Gentle Productivity, Self-Sabotage, Dealing with Shame

October 24th, 2022

Hey everyone,

Here are a few things I wanted to share with you this week:


10 Ways to Be More Productive (Without Being Hard on Yourself)

"The standard approach to being more productive usually involves some form of “getting tough” with yourself—which is usually just code for a bunch of self-criticism and negative self-talk. And while this can feel motivating in the moment, it actually makes you less productive (and more unhappy) in the long-run..."

Read the essay →

5 Things About Depression Most People Don't Realize — Part 3: The Roads of Depression Are 2-Way Streets

In part 3 of this series, I take a look at why it's often a better idea to focus on your current symptoms rather than the initial cause of your depression.

Read the essay →


How to Stop People Pleasing

People-pleasing is an unhealthy tendency to prioritize other people’s wants and feelings above your own for fear that they will get upset if you don’t. Here are 4 ways to break the cycle and start standing up for yourself…

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7 Psychological Reasons You Keep Self-Sabotaging

Self-sabotage is a complicated-sounding terms for a simple idea: Undermining your own goals. If this is something you struggle with, the first step is to understand why you’re doing it in the first place…

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How to Deal with Shame and Embarrassment

Nick asks:

Last week, I mistakenly sent out an incomplete draft email of my weekly newsletter to my 30,000+ people. I sent a corrected version about 30 minutes later. But I still feel really embarrassed… help!

Well, Nick, I can relate… I’ve made more than a few public mistakes in my time and feeling embarrassed is tough. But it will fade with time, especially if you can respond to it productively and compassionately.

Here are a few suggestions for dealing with shame and embarrassment in a healthy way:

  • Accept the emotion, control the self-talk. Try not to be too critical of yourself for feeling embarrassed. It’s a perfectly natural reaction to making a mistake in public. Whenever you feel a wave of embarrassment hit you, take a second to remind yourself that even thought it feels really uncomfortable, it’s normal to feel embarrassed. And while you can’t do much about the feeling, you can control whether you beat yourself up with a bunch of negative self-talk and criticism. Feeling bad is hard enough without feeling bad about feeling bad.
  • Try some downward comparisons. Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes (frequently big ones) and gets embarrassed as a result. The key here is to be specific… Think about that time your college professor's pants ripped while he was bending over to get a piece of chalk… Or that time your boss accidentally sent that awkward email to the whole company. The point of these comparisons isn’t to denigrate other people, but instead, to remind yourself that you’re not alone. Embarrassment is a part of the human condition. We’ve all been there.
  • Reframe embarrassment as a sign of value. The psychologist Steve Hayes has said: “Pain and purpose are two sides of the same thing… You hurt where you care, and you care where you hurt.” The hurt of embarrassed is a sign that you care. In your case, you care a lot about your newsletter and your readers—about creating something each week that’s valuable and helpful for folks. So the fact that you feel embarrassed about making a mistake is simply a sign that you care a lot about this and your brain wants to help you avoid similar mistakes in the future.
  • Get back to work. If your embarrassment comes from making a mistake, take some time to reflect on why it happened and how you might prevent it again in the future. But after you’ve done that, stop dwelling on it. And often the best way to do that is to get back in the saddle and start doing meaningful work. In your case, maybe you could start working on next week’s newsletter—perhaps even incorporating something you’ve learned from this experience? Of course little memories and triggers of the embarrassing situation will continue to pop up from time to time, and when they do, it’s important to briefly acknowledge and validate them. But no need to obsess on them. Remember: You don’t have to deal embarrassment in order to get on with your life. In fact, getting on with your life is probably the best way to deal with your embarrassment.

Some helpful (and humorous) advice in the replies to this tweet as well :)

Got a question you'd like to see me to answer here? Ask me anything →

The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us

Thanks to my friend Pranav for recommending this excerpt from psychotherapist Robert Bly’s A Little Book on the Human Shadow, which is a great introduction to the Jungian concept of shadow work:

When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360-degree personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy. We had a ball of energy, all right; but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball. They said things like “Can’t you be still?” Or “It isn’t nice to try and kill your brother.” Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents’ love, put in the bag. By the time we go to school our bag is quite large. Then our teachers have their say: “Good children don’t get angry over such little things.” So we take our anger and put it in the bag. By the time my brother and I were twelve in Madison, Minnesota, we were known as “the nice Bly boys.” Our bags were already a mile long.

Keep in mind the bag is not the problem. Nor is putting things in it. It’s not knowing that we have a bag—or being unwilling to explore it—that gets us into trouble.

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