Staying Motivated and Stopping Guilt

Uh-oh. I’m at that point again.

I’m at the point in my daily practice where my enthusiasm starts to drop off a bit, and I start missing “deadlines”, so to speak. I’ve never been all that great at daily practices, mainly because I’m easily distracted. That doesn’t mean I never get anything done; quite the contrary. However, historically I’ve worked best on an inspirational schedule–when the mood hits, take it and run with it. That’s how I’ve managed to write two books, with a cowritten on the way, and two partial manuscripts in the works–not to mention all my artwork and other projects. So I’ll spend literally all my free time for a number of days or even weeks engrossed in a particular project–and then at the end get sick of it and put it down for a bit. It gets things done, to be sure, just not in any organized manner. I can break that to an extent, especially if it’s work for someone else, such as editing manuscripts for Immanion Press. But I still have my preferred way of doing things.

I hadn’t really intended to do daily practice with therioshamanism; however, the elemental work that I received via this ritual has essentially become just that. I’ve noticed that this week, despite the benefits I’ve experienced as a result of it, that I’m beginning to get bored. This isn’t surprising. However, I’ve also noticed that I didn’t do the Otter ritual I’d intended this past weekend, either, and it’s been almost a week since the New Moon, which is the time I’ve designated for working with skin spirits. Believe me, I’ve tried all sorts of things to correct this habit–journaling, marking off calendar dates, working in conjunction with another person. Every time it hasn’t worked because I’ve gotten bored, or frustrated, or made excuses, or gotten distracted.

Here’s where I normally get frustrated with myself, tell myself I suck for failing my goals, and get so disgusted that I quit, or at least let everything trail off into inaction. I put a LOT of pressure on myself to succeed. It’s one of those things I picked up early; I learned as a kid that if you do well, you get praise and positive attention. If you don’t, you either get ignored or only told what you need to do differently, not what you did right. So, having fallen for the carrot and stick routine, I became a little addicted to carrots. This has carried over into my adult life to the point where I’ve historically held myself to almost impossible standards. Even minor criticisms would throw me into paroxysms of guilt. Rather than doing anything to do better the next time, I’d melt into a pile of self-pity and resentment (and very strongly resemble Hostile Weakness from transactional analysis by way of Prometheus Rising).

More recently, though, especially in the past couple of years, I’ve been able to undo some of this conditioning. I’m a LOT less sensitive to destructive criticism, and I can pretty much tell whether someone genuinely wants to help me improve, or is just taking out their own insecurities on me. Additionally, I have had some successes as far as carrying out long-term projects go. Publishing my first book was a good impetus, but following up with a second, more research-intense book demonstrated to me that I wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. In fact, writing in general has given me good structure for my life and shown me that I am capable of a lot more than I used to think. And in the past couple of months I’ve been able to break through the boredom/disinterest stage with several smaller habits and patterns and completely reprogram those parts of myself permanently.

One key to this has been letting go of the guilt. Guilt is a controlling tool, and unfortunately has been overused. Additionally, it can perpetuate a negative attitude which isn’t conducive to making positive change (if you’ll forgive me for sounding a bit cliched here). I realize that in some cases guilt is used to point out what a person did wrong in case they didn’t realize it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feel remorse if, say, you punched someone in the stomach for no apparent reason. However, guilt is way overused in our society, to the point where it’s actually destructive rather than constructive.

In this particular case, guilt is being used to punish someone who is genuinely trying to improve hirself. Look at dieters’ guilt–if you break your diet and feel guilty about it, you may very well “punish” yourself for being so weak-willed by going out and proving it through binge eating. In the same way I punished myself for daring to miss a day of meditation by becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believed that if I missed even one day, it meant I couldn’t hack it, and that I’d eventually just give up. And you know what? I was right–about the giving up part, anyway.

But I’m wrong about being a failure. My recent successes with perseverance have demonstrated that. So the first time I realized I missed a day of my elemental work rather than starting into my usual re-action of “You failed!”, I caught myself instead. And I realized that I could still continue to build up the momentum, taking as much time as I needed–one day at a time. After all, I managed to integrate other habits into my everyday life even though I missed a few days with them when I first got started. But the “misses” got fewer and further between over time, and eventually nonexistent.

So it will be with my meditation. A mistake isn’t an automatic reason to give up. It may serve as a reminder, but I only stop if I allow myself to. Five days out of seven is still five more than I could have if I gave up.

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