Life With Toast

Cambridge 101: be hard on yourself

It's been a while since I've maintained a blog. In part it is due to the whirlwind of graduating/job hunt/travelling and related activities. But more than that it's the remains of a Cambridge standard: you should be working more, you haven't done enough, you could do better. In short, it's normal to be overtly self-critical. So yeah, i've found it hard to write creatively or freely when there is a sense something more 'serious' that I should be attending to. 

 Apply this to that and that to this

Apply this to that and that to this

This is a nearly universal phenomena in the PhD community i've been a part of. We aren't competing with each other, but some ephemeral image of ourselves that has no flaws and has published in every reputable journal within our field of study.

We navigate our days through a set of ever-sharpening analytical tools but forget to put them away, ever. It's as if we were all F-1 drivers taking our race-day-monsters down the narrow, cobbled Cambridge streets. These tools we develop are far too powerful to be applied on ourselves, all the time. We need balance, and that means time away from laser focused thinking and nit-picking for each and every imperfection. In other words, we need balance between the analytical and the light and airy. Balance for the sake of the silly, the fun, the flow and the un-thinking moments that if left unattended, like the tide, slowly move away from us but are never lost.

It's not enough to talk about our frustrations over a beer. Students should be uniting in the name of lightheartedness. Completely disengage for just a bit. There is movement of putting our phones away and interacting with each other. The sentiment is to foster person-to-person interaction and enjoy daily activities more fully. But let me tell you, this has no impact if we continue to dance with our thoughts and latch onto self-criticism. 

Unfortunately this is not a quick processes for two reasons. We've never been taught about self-compassion, mindfulness, or other eastern-oriented practices to ground ourself, and like a train pulling a load of coal, years of repetition in self-criticism produces massive momentum to keep being hard on ourselves for any reason. 

But there is hope; we can start to pull ourselves out of the mist at any time.

It's pretty simple actually: be curious, be aware. If we can do these two things we can catch our self-critical thoughts and break the cycle. Critically, this requires us not to be critical of the criticalness of our thoughts. No this isn't a paradox, it's the foundation of mindfulness practices sweeping the west for the last 20+ years. I would recommend being in nature of any kind, the words of Alan Watts, the texts of Thich Nhat Hanh, and most importantly, the curiosity and compassion to make change in your own experience.