The Most Toxic Words In My World

I have needed a living room rug for 3-4 years and today I decided is the day to buy one. After a couple hours of online shopping I’m hit with a depressing downward spiral of negative self-talk that shocks and dismays me. The process brought to mind these thoughts.

Why Bother

Nothing Can Be Done About That

I Don’t Have the (fill in the blank) To Have That   (Money, time, talent, expertise, focus, will force, tools, etc.)

I grew up hearing that constant refrain. I have fought the defeatism of those remarks (either spoken out loud or in my head) my entire life. When I was a kid, my parent’s projects would derail before they even started due to arguments about how to do it or how to pay for it. Or projects would get started (i.e. demo completed), then go off plan. Arguing would ensue, followed by a hostile standoff, resulting in a project still incomplete years later.

A project to redo the bathroom floor (in the house I grew up in) was started when I was a teenager, and finally got completed when a contractor was hired to get my parent’s house ready to sell decades later. It was so dispiriting to see my parents live with that abandoned project all those years. I forget specifics, but the DIY flooring wasn’t installed properly, it curled up around the edges and didn’t stick, so a bath mat got thrown over the top of the unfinished floor. The wooden base molding that went around the floor was leaned up against the wall instead of getting nailed back in place. And there it stayed for 50 years. My parents had opportunities to complete this project, but got stuck and gave up. I find myself trapped in the same box sometimes. A box made of my own limited thinking, false perceptions, lack of imagination and negativity.

All I wanted to do today was buy a rug. Lots of people have rugs; it’s not complicated. So why did I fail, and why am I feeling so disappointed in myself? Sure, the negative childhood history lives in me, but who doesn’t have their childhood drama, and why am I letting it stop me?

I adore interior design shows. They are so inspirational – stories of reinvention and redemption – hideous rooms transformed. Anything is possible! But maybe I’ve watched too many, and suffer by comparison. Compare and despair thinking does me no good.

I try to remember… the makeovers you see online and on TV look fast and easy because they have expertise, confidence, and a can do temperament.* Professional designers are better at shopping online and imagining what will work than I am. My imagination fails me when I look at a photo of a little square box of carpet on the computer and try to visualize the rug on my floor with my furniture. Replicating a room from an online/magazine/catalog photo – buying exactly what I see – is the obvious way to get a rug, but I can’t bring myself to do that. I’m ridiculously committed to individuality.

Back to that can do attitude. I have found it challenging to unlearn the opposite. My question is, how do I reprogram my brain from nothing can be done about that and build the neural pathways that tell me I can do this?

Are we born either optimistic or self-doubting, and are we stuck that way for life? Was I born pessimistic and lacking confidence? How is my daughter the opposite? My daughter shines at interior design. As a kid, she rearranged and reinvented her bedroom on a regular basis. I’d be downstairs, hear a few thumps and bumps, go up to find all the furniture rearranged. She was tiny but mighty; I don’t know to this day how she did it. When she decided she’d outgrown a certain look, I’d go upstairs to find everything from her purge tossed outside her bedroom door. She was done with it and not looking back. I’d be the one to rescue a few sentimental items I couldn’t bear to part with from her childhood. Maybe she’ll thank me for those rescues someday, but I doubt it. She lives in the moment, in the now. I’m so impressed her creativity isn’t blocked by self-doubt and indecision. When she shops she knows exactly what she wants. I respect her confidence and decisiveness (in all areas of her life). Those are some of the many lessons she is here teaching me.

In my case, my self-doubting often turns into procrastination, which often leads to the toxic trifecta of discouragement, hopelessness and helplessness. In terms of reprogramming the brain, action rewires the neural pathways – I have to get off the fence and take action. Like the quote says:

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” –Tina Fey

The worst use of creativity is thinking up excuses, imagining who is to blame, and imagining all the ways it can go wrong.** Don’t become paranoid and overcautious in living life – it takes no more effort to imagine the best possible outcome than the worst.

The best use of creativity is imagining the possibilities, figuring out what I am capable of doing on my own, or imagining who I could ask (or hire) for help. It is great to collaborate. It is great to experiment – each choice creates a new possibility. Each small step gives new information to consider in the process. More than anything, I have to get out of my own (self-doubting) way and get into action.

Here is one thing I tell myself to shift my mindset. Replace I can’t do it with I’m on a spiritual journey, and each step helps me learn and grow. Choosing a new rug might seem irrelevant to the spiritual journey, but a spiritual lesson lives in the heart of every struggle.

Remember negativity bias. As humans we’re wired to respond more to negative experiences than positive ones; negative events impact our brain more. It is evolutionary to fear and reject the unknown. It takes conscious effort to surrender to the unknown, to lean into it. I’m scarred by the one project my parents struggled with, and don’t remember the many they successfully completed.

It is poison for me to look at a beautiful room and think, I could never have that, so why bother. It buries any possibility for joy under a load of depression, and brings forward shame around even wanting it or feeling deserving. No wonder I spiral downward when I have trouble choosing a rug. It is taking on energy from so much more.

What works to shift the negative thinking?

  1. Anchor happiness and overcome negativity bias – keep a little album of before and after pictures to remember successes. Looking around the house at past successful projects works too.
  2. Channel the energy of desire. Let the vision of what I want to create, pull me toward it. Focus entirely on what I DO want. I want a beautiful, uplifting, comfortable and cozy nest infused with creativity, color, individuality, spirit and warmth. All that, plus order and cleanliness. This clarity of intention helps me show up with the love, warmth, enthusiasm and commitment required to transform vision to reality.
  3. Keep showing up and moving forward. Trust something will develop once things are in action. I want a rug, but to break the negative thinking I freshen the room through rearranging art and furniture. Quit overthinking it and making it more complicated than it needs to be. Break it down to action I’m willing to take right now. Take a small step. Buy some fresh flowers or a plant to liven the space. It is not magic; if I want something I need to be willing to work for it. Not every choice has to be a huge leap. One small decision, followed by action, can get the upward spiral going.
  4. Awareness. Choice. Change. That’s my mantra. I’m grateful when I recognize the old pattern. Awareness is crucial; it allows a different outcome. Awareness is followed by a conscious choice to do something different to shift the energy. This is another way of saying, quit doing what doesn’t work. Obvious to most people.
  5. Ask for help whenever possible. There is online help, professional help, family and friends. Barter if you don’t have the money. Seek and find the person in your world with the tools and skills to execute the project you are stuck on. Discard “go it alone” thinking. My aunt took this to an extreme level when she married a building contractor and persuaded him to rebuild her childhood home to overcome a lifetime of being told, “nothing can be done about that”. If you have the inclination, pray for insight, inspiration, and clarity.
  6. Set a deadline – I used to get more done in six days leading up to a get-together at my house than I would get done in six months without an event planned. Even if it was cleaning out the bedroom closet – which no one coming for dinner was going to see – I’d really get into action with having people over. Covid-19 has been awful, no events to create those deadlines. But I deserve for things to be comfortable and beautiful for me.
  7. Steal from other people. Instead of compare and despair, watch and learn. Everything is inspired by something, and it is OK to use someone else’s idea – they make videos and write articles to inspire with their ideas.
  8. Can I live with the worst outcome? Sometimes I play out the worst-case scenario to its conclusion – as in, what’s the worst that can happen if I rearrange the furniture and don’t like it – would putting it back be a tragic failure? What’s the worst that can happen if I paint it the wrong color – then I’m going to paint it again. A mistake can hurt, it can be tough to get through, but there’s not much that will actually kill us. If the rug turns out to be ugly, I can send it back. Chronic decision paralysis can be worse than any of the possible outcomes because fence-sitting stands in the way of living life.
  9. Love myself through all my missteps. Give myself credit for trying, and accept that all of life brings learning and evolution. Give myself permission to take a break from criticizing and judging myself. Forgive myself for the times I think and act just like mom did (yikes!), despite my best efforts to be the exact opposite. *** That’s more important to my evolution than any rug I will ever own.

“You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” –Louise Hay

As I write this conclusion a few days later, I still don’t have a new rug, but I’ve rearranged 3 rooms, cleaned and freshened things up, done a couple of simple DIY projects, and treated myself with compassion in the process. I allowed myself to feel bad about not having a rug, but only for a minute. When Covid lifts, I’ll be able to get out and about and shop the way I need to, in person, seeing the rug, touching and feeling it. Until then, in the spirit of living in a constant state of gratitude, I embrace the room I have and refuse to let destructive thinking get in the way of enjoying my home and my life.

“I do not really have ‘problems’; I only think I do by the way I interpret my circumstances. A ‘problem’ is an illusion. It is a limiting perception without gratitude.” –Dr. Darren R. Weissman, The Nature of Infinite Love & Gratitude


* On those shows, an hour of thrift store shopping, a couple hours at the big box, hardware and home-improvement store, and you have ingredients for an incredible room makeover. A day of painting and a couple hours of arranging and viola! You don’t see the days of planning, designing, and shopping leading up to the project. We rarely see the team of people hauling things in and out. Some programs show the crew, and it is helpful to know you don’t redo a room in 2 days without a team of people working like crazy, often long into the night. These are professional woodworkers, cleaners, organizers, designers, painters and color experts. Also, some of those shows are flat-out staged fiction – it didn’t happen anything like that.

** One exception, you can earn a great income if you have a gift for imagining all the ways things can go wrong – as an attorney, an IT systems tester, an architect, and various other careers. I made my tendency to foresee disasters around every corner work for me professionally. Relentless pessimism won’t make you popular in the workplace, but people will respect your ability to save everyone from embarrassing mistakes and catastrophic failures. Use what you’ve got; find the silver lining.

*** I’d like to note mom had many qualities that I greatly admired and am pleased to see in myself.

© Carol Merwin, All Rights Reserved

All images are property of the author and may not be reproduced without permission.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *