We have good intentions, the stuff the road to hell is paved with.
We want to better ourselves and do good for others, to live up to our idealized concept of self. We want to lose weight, get in shape, give up smoking and drinking, volunteer more and consume less.
We affirm, we resolve, we intend and with sheer willpower we climb the staircase of self-improvement until one day, one moment, one event grabs us and we tumble down.
When we think and act in ways we — and other people — consider inappropriate, the negativity, the pessimism, the despair we fought so long and hard to overcome floods back; we’re in the same position we were before we started.
“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do,” St. Paul writes in the Epistle to the Romans.
While most of us are a long way from sainthood, we can empathize with the great Christian proselytizer over his distress for not being what he thought he should be. It appears that even he hummed that mental mantra: I-should-be-better-than-this.
But we can ease up on our self-condemnation and self-flagellation because there’s a reason why we slide backward and it isn’t laziness or lack of will power. People, like computers have a default position and under moments of stress or inattention, we re-set to that position.
Cindy Lustig, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has proven scientifically what we already know — what we first learned is what we remember easiest. First impressions and old habits are ingrained and difficult to overcome without constant vigilance and stick-to-it-ness.
"This can explain why it's so hard to break habits and why we're likely to slip back to those initial things we learned, especially when we're tired or stressed," Lustig said.
Even though science tells us to relax, it doesn’t ease the frustration of self-perceived failure because we still think we should be better.
Candace Pert, who discovered the opiate receptor in our cells, says the smartest thing we can ever do is forgive. “Anger and blaming others takes a lot of energy away from healing. One of the most powerful emotions that has to be expressed is forgiveness.”
Forgive, not condone. Forgiveness is a selfish act. We don’t forgive people who transgressed against us for them, we forgive because the resentment poisons us.
We don’t hurt others by resenting what they did. We hurt ourselves, which is why it’s smart to forgive others, but genius to forgive the person we need to forgive the most, the one who never lives up to our expectations, who constantly let us down — us.
We have to be gentle with ourselves. When we can’t overcome our mental inertia, when we revert to what we used to be, we forgive ourselves and climb those stairs all over again. With enough practice, it will become our default position.
What else do we have to do? The journey is the destination and we have a lifetime to get there; the occasional fall or detour doesn’t matter as long as we come back to the path.
“The journey is all there is, really. The future never comes, because it’s always the present moment,” Buddhist nun Pema Chodron told Oprah Winfrey.
“Always stay open to whatever life presents you with, because it will teach you something if you’ll let it. It’s about keeping an unbiased heart and mind.
"A lot of it is forming an unconditional friendship with yourself as you begin to see all the stuff you’ve been running away from.”
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.