There are scores of strategies to manage yourself, and I want to talk about the one most often forgotten: self-love. Anyone who has raised children knows that love doesn’t mean giving a person whatever they want. Self-love is no exception. One of the reasons I don’t like the term self-discipline is because it connotes forcing yourself to do something. Forcing anyone to do anything typically means you’ll win the battle and lose the war. It’s not sustainable, and it takes a toll. It usually involves repressing emotional needs.
I was working with a client recently who has a pattern of burning out. We’d talked many times before about the importance of finding her healthy self-interest, which is one of the keys to staying engaged. She talked about all she was doing and there was a familiar heaviness in her voice. I knew I needed to reconnect her to herself.
Josef: “What makes all the work worth it? Why are you doing it?”
Client: “I want to make an impact. I want to make the world a better place.”
Josef: “What about for you? Interesting you left yourself out of your answer, isn’t it?”
Client: “Wow, you’re right, and we’ve talked about that so much. I can’t really feel it right now.”
Josef: “Maybe there’s a part of you that doesn’t feel like it can be for you.”
Client: “I think that’s right. There’s a feeling like I don’t deserve it, like I have to only serve others.”
Josef: “Good, stay with that feeling. Think of it not as you, but as a part of you. Close your eyes and imagine you’re looking into hers. Can you see her?”
Client: “I can. She’s been alone for a very long time.”
Josef: “I bet she has. Where did she get the idea that work was for everyone except for her?”
Client: “From my parents. They made it sound like work was self-interested sometimes, but they didn’t really live that way. They worked themselves to the bone.”
Josef: “Yes, that can be really confusing for us when we’re children—when the words and the feeling don’t match.”
Client: “Very confusing.”
Josef: “So this part of you understandably did the same thing as your parents. That’s what she was taught. How do you feel toward this part of you right now?”
Client: “Compassion. Care. I want to help her.”
Josef: “Good. You are helping, just by being with her in this. Send that love to her right now, keep looking in her eyes. How does she feel toward you?”
Client: “She feels cared about. Less alone. Less confused.”
Josef: “Very good. This part of you wasn’t taught a healthy relationship to work. She needs you to show her that work can be for you, not just everyone else. You can end her confusion, one step at a time.”
Client: “I really want to do that for her. It feels so good to connect with this part of me.”
Josef: “I’m glad. And I’ll show you ways to you cultivate a relationship with her and connect with her every day.”
It’s difficult to translate profound moments like this into words. This method is based in a therapeutic form called “Internal Family Systems” and it’s one of the primary tools that made me who I am today. The fundamental principle is differentiation: when you frame an unproductive belief, attitude, or behavior as problematic in expression, but understandable in essence, things often change quite quickly.
There’s a reason for just about everything we do, no matter how nonsensical it may seem. Often when we try to change something without deeply understanding and feeling why it’s there in the first place, we create internal resistance. This is the problem with self-discipline. The same way other people you manage need to be seen, understood, and cared about, so do the lost aspects of you who are sometimes not onboard with your worldview, outlook, or goals. They have their own goals that are often completely unconscious to you.
When you try to drag them along to fulfill your agenda, without meeting them where they are, you get the same kind of resistance as if you directed an employee whose name you never bothered to learn—a lot! You create an internal division, and the symptoms can include anxiety, depression, fatigue, and more.
So the next time you’re at one of those critical junctures, treat yourself like someone you deeply care about. What would the world’s best parent say to you when you’re thinking about whether to eat a second bowl of ice cream, or vent frustration on an employee, or tell someone what you think about them that you already know they can’t hear? How would someone who deeply loves you guide you? Be that for yourself.
Internal work is the hardest kind, and it’s always easier when you have the support of your peers who are on the same path of discovery. If you’re on the fence about the Dojo, you should check out my new Facebook group, Conscious Leaders and Entrepreneurs, where you can meet others who are on a personal development journey like you. You’ve got nothing to lose except your unproductive beliefs and habits that don’t serve you.