Struggling with Writing; Reconnecting with Reading
I’ve struggled with mustering the courage to write in this blog since I set it up in January 2018. I was so excited to write about the issues that I struggled with (deriving validation from accomplishments, struggling to find meaningful connections and friendships with vulnerability, imposter syndrome at Stanford and as a software engineer, intimidation and self-doubt around pursuing goals like starting a book club, starting a company, etc.) but once it came time to actually write, I froze because I was intimidated by the thought of my writing and my experiences being scrutinized by the “public eye”. Over the years, I have written in private Tumblrs, Wordpresses, and have tried to go public with my writing a few times but I inevitably have found that I tend to write less frequently and less vulnerably when I make my writing public. This defeats the original purpose of writing publicly, which is that I want to write ideas out and receive input and insights from others who share the same ideas to facilitate the evolution and maturation of my thoughts.
While I haven’t kept up with my original goal of writing in 2018, I’ve been fairly consistent and happy with my reading new books, which serves, in different ways, with introducing me to new ideas and to contribute to the evolution of my thoughts. I’ve started reading a lot more in 2018 than I have in the past few years. The last full book that I remember reading outside of school was Ender’s Game in 2014 and before that, excluding short stories and comics, the last full book I read outside of school was The Giver in 2004, so in some senses, I was stuck for a while on reading books from the 6th grade (though, really, you have to admit that The Giver and Enders Game were really enjoyable).
In the first 3 months of 2018, I’ve finished 3 books (“How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, and “The Gifts of Imperfection.”). I particularly enjoyed “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown. The subtitle of the book is “Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are: Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life”. The book addressed a lot of my mental obstacles that have stopped me from writing (perfectionism, “fitting in” by not writing until my writing had been polished, self-doubt, etc.).
I figure that a good way for me to start writing is to write about some of the interesting ideas that I’ve read about and why they’ve stuck out to me, so here’s the first post about “Resilience and Numbing”.
Resilience and Numbing
Brené Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection” establishes 10 guideposts to wholehearted living and one that really resonated with me was Guidepost #3: Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness. In this guidepost, she discusses cultivating resilience through a few concrete actions such as:
- Letting Go of Comparisons With Others
- Practicing critical awareness of when we feel shame - Shame tends to make us feel isolated, as if we were the only ones who experience our insecurities. Questions such as, “am I the only one who has a muffin top?”, “am I the only one in an unhappy relationship?”, and “am I the only one who isn’t having sex 4.3 times a week?”. Critical awareness helps us to zoom out and connect with others even when our shame makes us want to hide away from others and helps us to realize we’re not the only ones with these insecurities.
- Letting Go of Numbing - We tend to numb to take the edge off of behaviors that make us feel shame, grief, fear, despair, disappointment, sadness, vulnerability, discomfort, and pain. The most resilient people consistently tend to feel the feelings, stay mindful of numbing behaviors, and trying to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions. Taking the edge off of behaviors is very related to addictions, since it becomes an automatic, chronic, and compulsive impulse.
I tend to struggle with numbing when I feel uncomfortable. My primary sources of numbing are browsing social media and various other time-wasting apps, lots of “productive” activities (such as listening to podcasts or doing language learning apps), and occasionally TV binging. I find that when I’m uncomfortable, I don’t take the time to analyze why I might be feeling that way or try to address the core issues that might be causing my discomfort. These core issues could be a reluctance to address something that got on my calendar for the following day, a general dissatisfaction with the way I’m spending my life, a fear of not being able to do something, or a variety of other potential issues that I should address but that I instinctively want to shy away from. I do think that there is a certain level of “readiness” or even a certain amount of emotional energy that I might want before addressing these issues (which would warrant relaxing activities and getting rest) but I would want to do that intentionally and cognizantly as opposed to mindlessly using those same relaxing activities to avoid confronting issues at hand.
I remember that on an overnight meditation retreat that I went on, one very satisfying portion of the night was when I was thinking about my fear of being alone, something that I don’t often admit to myself. Thinking about it triggered physical discomfort in my chest and stomach but it was productive to think through it in that safe environment where I didn’t have distractions. There is also a long-term benefit to this, which is that since I’ve leaned into this uncomfortable truth, it’s been cognitively easier for me to think about it without feeling as uncomfortable as before and easier for me to talk to friends about it. While I don’t always get constructive responses (many of my friends will feel uncomfortable for me when I talk about uncomfortable topics), it does help me to think about it more openly and honestly, which, I hope, will lead closer to a more wholehearted way acceptance and deeper understanding of myself in all of my peculiarities and foibles.