"Painful transformations lead to beautiful destinations" - Vex King
I think this post is so significant to me on so many levels, and that is exactly why I thought to share it as the first one on my journey of reflection. I wanted to have the “Reflective Piece of Mind” be a part of IDAMARIS from the start because I have wanted to go down this path for a while now, and the journey itself has been one hell of a rollercoaster. Most importantly though, self-reflection has proven to be the key to opening doors in self-realisation. So this is kind of as a tribute to all those tough ones riding it out, and using their challenges, failures and overall experience as a way to GROW. This post is basically a little guide to the importance of self-care, and how working on yourself is the key to getting everything to fall into place.
Mind you, it took years of failure after failure, wake up call after wake up call, before I learnt how to properly take what I failed at and turn it into a valuable lesson. I feel like the whole idea of growing from your mistakes and from facing the worst consequences is so emphasised, but no one actually talks about how difficult it is to not allow the failures define the way you see your progress.
Before I dive into this I want to briefly share my dose of lessons, which is partly what drove me to write this post. As I write this (I feel this is important to mention because I hope to post more frequently as I go deeper down this path) I am currently a junior undergraduate international student at State University of New York, majoring in Biology (BS) with minors in Chemistry and Nutrition. I came to America with the mindset to accomplish things I had been DREAMING about for years, and what added to the excitement was that I would be the first one in my family to make it to America to pursue higher education – and the idea thrilled me! However with the excitement came the pressure to make them proud, make use of the thousands of dollars my parents scraped out of their pockets to get me where I am now, and to keep my grades above the level of expectation in order to maintain my awarded scholarships.
But then everything went wrong, wrong, wrong.
Four semesters into undergraduate and I found myself medically withdrawing in the middle of finals week of the Spring 2017 semester. Mind you, that was two days left in the semester so you can only imagine how badly my grades were going and overall GPA for me to see that as the only solution to keep my international student status. It had been a difficult semester for so many reasons, to name a few – I was taking challenging classes that required a significantly more amount of time than I was giving, my health and thus mental state was all over the place, and I had gone through a terrible falling-out with the people I called family and consequently my social-anxiety shot up unbelievably. I subsequently was in a very dark and unhealthy place. I alienated myself from everyone, both people I used to go out and have fun with as well as my close & loved ones. I began to heavily depend on self-destructive habits as a way to make through the day. Anything that hinted at change of any sort scared me shitless. However what was really dangerous was I was completely oblivious to how I was doing and even worse, was too terrified to figure out where I was going wrong.
I say this to all my close and loved ones on a daily now. There’s nothing more important than self-reflection and self-realisation! The simple act of taking it day-by-day and sitting down to look at how your day went, and where you could improve – it did me wonders in making the transition to where I am now. The reason I named this article “Twenty-Eighteen” is because while I am no believer nor have I ever been a believer of the idea that New Years Day is THE day for your transition…this was the first time in my life I actually experienced and witnessed a significant change occur overnight. Perhaps it was because in the days that led to New Years Day I had been going through a lot of break-downs and wake-up calls, or maybe it was because I spent the first day of 2018 meditating, reflecting and most importantly – praying.
I never considered myself religious before 2018. I always loved my religion but I always had a very complicated relationship with Allah, and disagreed with too many aspects of the religion to truly live by it every single day. However since the first day of 2018 I do everything with Allah on my mind, and that itself changed my entire mindset. I am not trying to tell you the only way you can significantly grow and see positive change is by embracing your religion because there are many who don’t believe in a higher power. However while embracing my religion is what made up a significantly large part of my transition, it was the trust and faith in letting things run their own course that really pushed me forward to making change.
So without further ado, take a quick glimpse at a little list of advice (okay, it’s not that small – please bear with me) that I compiled in the last half of the year twenty-eighteen.
The Irreplaceable Power of Self-Reflection
The reason I used the word “irreplaceable” is because without self-realisation, there is nothing anybody can say and do that will make you want to start stepping outside of your comfort zone to make a real change. So much happened in the months prior to this “transformation” of mine, and not a single one of those wake-up calls really pushed me to the point of saying ‘Okay something needs to be done’ in the way my self-realisation did.
From pushing away everyone who was trying to help, to losing a part of my scholarship that my parents basically relied on so strongly for me in order to stay in the States to study, to even living off Ramen noodles & microwaved popcorn and hiding from my Residence Assistant for a week so I wouldn’t have to pay the extra fees of my dorm room during the breaks – nothing really worked in making me re-think my self-destructive habits. I guess that was partly because I was so hard-headed and consumed by my unhealthy state of mind that I was unable to process those consequences as a red-flag to get my shit together, and instead allowed my failures to swallow me up and define who I was.
However when December 2017 came around I made the hard decision to stay in Plattsburgh and not go back home to see my family. Instead, I said to myself, I would be working on myself. I thank Allah every day for making that decision, because had I not had 8 long weeks to really come face-to-face with myself, I would never had been able to come to terms with the idea of using my failures as a lesson and letting things go to allow for optimum growth.
I am actually right now exploring the Indian concept of Chakra points, as it is a concept practiced in New Age Medicine and Psychology, and heavily incorporates the whole BODY | MIND | SPIRIT ideology that I have been trying to adopt into my daily lifestyle. As you can see below, once SPIRITUALITY has been attained, AWARENESS needs to be obtained in order better align the rest of your Chakras.
For further information on the general background of Chakra points and related concepts, visit http://www.chakras.info/ or even just pick up a book and read about it! Definitely worth the read.
The Importance of Asking For & Accepting Help
A major reason behind why it took me so long, and so many mess-ups before I was able to realise that I needed to start making changes was because I hid my struggles from pretty much everyone. I was always too terrified to be open with my own family about the challenges I was facing because in my mind, they sacrificed and still sacrifice a lot for me to be where I am, and for me to even complain the slightest was too selfish. This mentality was reflected in my daily behaviour, and before I knew it I was pretending everything was fine to all my friends and close ones, and eventually to myself. Every time something went wrong I would just push it to the back of my mind and distract myself, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.
The build-up of responsibilities I was running away from grew heavier with time and before I knew it I was swarmed with the consequences of not dealing with it correctly. Once I started therapy/counselling I finally understood the magnitude of hiding your problems from the people closest to you (and even from your professors/co-workers!) – not only does it hurt the relationships, but it leaves them feeling like you are someone who doesn’t care enough to be reliable, honest and hardworking instead of someone who is in desperate need for help. This is especially true for those who tend to keep their feelings hidden, and those who find communication difficult.
“The single biggest problem in communication
is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Always Work Towards Improvement
One of the biggest obstacles I faced was the mindset I held on so strongly to that the reason everything was going wrong was because I had problems.
“Your goals don’t care about your problems.”
– Ebonee Davis
To use your problems as an excuse for your actions and behaviour is so unhealthy, unrealistic and even selfish as it doesn’t push you to step outside your comfort-zone to grow, but instead provides you an opportunity to hide behind your problems when you need strength most. What makes that mentality so selfish is that you are being so ignorant and oblivious to the fact that EVERY single person out there has challenges of some sort that they have to face – regardless of their religion, ethnicity, race, or socio-economic class. Not a single human being doesn’t encounter a single challenge in their life that changes who they are, and it is for that reason the saying that life giving you lemons for you for you to learn how to make lemonade is such a famous saying!
The key is to constantly work towards improvement, and make improvement be the definition of growth – not change itself (that will come with constant improvement & time). Make it a point to sit down at the end of each day/week and reflect on your achievements, failures, and challenges. Ask yourself:
How could I have done better?
Where did I do well?
What do I need to do more of?
Why did this challenge me?
What do I need to focus on more?
What do I need to improve on?
What have I learnt from this experience?
And most importantly – to make it your mission the next day/week to work on it. Always keep in mind that growth and change happens over time, and sometimes it will be plateau days of zero change/improvement & so the key is to have patience and keep working at it. When you think of growth as immediate change, that’s when your goals become unrealistic and you eventually grow too frustrated to keep at it. It really is such a scary cycle to get caught in, and breaking free from this cycle was a HUGE step for me.
I like to think of it as climbing a mountain.
While the idea of riding a helicopter to the top to see the view sounds like the best way to see the top, it kills the whole fun of actually climbing and growing from your many obstacles. Once you tackle this mission to the top of the mountain as a growth process where every step is carefully thought out and planned, and every misstep is dealt with as a growing & learning experience…then the view at the top will be worth more than any helicopter ride because it would be a result of YOUR hard-work that you are at the top! 😉
You Are Your Harshest Critique – Take it Easy!
Everyone has a little voice in their heads that speaks to them and the key is to making sure that voice isn’t breaking you down! Once you have achieved a sense of peace with your inner voice & start building a relationship with yourself, you begin to notice the tone of your inner voice and how it has an impact on the way you view yourself and your accomplishments/failures.
You need to keep it constantly in mind that you need to have a balance (this is true with pretty much everything, it is most important when it comes to the way you view your failures and the attitude in which you deal with overcoming continuous obstacles).
Acknowledge and learn how to work with the dark; embrace and act on the light.
You can’t be too harsh on yourself, otherwise every little failure will end up consuming you instead of being an opportunity to better evaluate where you need to improve. Life is way too short for YOU to be the person that breaks you down!! At the end of the day, all the negative thoughts will be hurting nobody but yourself.
However don’t allow the scale to tip too much by failing to be realistic with yourself. You can’t let everything just slide and perceive yourself as invincible to consequences. While yes you shouldn’t allow failures to define you, they also shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Like I said earlier, use these failures as a LESSON and never underestimate how hurtful the impact of ignoring or running away from your mistakes can be.
Once you have established a balance and experienced the difference in the amazing things you can accomplish by giving yourself POSITIVE constructive feedback – nothing (except you!) can stand in your way.
A Bad/Unproductive Day Isn’t the End of the World!
One of the biggest throw-offs that can easily pull back into the cycle of “I tried my best but nothing seems to be working” is to go through unproductive days that aren’t what you expected/planned. It is especially hard once you have started to make the effort to take failure as a lesson, and taking action to self-reflect & trying to step out of your comfort zone.
I remember when I first started making sure that with everything I did I was actually stepping out of my comfort-zone, the unproductive days or the bad days where my anxiety was harder to deal with were the most difficult ones. Not only did they completely throw me off but made me feel that even if I tried my best, I wasn’t getting anywhere. It made me want to step back into my comfort zone again and relying on just going on with the flow, instead of continuing to take control & working towards growth.
What kept me going was just making sure I got to the end of the day with my health as a priority, and to not take the bad days too much to heart. It’s completely okay to have bad days, and you will start off with many of those before you can learn how to best work around them. You’re not a robot or machine, and sometimes the way your body/mind feels is a hint that you need to focus more on your health!
Don’t let a grain of salt prevent you from drinking the cup of water;
You need water!
Just as I said earlier, by going home and taking a few breaths/a little break to relax, and then self-reflecting...you will not only clear up your mind a little but also better understand how to better deal with whatever challenge was thrown at you for the future. And just like that, you’ve turned a bad day into a good one because you managed to turn it into a learning experience!
Always Take it Day-by-Day
This brings me to the importance of living in TODAY. I always had (and TBH still do) difficulties living in the moment. I was always either too caught up in and living in the past, or too busy planning for and preparing for tomorrow. Once I came to this realisation, I started making an effort to live in the moment.
Which is where taking the days one-by-one comes in. I’m someone who really needs to over-prepare and then go with the flow, as I like to feel as ready as possible for whatever might come my way. However with time I came to realise that not only does half the time your day not go according to plan, but that if you are too focused on tomorrow you can’t give today the attention it needs/deserves! Whether it is when you are working or just out with friends, if you aren’t in the moment you won’t be able to work to your highest potential nor made the most of the moment with loved ones.
So what works for me is to have a to-do list per day, and try get them done as early as possible so I can also dedicate some time to working on myself, enjoying Allah’s blessing of life for the day, and spending quality time with my loved ones.
Trust the Flow / Destiny / GOD
Whether it’s trusting God or destiny, or accepting the flow, it’s so important to have faith in letting things run their own course. Instinct is such a strong sense, and sometimes when you feel that your environment or choice of lifestyle is not making you feel right – that’s a sign that you need to adjust accordingly (never settle for less than what makes you happy!). The times that you need to trust just going with the flow the most is when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere despite your constant attempts at improvement, when things just seem to keep going wrong, when you don’t know if what you’re doing is the right thing to do, etc. Trust the vibes. Trust the energy you feel.
For me personally, it was learning to trust Allah and His plans for me. Whenever I felt out of touch with my surroundings, I trusted that this was His way of showing me to make changes. When I felt lost and unsure how to move forward, I trusted His guidance would come through when the time was right. When I felt that everything was moving too slowly no matter how hard I was working, I trusted His timing. <3
Positivity Glasses On ALWAYS
This one seems to be the obvious, but ironically also the most difficult to actually apply. When I was going through my worst depressive episodes, and this is something I am sure many can relate to, it was so much easier to wind up seeing everything in a negative light. It’s simple psychology: when we are happy we tend to look at things more positively, and when we are feeling down every negative aspect of our life seems to stand out that much more. So how can we work around this?
This was the most difficult aspect of growth for me to attain, and it still is something I struggle with. However whenever I do catch myself feeling absolutely hopeless, regardless of how bad my situation is (or even if I just feel low for no major reason), I keep these points in mind:
- Find the optimistic viewpoint in a negative situation. There is always going to be a positive way to look at your situation, and while we as humans tend to find comfort in feeling low and defeated by our circumstances, the key is to rise above it and search the flowers in the storm instead of waiting for them to sprout on their own.
- Cultivate and live in a positive environment. You are what you surround yourself with!! This is so important, especially because we usually do not realise how badly our surrounding affect us and the way we view things. Reflect deeply on your surroundings and see whether they are helping you see the positive side of things, or drawing you towards seeing only the negative. Stick to people/surroundings that help you see the prior!
- Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. It can get easy to take things completely out of perspective, especially if you are under a lot of stress or aren’t taking things slow and steady. Whenever you feel everything is spiralling out of your control and you feel overwhelmed: Stop. Step Away. Breathe. Refocus.
- Add value and positivity to someone else’s life. This is so important. Simply by helping someone else out, listening to what someone else might be going through, and giving your advice…you really are also helping yourself without realising it. Not only will it allow you to gain a little perspective on your own challenges, but it is also so much easier to give someone else advice and ensure they follow through than to listen to your own advice
- Learn to take criticism in a healthy way. It’s hard, I know. I say this because I am someone who tends to take everything to heart and personally, to the point it blinds to me to seeing the realism of the criticism and act accordingly to make changes. The key to this is to:
- Step 1: Don’t reply right away. Give yourself some time to absorb what was said, to listen, and to avoid reacting without giving yourself the chance to reflect.
- Step 2: REALLY listen to what is being said. Remain open-minded and look at it from all angles before agreeing/disagreeing. Attain critical distance and reflect from a different perspective than your own. Sometimes, it may not even be about YOU. Learn to tell the difference between someone lashing out due to their own frustrations and stress, and real constructive feedback on your behaviour.
- Step 3: Respond accordingly or just let it go. If it is constructive feedback and you feel like it it either something you agree with, disagree with, or feel needs further explanation…respond accordingly and in a respectful manner. If you feel that it is simply someone lashing out…just drop it and ignore. Don’t let yourself be dragged down; also know when something just doesn’t deserve a response.
- If something STILL manages to get under your skin, learn how to deal with it correctly. Coming from someone that struggled a lot with anger management or taking things too personally, sometimes it can get difficult to maintain your cool if things get to you. The key is to let it out in a healthy way (maybe reach out to someone else you trust and vent), and to perhaps reflect on your own self-esteem (I learnt that the more I built my own self-esteem, the less things drag me down and ruin my day).
- Start your day on a positive note and move mindfully through the day. This is especially to those who tend to let things get to them, and pull them down to the point their whole day is ruined. Whenever you wake up, start it off with something positive that helps you work with positivity first. Most importantly however, keep the positivity checklist at the back of your head at all times until it becomes a set of positivity glasses you are able to look through without thinking too much about it!
Self-Care Above Everything
Practicing self-care is the biggest step towards self-respect and self-love. Whether it is mentally/emotionally, spiritually or physically — prioritise your own health above everything and everyone. We are not able to inspire and bring up those around us if we are unable to take care of ourselves first! Also — by establishing some sort of routine (!!!) of self-care, you are aiding yourself in maintain focus and refocusing which goes a long way in achieving a sense of progress and motivation.
This topic is one that I wish to go more into depth about so keep an eye out for my next post which will be looking more into SELF-LOVE and SELF-CARE, and how to develop healthy routine habits in doing so!
Inspiring Those Around You To GROW
This is so important. It’s why I am sharing all these thoughts on this site, & why I make it a point to share it with all my loved ones. As you down your path, you will grow in so many ways and the most valuable thing you could do for your loved ones is to make sure that they too are growing in a healthy way. Sometimes it’s hard to see our close friends and family go through hard times when we can do little to help. We often forget however, the magnitude of an impact reminding them to take care of themselves and continuously self-reflect. Most importantly, always remind them to not take their failures too much to heart and let it affect their motivation to keep working towards improvement. Show them the importance of turning hardship into learning experience.
A FINAL NOTE
To conclude I want to share one of my favourite little poems that I came across that really taught me the power in just riding the wave of life, and that regardless of whether circumstances are challenging, amazing, or simply mundane….life is simply too beautiful not to make most of every little bump on the road.
And to sign off…
Growth is always going to get a little messy…