The Power of Pause and Reflect

The past few weeks I have been deeply contemplating Mark Twain’s quote, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).” Whether you agree with Twain or not, you can’t deny that his words are good food for thought.

All innovation is born out of doing something new, something different, something that goes against the grain. Oscar Wilde offers us something similar when he says, “Everything popular is wrong.”

Both thoughts point us towards challenging commonly held assumptions, which I believe is a positive and necessary endeavor.

Why do we often stand with the majority, or follow what is popular? One reason is that there is safety in numbers. It is easy to hide amongst the majority, to stay small, to avoid risk, to please others, so that we can have what we believe is acceptance, belonging, and safety.

Anytime we step out from the herd we are taking a risk. We are risking our sense of belonging, our perceived sense of safety, and when we take this risk we learn so much about ourselves and afford ourselves the opportunity to change, learn, and grow. We innovate and we create meaningful change not only for ourselves, but often for those around us as well.

Now, I’m not arguing that when you find yourself on the side of the majority that it is in and of itself a bad thing. Rather, wherever you may stand, take time to check in with your intentions, to check in with your “why.” Why do you stand where you stand? Why do you believe what you believe? Are your behaviors and actions in line with your authentic self, or are you simply operating on autopilot?

We often go through life on autopilot, without ever checking in with why we do the things we do. We fail to ask, what are the intentions behind our actions, or our intentions for aligning with the majority?

Knowing your “why” and knowing the intentions behind your actions creates meaning and personal empowerment. Often times we do something because it served us at one point, but perhaps it is no longer serving us, however, we don’t realize it because everyone else is doing it so we just keep aligning with the herd in our effort to stay safe. In our effort to create ease in our lives.

When you find yourself on the side of the majority, ask, why am I here? How is this serving me? How is this serving others? What would it be like if I didn’t align with the majority in this situation? What would be different? Would that potentially better serve myself and others if I moved in a different direction?

We can’t possibly know without stopping to pause and reflect. When I did my own personal inventory, I found many areas that I am aligned with the majority—in certain beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors. I also found that where I am aligned with the majority it is often because it creates more ease in my life in many ways. When I consider doing something different, I can see that it may disrupt my current way of life, however the benefits of acting differently may be far reaching. I can’t know unless I step out and try something new.

The bottom line is there is no right or wrong answer, but in stopping to pause and reflect we can live more in line with our values and possibly create meaningful change.

In stopping to pause and reflect we are able to align with our intentions. To live with integrity. To find clarity. There is more power in living intentionally then there is in hanging with the majority, although often the majority feels pretty powerful.

Take a personal inventory. In what areas of your life do you find yourself on the side of the majority? Step back. Pause and reflect. If necessary, step out, take action, and reform.

Tips for Transforming Shame

Shame. Blech. The word alone makes me cringe. Like many of the difficult emotions, I want to escape and avoid this one—to take a quick ice cold bath in it and call it done.

The past few years I have worked through boat loads of shame over past choices and actions I have made in the hopes that I could move on from this painful emotion and never have to deal with it again. HA! If only it were that easy…

I thought I had gotten myself to a place where I can claim that I have no shame, and in a sense, I have worked past the shame of these particular situations. I can talk openly about them. I know and believe that my past actions don’t define me or make me unworthy of love and belonging. However, I’m kidding myself if I think I am free from feeling shame.

Our shame work is never done. Just when we think it’s all good, another thought, another behavior, another situation occurs and BAM! We’re stuck with Another. Fucking. Shame. Attack.

Brené Brown, a shame researcher, says that “shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it—it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.” The problem is, when we are in a shame attack the LAST thing we want to do is share our story. Shame is tied to the belief that we are inherently bad, that we are unworthy of love and belonging. We think if people knew our shame, we might be rejected. This is a scary belief. Why the hell would I want to share something that could possibly lead to rejection?!? It seems counterintuitive. But the research speaks for itself. We must do the thing that we don’t want to do if we want to be free.

We need belonging, love and connection to survive and any perceived threat to that can keep us from sharing the thing that we think will make others recoil in disgust and disbelief. The problem is when we hold in our shame it metastasizes like a disfiguring cancerous tumor determined to suck the life right out of us. Our shame keeps us small. It keeps us from practicing vulnerability, which is the exact thing we must be practicing in order to have deep, intimate connections with others. It is the antidote to shame.

In other words, it’s a vicious cycle. We fear not having love and belonging, so we hide our shame. We close off and turn away from vulnerability which then keeps us from the love and belonging that we are so desperately trying to protect.

Brené says, “vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.” However, it’s the very thing we need to practice if we want to authentically show up in our relationships. If we want to deepen our connections and intimacy, we must practice vulnerability.

So why am I writing about shame? Because I had quite the shame attack this holiday season. My shame is related to my sobriety from alcohol and that fact that I spent most of December wanting to drink. The thing is I have secretly prided myself on the fact that not drinking hasn’t been that hard. I haven’t gone to A.A. I’ve been able to be around other people who are drinking, I have been to parties and gatherings and have had a general sense of “I’ve got this thing handled.” I made it through summer, the biggest drinking time of the year for me and my friends, and if I can handle that, I can handle anything. However, this holiday season my sobriety felt fragile at certain moments. There are three thoughts that generally lead to relapse. They are: 1. I deserve it 2. Fuck it 3. No one will know. My thoughts were swirling in the camp of “no one will know” and “fuck it.” Luckily, I was on to myself.

Here’s where the shame creeps in. The thoughts of “I can’t let people know about this,” and “what will people think of me if they know what I am thinking and feeling?” I imagine they will think I am weak. That I don’t have it figured out. As if I am supposed to have it all figured out and be strong all of the time. Basically, the independent, I-can-do-anything-without-help 16 year-old in me was rearing her self-righteous, cocky head. These are the kind of thoughts that lead us into shame spirals. Knowing that shame can’t survive when it’s shared, I reached out to my Rowdy friends, though it was hard for me to admit how I was feeling.

It’s important to acknowledge that none of us can do this thing called life alone. We need each other. We need our friends and family to lean on when we are feeling vulnerable. That doesn’t make us weak, it makes us strong. To banish shame, to get it in its free flowing state, it needs to be shared. That doesn’t mean you go and shout your pain from the roof tops to anyone and everyone. It means sharing it with those who love and support you. Shame cannot survive when it is shared in a safe place.

The next time you find yourself in the midst of shame attack, turn towards those who love you. Practice vulnerability. Don’t allow your shame to metastasize. Remember, you are not alone in your shame. We all have it. It is our shame, our imperfections that connect us. You are perfectly imperfect just as you are supposed to be. As Brené says, “imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we are all in this together.”

Yes, we are all in this together, my friends. Let us not be afraid to lean on each other.