Recently, I wasted a night. We had finished dinner, I had some time before bed, and there were several fun things I could have done. These things were not only enjoyable, but also would have left me feeling good afterward. There was a book I wanted to finish, a movie to watch, meditating, I could have gone to the gym, there were a few chores that, had I finished them, would have relieved some stress. Instead, I squandered it. I sat on a screen playing a video game, and intermittently mindlessly scrolled my phone. I did not even play a video game with someone! (sometimes, my son and I play together) The worst part was that as this was happening, as I wasting my evening (and I do mean wasting), I was aware of what was happening. I did not particularly enjoy it. I kept telling myself to go do something else, this was likely to end badly.

Unsurprisingly, by the time I went to bed, I did not feel good. I felt lousy because of how I had spent my time, and was annoyed with myself for pissing away a perfectly good evening. I had no one to blame except myself. I was disappointed with myself. However, this evening is perhaps a good example of thinking through how we can change, how we can take lousy experiences and use them as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than beating ourselves up.

My first instinct, following this night, was to do better. I should have just tried harder. Sound familiar? How often, after we disappoint ourselves, do we tell ourselves to simply try harder? Buck up. Get ahold of yourself. We resolve to do better through effort and resolve.

Resolve is all well and good, but trying harder does not often get us where we want to go. In any given moment, we are usually trying as hard as we can. Flagellating ourselves to simply do better is not a winning solution. For myself, I found that telling myself to try harder was also a way of covering what I was actually feeling. The resolve to never let this happen again conveniently obscured the emotion I was feeling. And what I was feeling was disappointment. Disappointment with myself for pissing my time away.

Disappointment is not a particularly pleasant emotion. For me, It’s a mix of sadness, longing, regret, and frustration. When we encounter an unpleasant emotion, our usual response is to move away from it, to replace it with another feeling, a more comfortable thought, or a action. Instead, I let myself feel it. I forced myself to sit in the uncomfortable feeling— not because I wanted to wallow in pity for myself, but because that was what I was actually feeling, and I didn’t want to run away from it. This was helpful. It was part of the process of owning my role in the night. And consciously linking the choices I made to the subsequent emotional state provides a helpful reminder to myself the next time I find myself in that situation. Sitting on a screen all night, not engaging with the people around you, leads to disappointment. Don’t forget that. That negative reI for cement— do X, have consequence Y— is useful for learning. Telling myself to immediately move on does not reinforce to my brain the fruit of my action.

Sitting in the emotion also allowed a greater sense of curiosity to develop. Why had this happened? What could be done differently? Why hadn’t I done any of the other myriad of things that probably would have made me happier? Asking why, trying to understand what didn’t work, can be quite uncomfortable. If we are honest, the answers are usually within us, so feeling the emotion and seeking to understand what happened usually leaves us face-to-face with our own shortcomings.

In order to do look ourselves honestly, it is terribly helpful (critical? Required?) to have to be compassionate to oneself. Mindful self compassion is the best way that I have found to allow for genuine introspection. Without it, we tend to be overly harsh and critical towards ourselves. We magnify our own flaws, and feel worse for the effort. Instead, when we carry with us the firm understanding that we are human, we can look at our own faults and shortcomings through an understanding and compassionate perspective. Rather than telling ourselves How dare you fall short? Failure! We can instead say to ourselves, of course you sometimes fall short. We all do. Its human.

In the case of this wasted evening, there were a few things that I think didn’t work, that set me up to have a less-than-stellar night. A small miscommunication, no real plan for how I was going to spend the time, and being out of my routine all contributed (among other things). Understanding this, I will be a bit more deliberate about how I’ll spend time in the evenings, have different activities ready for myself, and recall how annoyed I was when I spent my time in a way that didn’t work for me. The specifics are perhaps less important though than the overall approach.

One last thing— when we are disappointed in ourselves, and we take that as an opportunity to grow, I find it more helpful to think about it as a learning opportunity than as a failure. I also like to look for ways of turning things that do not work out well into something new and (hopefully) useful— like a weekly post. So, transforming a poorly spent evening into an opportunity to grow, reflect, and hopefully help others do the same seems alright in the end.


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