and that you couldn’t change regardless of how much effort you put into it.

“Being the way I was” in this aspect never made me happy. But it wasn’t until my early twenties that I decided I can get rid of tendencies that make me unhappy.

One of the eye-opening events during that time was reading Anna’s post about women’s lack of confidence in their dreams, plans, and abilities.

It was this post that made me start to notice the little “I think’s” and “maybes” that I slip into my utterances, my diary entries, even my thoughts. And when I became aware of the number of those seemingly harmless words in my language, I decided to… one after another, get rid of the fuckers.

So when I had filled some of the new notebook those few months ago and, flipping through it one lazy day, spotted several sentences starting with “I think I may want to…” or “maybe I will…” crowding it up, I corrected them to what I actually wanted to say: “I want to”, “I will”.

Since then, I’ve crossed out many “I think’s” and “maybes”, and you know what? Over time, I’ve begun to feel more confident about what I want and how I feel about things. In fact, I’m just beginning to believe that I have the right to want things, and to feel about things the way I do. In other words, I’m beginning to feel that my life is actually mine.

Auto-correct may well sound silly to you, but to me it sounds like the best way to start. I have always experienced words spoken out loud as “heavier” than ones you just turn over in your head. That’s probably because I don’t like talking very much, so when I do talk, I try to at least make the words “heavier”, that is more meaningful.

The same goes for words that get crossed out on paper — the act of crossing them out means that I don’t want them in my language. It’s a manifestation. It means that I want to change.

So if you also want to change something about yourself… why not try out auto-correct?

Old Habits Die Hard

My recent therapy sessions have taught me a new way of looking at some of my more painful experiences: namely, to see them as habits.

The word itself doesn’t sound painful, does it? It sounds rather… light. Undramatic. Normal. And that’s what I wanted — to see my experiences, and deal with them as I’d do with normal things. Like bad habits, which might be sticky, and one might be too lazy to get rid of them, but they are not a matter of Fate — one can change them if one wants to, and if one applies to it.

One of my more painful experiences — or bad habits — is to think of myself as a victim: unprotected, unhelped, and abandoned. I probably got into that habit some ten years ago but, sadly, it still makes me do stupid things, like rejecting help, calling people’s good intentions into doubt, or mistaking sporadic lack of help for general unreliability.

Of course, I hate this tendency in me. It reminds me of a bad time in my life, it makes me feel guilty of an unfair mistrust of people, and I don’t really like thinking, let alone talking about it. But I wanted to get rid of it, so I brought it with me to therapy.

After some time, I decided that, without disregarding the pain associated with it, it’s best to approach it simply as a habit. And through practice, perhaps through doubt and disappointment, with a lot of patience, possibly with support from others, and certainly with my own happiness in mind, I can get rid of it.

“I’ve done that before. Damn, I stopped eating crisps!” I thought.

Have I had much success so far? Not really, no. Only yesterday, I mentally accused my significant otter of being generally unconcerned about my health just because he refused to once again wash the shower cabin when it was my turn (I ask him to do it because washing stuff is tricky when you have skin problems).

But I checked myself: “oh yes, that’s that old album playing — the one about people being unhelpful — I don’t like that one.” And I thought that no otter, even the significant one, is obliged to fulfill my every wish, especially if they’re tired, and I washed the stupid shower cabin myself.

So there is some progress… But equally important as the slow progress I am making is the fact that, even if thinking about my habit still brings some pain, and fighting it is anything but easy, I feel so empowered when I treat it this way. Seeing myself as a victim is no longer some vague “way of being” thing that I cannot change, no matter how hard I try. It’s a habit that I decide whether to keep or not.

And I already decided not to.

Someone Unlike You

In my recent post, I recommended reading Laney’s The Introvert Advantage. The book offers advice and support to the “temperamental minority” of introverts, who make up roughly a quarter of the general population. It emphasizes that the western culture puts introverts at a disadvantage because it’s the extrovert traits that are promoted and encouraged everywhere. It brings to light the prejudice and misunderstanding that surrounds introversy, the shaming and rejection of introvert traits by the extroverted majority.

It’s all true enough but it got me thinking about the other prejudice that you can see some introverts hold: that directed against the extroverted majority. It’s barely noticeable among people – after all, it’s only held by a portion of a minority. But when an introvert talks to another introvert, you may hear critical remarks about extroverted people. “Why are they so loud? Why can’t they stop talking? Why don’t they think properly before doing something? And what’s with this habit of ‘thinking out loud’, why on earth can’t they think like normal people?”

And when the phrase “normal people” enters the stage, it’s usually a sign of some kind of prejudice. Don’t take me wrong: prejudice is just a thing that happens when we don’t know enough about the Other to empathize with them. It’s about a lack of understanding, and it’s about taking the shortest path to classifying the Other somehow. The introverts who don’t understand, criticize, or even reject extrovert traits (I’ve never met with shaming in this context), do this because they never put any effort into trying to understand introvert behaviour, or they did but found it too hard.

Photo of snow flakes by Aaron Burder
Photo by Aaron Burder

And it’s fine! We are different, and differences are sometimes really hard to get one’s head around. I wouldn’t blame another introvert for failing to acknowledge the benefits of thinking out loud – damnit, I can’t grasp this concept myself. But I wouldn’t blame a more extroverted person for thinking it weird to “keep so quiet all the time,” either. Everyone has their limitations when it comes to understanding otherness, and having a prejudice in the first place doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. We hold prejudices because they’re helpful in going about our lives without stopping and thinking about everything that surprises us about other people. In a way, prejudices help us make sense of the human world.

Most of the time they are wrong, though, because we came by them in ways that were too easy: we inherited them from our parents; we took them over from friends who travel abroad more often; we heard them on the radio from a guy whose voice always seemed trustworthy to us; or we formed them ourselves from what little experience we had with a particular group of people. Still, it’s not a crime to have prejudices. It’s just such a shame not to examine them when presented with contrary information, and to hold on to them when confronted with people as they are – in all their beautiful variety.

Because when you stand by your prejudices like they’re some holy text, you shut your mind off from innumerable possibilities to understand more of the world. And you also get really, really, really difficult to listen to.

I have more prejudices than just the prejudice against extroverted people, and I think I’m more or less aware of each. I could write pages and pages about them, but it’s not the point. The point is that life gives us opportunities to learn new facts, think and re-think whatever prejudices we hold, and change our minds if we decide to do so. For example, by reading The Introvert Advantage, I learned something about differences in human temperament, and started to shift from the kind of outlook on extroversy where “extroverts just sort of do stupid things for no reason” to one where… everybody’s different, and that’s fine.

I encourage you to use your opportunities. So go out and talk to someone, or stay in and watch a documentary, or read a book about somone unlike you. It’s worthwhile. I promise.

Friendly Professional Advice on Introversy

I don’t normally post reviews here, but this book is about introversy – a topic I have long been planning to post about – and it has been of help to me, so I want to recommend it.

Marti Olsen Laney "The Introvert Advantage. How to Thrive in an Extrovert World"

Marti Olsen Laney’s The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World is an approachable source of knowledge about different types of human temperament. To introverts and non-introverts alike, it can also prove an understanding friend that helps overcome various problems.

The main problem it takes up is the lack of understanding that many introverted people meet with in society, where extroverts are always the natural majority. That main problem gives rise to many more: prejudice, shaming, forced extrovert behaviours. The author recounts stories of these based on her experience with therapy patients, and examines the widespread misconceptions about introversy that often lead to introverts’ alienation and low self-esteem. “Introverts don’t like people,” “they speak so little becasue they don’t have anything to say,” “they lack creativity and initiative” are just a few examples.

To convince the readers that there’s a point to the antithetical title, Laney makes us consider the advantages shared by most introverts: analytical skills, the tendency to hoard knowledge in a chosen field of study, or the ability to concentrate on demanding but tedious tasks. Although these are worth noting, the “advantage” in the title still sounds cheap to me, like bait for people to buy the book. What sort of advantage is it to have some sort of temperament and a few good qualities? Everyone has those. It’s cheap but it worked: if I had first spotted that title in a bookshop rather than on my brother’s bookshelf, I would have bought it.

The part of the book that I found the most useful and enjoyable contains several scientific explanations of differences in human temperament. For some people, this may seem altogether unnecessary in a self-help book. Why bother with understanding which paths neurotransmitters take inside our brains if we only really care about the outcome of this process: our thoughts, words and behaviours? I’m sure this part of the book will be of interest to those of us who need and actually can’t go without scientific explanations when they learn something new. For me, the relationship between how the brain works and some typical introvert qualities, such as difficulty remembering facts, or the frequent need to rest, was something new indeed! I used to think of these as faults to be amended…

What next? Next, the book reaches out to us and leads us into the world: intimate and familial relationships, social and professional life, and all sorts of problems that go together with these. This part contains a multitude of substantive tips on dealing with stressful situations for both introverts and those of us who have an introverted person in their life. What may annoy you is the either-or approach to introversy and extroversy used to interpret most human behaviours here. But it’s worth remebering that, like many other concepts in psychology, this false binary is only meant to ease the understanding, and may have little to do with how real-life individuals act and feel.

Finally, the author asks us to look… inside ourselves. You would think that for an introvert, this is the easiest task on earth, right? But what Laney encourages us to do is to continuously learn the advantages and limits of our temperament, tune in to and take care of our needs, and thus create a good life environment for ourselves – both in our minds and outside. In a world where adults are only ever expected to be able to take care of a child if they have one, but not necessarily to take care of themselves, this task may seem formidable. Laney’s voice, which in this part of the book sounds especially intimate and uplifting, can encourage and support you along the way.

And after we have looked inside ourselves, the author has one more little proposition for us – but if this is supposed to be a review, I’d better not share the entire contents of the book with you, right? I’ll only add that you don’t have to read it cover-to-cover. There aren’t any traps for lazy readers such as “As you remember from Chapter 4…” so you can safely leave off the parts that don’t interest you.

Now go. Read this book. Or any book. Books are cool.

When Passion is a Requirement

Have you ever had the impression that people would like you to be more passionate about things than you can realistically be?

For many of us, it may seem like this, and all the more so we consider the media an important point of contact with the world. Morning shows, ads, life-style blogs, ads again, job offers, and for the final time, ads – all of them promote the images of passionate, energetic people who go about their daily activities with a smile running all the way around their heads.

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…Or throw books around themselves in a frenzy. Photo by Lacie Slezak

But it’s a silly approach where you show excitement as the only acceptable state to be in, tell your readers to boost their energy like it’s the only thing they can possibly need, or require a steadily exorbitant level of passion from job candidates.

It probably won’t be a surprise to you if I say that being in low spirits from time to time is only natural, that low-energy people can be happy in their lives just as well, and that a lack of passion doesn’t entail being no good at what you do in life.

The fact is that those periodically miserable, low-energy, unenthusiastic people can be just as good as friends, partners, parents, teachers, construction workers, artists, dentists and whatnot.

We are the way we are, and that’s okay.

Still… there’s always this shade of doubt when we think about ourselves, isn’t there? Whatever we do, it just doesn’t seem good enough when we compare it to the enterprises of the ideal, passionate people we’ve been trained to look up to.

Let me tell you a secret: I’ve struggled with my self-image as a writer for many years. Me writing + other people reading it + us together talking about me writing? No, that just doesn’t compute.

Why? Because I’m not passionate about writing, and how am I supposed to tell people that?

Let’s give it a try: I haven’t felt all my life that I should write. Holding a book with my name on it is not my biggest dream. I don’t wreck my sleep to write. My life is not defined by the stories I’ve written. Sometimes when I want something written, I force myself to write it because I have no enthusiasm for it. In fact, I suppose I’d be just fine without writing.

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Photo by Green Chameleon

It’s just that I like to write, and some people like my writing. But when I think that, panic enters the stage because it sounds so terribly insufficient that I want to withdraw all the signals I’ve ever sent to the world outside that yes, I want to be a writer. Because if I’m not passionate about it, I’m not a real writer, no?

This doubt has its effects on the work itself. As with writing, so with other hobbies and endeavours. Every so often, one gets discouraged by adverse circumstances. Or one lose interest in what one does, and may even forget about it for long stretches of time. Very often, one’s lack of passion translates into a lack of motive to develop your skills.

If you add this self-doubt to the fact the world favours passionate people, it’s easy to call oneself a good-for-nothing, lie down and be sorry for oneself.

But don’t do this just yet! Because I’ve some important things to tell you. Here they are:

I. You are fine the way you are. You don’t have to be passionate about something to “count as a valuable person”.

II. You can be good at things even if you’re not helped along by passion. Without it, it may just be slightly more difficult in certain respects.

III. After you’ve admitted that you don’t feel passionate about things, it’s time for you – not for anyone else who may see your lack of passion as a shortcoming – to decide what to do with your time, skills, and energy.

But I can’t help you with that last one. Too busy writing.

The Christmas Weakness

Yesterday, I read an old post by Andreas Moser about how he used to hate Christmas. It emphasized the point that this thoroughly Christian ritual is forever being rammed down everybody’s throat, no matter what religious beliefs they hold or do not hold.

And that’s true. But for many non-Christians, and I dare say for some Christians as well, the religious aspect is irrelevant; what matters is that Christmas is stable and recurrent, and that it gives you an opportunity to connect with the people you trust more than other people (it doesn’t have to be family), and also to rest.

With the stability and recurrence of any ritual, it makes those of us who always hurry to achieve more stop and consider what we have now. It makes us remember about those special people I mentioned – yes, we have forgotten about them again! It makes us consider the people that are missing, too. And other things.

Some of us don’t like to stop in our hurry, and for those, Christmas comes to unwanted rescue. Because sometimes, you just need to stop and think – about the life you’ve been living, about your relationships, about your problems and plans for the future.

And even if that moment when you stand alone by the window – if there’s anyone else, they’re busy talking, staring at the TV in a food coma or they’ve already gone to bed… Even if that moment is a dark one, difficult to bear and you don’t want it, I really think that the essence of Christmas is in there, too. Paradoxically, in the stability and recurrence of those solitary moments, you can learn a lot of new things.

And if churches benefit from our weakness for ritual? If they gather many more people than they usually do, and kindly, in a Christmas spirit, force their ideology upon them? Even if, in the end, they cash in on the fact that we want to feel connected, and need the stability and recurrence that religious ritual gives?

Well, that part sucks.

Of course, we could be stronger, and reject the religious aspect of Christmas. We could just focus on what’s more important for us: connecting with people, rest, self-reflection, the stability and recurrence of it. A ritual can do without a religious back story.

But I guess most people won’t do that even if they don’t like the religious aspect of Christmas. Perhaps they’re too attached to the Christmas they know from childhood, and in their minds it seems criminal to alter it in any way. Isn’t that so?

We follow in the old footsteps… whose footsteps these are, we don’t know. They’re old, so they must be right. We will continue in this way for a long time.

…But who can blame us for being weak?*

* In Poland, people say that one’s point of view depends on the point where one sits. So just to explain mine: I was raised Catholic in this very Catholic country but later lost personal interest in religion, and now I’m just watching how the church here piles up reasons to be rejected by the people but nevertheless remains privileged and strong.

Learning Not to Take Chances Away

You know what I like about therapy?

The fact that the therapist I go to does not judge me. And even more than that: she does a thingy thing that makes me forget the concept of judging people as such. It makes me stop being hard on myself and, at the same time, stop worrying about how other people judge me.

How does she do that? No idea. It’s probably a professional secret.

The kind of judging I have in mind here is the negative one – one that takes something away from its object. When we say to ourselves “I’m hopeless”, “I’m good for nothing”, or “I will never succeed at anything”, we take away from ourselves the chance to prove ourselves wrong. All said and done, no point in trying any harder and searching for new paths towards self-realization if the current ones indeed do not seem to lead anywhere.

I am giving examples of self-judgement here on purpose, because I know that many people judge themselves harshly and nullify their chances for improvement all the time.

Do they do that to other people as well? I don’t know – I probably belong to the lucky few who do not have to face such shitty behaviour. If they do, that’s too bad. What I do know, though, is that we should not readily assume that other people keep judging us negatively in their minds. Without getting us any closer to any kind of truth, it may only make us nervous…

There is another, positive kind of judging, though – one that gives us something. In our interactions, we do that all the time: we judge whether the person we just met is worthy of our trust; whether we want to talk to them, find out more about them, hang around with them some more. This is normal; were it not for this kind of judging, we would probably drown in all this wide inter-human sea…

But what am I driving at? I am definitely driving at something.

Here is the thing: if you already know the difference between the positive and negative kind of judging, give up on the latter. Don’t take chances away from yourself. Don’t take them away from others.

This is what I keep telling myself, and therapy helps me maintain this attitude of not taking chances away, watching myself and others with interest, and learning something new about ourselves every day.

And you know what? It is much more interesting this way.

P. s.: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.