My current antidote to my decision making perfectionism 

I remember some years ago a friend f mine who was getting married called me while she was shopping for her wedding dress. She was torn between two dresses and was having a hard time deciding. In fact I think it had been a few hours of being in the shop with her family and trying one on and then the other and kind of going crazy trying to figure out which one to buy. She was also really determined to buy the dress on this day and not spend any more days on dress shopping. 

She wanted my help with picking the dress. She sent me the photos of both and described to me what she likes about each. I could see why it was so hard to pick one because each was really nice and had their unique features that the other one didn’t have. 

I asked her if she wanted to give it some more time and she said she definitely wants to get a dress today. So the only solution that came to my mind at that time was “then pick the one that you like a tiny bit more than the other, just a tiny bit more. I asked her are you 50/50 or do you think you can be 51/49 with 1% liking the other one? Somehow this helped her. She ended up hanging up, walking back in to the shop, picking one, buying it and leaving. She later told me that her family was stunned of what happened in that conversation that made her make up her mind after having a hard time. By the way, she looked stunning in her dress on her wedding day. It was the perfect dress! 

I remembered this today as I was talking to another friend about both of our own struggles about decision making.  I often myself suffer from decision fatigue. Now that I don’t have a regular 8-5 job anymore and my days are unstructured and made up by myself, I wake up at times with total decisions fatigue. Should I do some work online or should I go for a walk? Should I do yoga or should I read my book first? Should I go to this cafe that has a nice garden or the other cafe that has really good coffee? 

I realize that often I imagine myself in one situation and then the other and my mind wants to figure out what the experience will be like with each decision and which one will ensure maximum amount of enjoyment/benefit/positive outcome and minimize any distress/negative outcome. 

But truth is that just like my friend’s options of the two wedding dresses, all of these scenarios (working on something l like to do vs. going for a walk), (going out with friends vs. stying home and chilling with a good book) all have their own unique features and possible joys/fun and boredom or stress. And the mind, given the task, perhaps by our parents, society, etc, that it should make the best decisions will keep going in this loop of analyzing one scenario and outcome and another and get stuck and distressed and to make matters worse, at least in my case, then the mind will point out that you are so pathetic that you can’t even make a simple decision. You, who are so privileged that you are having to make a decision between this cafe or that cafe. So the mind goes in to shaming. 

So now, level 1 suffering is that I can’t make a decisions, I am in my head and analyzing which is never pleasant and level 2 suffering is that my mind is shaming me for how indecisive I am. And when for example my boyfriend asks me what do you want to do and I don’t know and I keep saying this or that then level 3 suffering which is my mind saying “look at how chill he is and makes decision easily. You are really pathetic” 

But recently, I am starting to use my own prescription that I had given my friend so many years ago. God knows how that thought or wisdom came to me at that time but I had forgotten about it until recently. 

Perfectionism comes at least partly from the belief that “what we decide and do is extremely important and detrimental and can have irreversible consequences and that there is a good way and bad way” 

This thought and belief has only caused me suffering in my life. And I am not even 100% sure if this is true. Just because people say it is or somehow I got this message, doesn’t make it absolute truth. 

In fact, looking at my own life, I have at times tried to make the perfect decisions and it ended up not with the outcome I wanted but later a whole other slew of events that were out my control, brought out a surprisingly better outcome. 

So instead of the belief that leads to perfectionism and stress, I am wondering if it could be that “My decisions are not that important. Things happen in a way that I can’’t really figure out. There are no real mistakes in a bigger picture. And I am allowed to just have fun and pursue what I am interested in this very moment and that is it ok for my interest to change” 

This belief feels a lot better. And who says it is wrong. Who can know 100% that this later belief is completely incorrect. 

So under this alternative belief, when stuck with two decisions, I ask myself which one do you like 1% better than the other right now? 

So today I woke up thinking what do I want to do? Do I want to go with my boyfriend to a cafe that we both sit and work in together. It is fun working with him, bouncing cases off each other, and I’d be making money and we take breaks together and talk. 

And another part of me wanted to be alone today, go for a walk in nature, journal and write. Then the other part said but look at how nice it is to be with him, he is so cute how he is making breakfast and you love being next to him, and maybe you’ll lose him if you keep saying you want to have an alone day, and that it is nice to work sitting next to him. 

Yes, that is also nice but what do I want just a little bit more? I want some alone time today. And it might be that I will go for my alone time and miss him. yes that might be or I may not even think of him and get immersed in my own experience. 

But what helped me this morning, is to think which one do I want just a bit more right now? So I set off on my own and so far I have enjoyed every bit of it. 

 

REGRET

This past weekend I was at a gathering and a scenario came up that has happened often in my life when I have mentioned that I don’t think I will be having children. 

A friend who recently had a baby was there with her mom. This was the first time I was meeting this sweet grandma who clearly loved her grandkid. 

She asked me if I have kids and I said no and that I don’t want kids.

I should say also, that the certainty with which I was saying this was surprising to myself because in the past 5-6 years when asked with similar question, I hear myself say “well, I am really not sure, but I don’t think I want to have kids”

What was really interesting to me about this interaction was that after she made sure that I know I can still have kids in my 40s but don’t want to and my only reason is that I don’t want to spend my days raising children but that I rather enjoy the children and give them back to their parents, the grandma came close to me and in almost a whispering voice, as if she was letting me on a secret said “nooo, don’t say that. you say that now but you will regret it”, “people who don’t have kids will regret it”

Of course this was not the first time I had heard this, especially of Iranians of the older generation or even some of my own generation. 

So this is how the conversation went:

The Persian Grandma: “you say that now but you will regret it”

Me, smiling:  “It’s ok. It’s not like regret will kill me. I’ll live”

Persian grandma looking somewhat surprised “but you will be depressed” 

Me: “It’s ok. I have been depressed in my life before. I didn’t die of it. Maybe I’ll take something if I am really depressed”

Persian Grandma seemed exasperated by my lack of understanding of the gravity of regret and went on to say in Farsi “No you don’t understand. Badbakht mishi” which per google translate is “you will have a wretched life.”

At this point, looking at how hard and with sweet intentions, she was trying to scare me of this childless future, it made me laugh and she laughed with me, and quickly emphasized that I should really think about this more.

Many of us fear regret. This comes up especially about not having children and especially for women. But regret, obviously can come up in many fields of life. What I have realized with doing the work of Byron Katie, is that when someone says “You will regret it” or when we think “I will regret this”, we are seeing an image of a future, where we are for example sitting alone, older, somewhere in maybe a house, looking lonely and sad, and simultaneously seeing images of all these other people who are laughing and having dinner around their tables with their families and multiple kids and the older, lonely us is perpetually sad. 

We, right here, at this moment, see an image of a future (that obviously hasn’t happened and we don’t even know if it will ever happen) of not only a snapshot of feeling lonely and looking with longing in to this happy, lively life of others but what the scared mind offers is that this snapshot will be forever.  What the mind shows us is that at some point, the older you will enter the stage of regret and from that moment on, you will be locked in to that state. Every day, every hour, alone, lonely, sad, miserable, at home alone or walking in the streets and seeing people with their families, all happy, every moment and forever. 

This right here is what people fear and try to scare others with, mostly with good intentions. This is the same fear that comes up when we break up or have the thought that I will never have a partner. Or lose friends or feel like we are losing our tribe or won’t have one if we don’t live similar lives to others. 

The fear of forever lonely and sad. 

What I find comical about this image, only after I did the work of BK many times on loneliness, is that even though we all have heard of “this too shall pass” and even have experienced that our feelings have come and go, we still fully believe the thought and images of “FOREVERNESS”. 

Even though many of us have experienced immense sadness, loneliness, fear, anger, envy, etc, etc and yet maybe later that same day or month or year experienced utter joy, laugher, happiness, connectedness, we somehow think that the regret of not having children or certain other choices, will put you in to a state of forever wretchedness. 

And one might ask this lovely grandma who seems so convinced that childlessness equals wretchedness, how can she know that for sure? Because obviously she has had children and so regret of childlessness is not her own personal experience. Did she do her own personal survey, finding those people, who amongst her circle, I would guess are a few if any, who didn’t have kids and asked them how they feel everyday and every year until they died and observed their wretched lives? Or is it perhaps that she has lived all her life with this image that was handed down to her by some other grandma?

I am sure there are people out there who by choice or chance didn’t have children and may say “I wish I had kids.” As are people who say, I wish I didn’t marry him or I wish I went to school or got that other job. And of course, while they think these thought and see, in their mind, images of their lives and compare it to images of an alternative life, they will likely feel sad.

How can anyone know with certainty what their life would be if they had taken a different path?  In reality, these are all thoughts offered by the mind, comparing an image to another image, taking us away from here and now and creating the feeling that comes up from watching the movie in our head.

Obviously, none of this is to say that having children, for whatever reason, even if out of fear of regret, is bad (or good). 

This reflection is merely a reminder to myself and anyone reading, who has heard these similar comments and maybe felt disturbed by it, to actually look at those scary images that are behind the word REGRET. Our freedom lies in seeing these images for what they are, imagination, not reality.

Journey of self love

For most of my late 20s and 30s, every romantic relationship I entered, after a few months, I felt anxious. Somehow feeling that this person is not in to me as much as they were a week go, a month ago or a day ago. I used to think I am right when I think “he is not in to me anymore”. My proof was that “he was chasing after me last week, telling me how amazing I am and now he is not doing that. he is calling less or he is in his head when we are together. or he didn’t ask to go out this weekend.” This thought inevitability would make me either break up with the guy or act strange (hurt, distant, mixed messages, etc) and somehow the relationship would not work out.

With every guy, I found myself inevitably in the same thoughts, in the same feelings. In the pat 4-5 years, I started to wonder am I just picking all these messed-up guys? or is it somehow me erroneously thinking they are not in to me and they actually are? is it me being insecure?

A friend told me that there is a whole category for people like me. it is called anxious attached. And the doctor in me thought, well this is great, if there is a diagnosis, then there is a treatment. but the more I looked, it seemed to be a cure-less diagnosis. the recommendations were to seek therapy (to see why you have anxious attachment issues) which I was doing for many years and to communicate it with your partner which I tried to do when I could muster up the courage. But with every break up, I felt really defeated. that I am just so wired wrong and inevitably fuck up all my relationships.

About a year and half ago I got introduced to the work of Byron Katie. I was watching a YouTube where a girl was talking about feeling jealous that her boyfriend is in a band with his ex and and every time they are together she felt very jealous. Katie took her through the work (the 4 questions and turn arounds) and I saw how she came to realize the fallacy of her fears, of her fear-inducing beliefs and seemed less jealous by the end of it.

This was so appealing to me. I wanted to let go of beliefs that made me needy and insecure in the relationship. I wanted to do the work of Byron Katie to get rid of those beliefs and be this super cool girl who goes in to a relationship and doesn’t care if her boyfriend is talking to someone else or doesn’t give her attention. I wanted to be this cool, care-free, not-needy girl.

It seemed to work at the moment that I would do a worksheet. I’d feel sad that this guy I was dating hadn’t called and I’d write down “he doesn’t care about me” and then I ask is it true? can you absolutely know it is true?, etc, etc. and by the end of the worksheet I was out of that mental hypnotism where I was convinced “he doesn’t care about me” and I was suffering less.

I started a new relationship and I did the work every time I thought he is losing interest in me. and many times I was able to let go of an intrusive thought by just going through the questions. My relationship continued (unlike all the other ones that would only last a few months). I felt ecstatic. I remember few months in to our relationship, we were traveling together and we had a conversation that made me insecure. I was feeling really anxious and sad thinking that the thought “he doesn’t really love me that much”…. we got home from a day out, I said I want to journal and went to the kitchen and sat and did the work and totally was able to have a different perception. I even was able to tell him about the process and the icing on the cake was that he told me how I had misunderstood him to begin with and how much he loved me.

But sometimes I would try to do the work and it wouldn’t work. I would sit with the intention of getting rid of a belief and it wouldn’t work. I’d feel frustrated and then I’d feel really fearful that this insecure, frustrated, angry, sad (or whatever negative emotion) is now behaving distant or short with my boyfriend and he will leave, that he won’t like me because I am distant and in a bad mood. So I’d sit and try to write and do what work again and again to see if I can get to that blissful and care-free state and sometimes it wouldn’t come……it just wouldn’t come.

And then slowly I realized the most important part of doing the work…..That you can’t do the work to get rid of a part of yourself. You can’t do the work with the agenda of self-rejection, even if that self is the one who is believing a thought that is not true.

I asked Tom Compton (a certified facilitator of the work) to do a session with me and that’s when it started to really sink in (well, after actually 10 sessions with him or more that he kept reiterating the same thing.

Here’s a snip-it of it:

Me: I am in the living room with my boyfriend. He is in his head. he is distant and quiet. I go hug him and he hugs me back but is still distant. I think “he is probably sick of me. he wants his own space. I am so needy”. I asked tom, what do I do when I feel this way?

Tom: Can you feel the needy girl in you and open your arms and welcome her?

Me: hmmm….. ok I feel her. I feel needy.

Tom: Can you welcome here even if she were to never change?

Me: WHAT? hmmm No! not really….. I am doing the work so she will change. if she doesn’t change, she will ruin my life. She will ruin my relationship. I will be alone……actually I hate her.

Tom: Then feel the hate… just really feel it. what is the purpose of this hate?

Me: To get rid of her. to get rid of the needy girl

Tom: has it worked? being at war with her and hating her, has it worked? has it made her go away?

Me: crying, no…. it hasn’t.

Tom: Are you interested in hating this part of yourself? you were under the impression that hating on it would work, now that you see it doesn’t, are you still interested in hating her?

Me: crying, no….. crying (tears of release, tears of sadness, tears from feeling hugged)

Tom: can you open your arms to her?

Me: I am scared that she will ruin my life.

Tom: ask her if she wants to ruin your life?

Me: hmmmmm….. me asking some imaginary part of myself who feels needy “do you want to ruin my life?” and I see this scared girl, saying no, just crying and sad and scared.

Tom: can you welcome her, just at this moment? you will see that these parts of us just want to be seen, accepted and loved. are you interested in unconditional love or conditional love?

Me: hmmmm…. wow, I really do want unconditional love.

Tom: then here is your chance. letting her know she is accepted even if she never changes. that’s really all she wants.

Sessions like this does remind me that this is also what I learned in the mindfulness course I took some years ago. or in the Radical acceptance book by Tara Brach. or what my therapist used to remind me. But somehow during these facilitations, I really felt like Tom showed me the road map. here it is, you wanted to know how to love yourself, here it is….. and only and only after you totally welcome this scared, insecure girl (even if she never changes), then you can say “hey love, let’s do the work together and see if this belief that hurts you so much is true or not.”

Which reminds me of what I read in one of Byron Katie’s books “do the work for the love of the truth, for the love of freedom…..not to change the world”

Is he lying to me….. or…… do I not like me?

Last night I was talking to the guy I am dating. I was telling him that not being able to go to the gym (because of the gym closure in this corona times) has made me get anxiety about getting out of shape. At one point, he stopped me and gave me a complement about my body, smiling and saying how he is in to my body. It momentarily (like for 5 seconds) felt good, before the next thought crossed my mind “he is just saying that… maybe he likes my body but preferred it was more toned…. He likes it now but will not liked it if I gain weight” and my “problem areas” or what I think as “problem areas” flashed in front of my face strengthening the thought that “he must not really like my body that much”

Then it hit me. If I don’t believe I am good enough it doesn’t matter what someone else says, I won’t believe them. Which reminded me of the work of Byron Katie (also called “the work”), a self-reflection process I’ve been doing for some time. It is a process of identifying and questioning stress-causing thoughts.

When I do the work on insecure thoughts about my relationship…. for example; he will lose interest in me (a thought I have every time I date someone I am in to), I find out that I am actually looking at his words and actions through the lens of this thought “he is losing interest in me” and finding evidence for it. 

And when I do the work and realize this and go back and for example, read an old text message that at the time had made me freak out, I suddenly realize that I hadn’t even read the text right and dismissed parts of it. 

Forexample, in the first few weeks we had started dating, he had invited me to his friend’s house who was having a party. I texted him saying, do you want to meet up together and hang out before going to your friend’s party? And his response was something like: “I’d love to see you earlier and spend more time with you. I am already here early to help him out but why don’t you come here if you want and we can hang out here” 

When I first read this, the feeling that came over me was that subtle anxiety… thinking  “I am more in to him than he is in to me.”, “he is being nice and polite but doesn’t care much about seeing me as much I want to see him”

I decided to question the validity of this thought, “I am more in to him than he is in to me” by doing the work which is questioning the validity of the thought using 4 questions and then turning the thought around. (really sitting with each question with an open mind)

1-Is it true? 2- Can I absolutely know it is true?  3- How do I react when I believe this thought (as in what emotions come up? What images of past and future come up?how do I treat him and myself when I believe this thought) 4- Who would I be without this thought? (Who would I be looking at my phone with his text on it and couldn’t even think this thought?)

And then turn the thought around and see if the turned around thought (he is in to me as much as I am in to him or he is more in to me than I am in to him, etc) is true or not?

When I did this process, in the midst of sitting with these questions and turn-arounds, I had this mind-blowing realization that as long as I think I am not good enough, as long as “I am not in to me” (which was also a turn around), I won’t believe when he literally says “I’d love to see you and spend more time with you”. I see these words and think oh, he is just being nice. 

And how many times in the day, in our other relationships, we are certain someone is lying or just flattering us, or doubting them. And we are certain of it because in the past our experience showed that this person or another person had just been flattering me. And this is how we live in the past, never really giving the present person, the present moment, the words we are hearing, a real chance. The mind has a narrative that it gets from the past and it projects to now and future constantly. It’s our safety mechanism….. how we protect ourselves from getting hurt. 

I heard a friend once say, I am very good at profiling people. They say one sentence and I can read them all the way. And she was proud of this. But then life becomes dull to say the least. No chance for anything new.

I have heard Byron Katie say “if my husband didn’t wash the dishes last night and I see him in the morning, he is innocent this morning” I used to hear this and find it bizarre. I’d think but he is guilty of not washing the dishes last night.  But the more I sit with events that have hurt or bothered me and find the thought behind the emotion and question it, the more I am realizing how nice it would be if I could totally forget the past continuously and see only the now. And even though I can’t really forget the past, but questioning the validity of my perception of the past allows the past to show itself to me more clearly and often times it is a lot less painful than I had perceived it.

In my forever quest of how to suffer less, my newest friend is this work of Byron Katie but I find the essence of this work the same as what mindfulness (MBSR) says, the same as what my therapist of the past 3 years who describes her spiritual path as “a course in miracle” reiterated to me on each session or what Echkart Tole says. They say it in different wording but ultimately all trying to bring you to the pure experience of this present moment. 

So I guess a moment of victory for me was when I heard the guy I am dating tell me how he is in to my body and then immediately doubted him, thankfully, I then doubted my doubt. Is it him lying to me about liking my body or is it me not liking my body and therefor finding it hard to believe him no matter what he says?

This being me… whoever that is

It was many moons ago but I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. I was on the phone with my sister, asking her what I should text this guy I had gone on a date a few nights prior. I was asking if what I had planned to text him sounded good (I guess a mix of witty, cute, sweet and yet not too sweet, that shows I like him but not too much, etc, etc). This wasn’t unusual in my circle of friends where we’d be hanging out and someone would ask if their planned text message was good enough to send or if they should say something different. On that day though, instead of her usual response, my sister surprised me and asked “Why do you think I would know better than you?” I didn’t think much of what she said at the time and went on with my quest for the perfect text. 

But in the past decade or so, her words have come to me at times and more so recently.

As the etched words of Bob Dylan on my necklace remind me “All I can do is be me, whoever that is” 

All these efforts for self-love over the many years had not really driven this point home as well as recently when I went to a Byron Katie School of work. And while there, sitting with myself, questioning some belief, I started to realize how incredibly relaxing and freeing it is to let myself be. Whatever comes out. 

I recently met a guy I like and as we were texting back and forth, I found myself thinking if the text I had just sent him was good. What if he misunderstands it or thinks I am too much of something or not enough of something else and likes me less. And it hit me, perhaps for the first time that the words that I had just texted, was ALSO me, however perfect or imperfect it may be to him. Obviously when I sent it 30 seconds ago, it seemed good enough to me and yet 30 seconds later I am not so sure. 

The title of Byron Katie’s book “A mind at home with itself” gave me this idea…..  What if, god forbid, I accepted my mind? The crazy, monkey mind that has fear and anxiety- causing thoughts in it…. Of course I don’t like my mind when it gives me self-deprecating or fearful thoughts. And yet, what if I accepted it? I mean, these thoughts are running through my mind anyways and hating on them and trying to ignore them doesn’t work for me (It may work for others but not for me). Resisting them and hating on them doesn’t make them go away. They circle right back again. Yet, questioning their validity with kindness makes them slowly lose their grip on me and evaporate and not circle back as strongly. 

I remember an episode of the TV show “Friends” where Chandler is getting ready to go on a date and the group’s advice to him is “Just be yourself, but not too much yourself”. That’s the kind of advice that can subtly drive me crazy. A part of me thinks I am too much, too open, too nice, too independent, too needy, too naive, too a lot of other things. 

So in this journey of self-acceptance, I have realized that when I am sitting here thinking of the perfect text and writing, deleting it and re-writing it, that I should just send what I am thinking as corny or dorky or whatever as it may sound cause that is ALSO me. Sometimes my words are witty and funny or whatever is acceptable to myself and sometimes they are not and yet it is all a part of me. And someone who wants to be with me, will inevitably see all of it. 

It feels so much more freeing and relaxing since I have adopted this. The minute a self-doubting thought comes to my mind about what I said the night before, I think it was THE ME at that time and it was supposed to be like that.  And if I turned this guy off because he didn’t like what I said or did, then he wasn’t meant to be. I’ll be sad to not see him, but I will get over it. After all, if I don’t like my own company including my own thoughts, how can I expect someone else to like it? 

And I know as clear as I feel about what I am writing here today, that next month, I may totally be driving myself crazy over what I said and how I should have said or done it better. Hopefully if that happens, I can come back and read these words that my sane mind is writing right now and remind myself that it is all ok because all of it is part of me and this being human.