What It Means To Listen To Yourself
It almost sounds psychotic, really, to think that one has to train oneself to have a dialogue with… oneself. But, that’s not even scratching the surface when it comes to this confusing wellness trope: “listen to yourself”. Let’s, for a moment, take these three words at face value. So, to listen to myself would mean that I pay attention to the thoughts in my mind, the random whims and fancies I have, things I desire, even if the desire may be fleeting, all those things I’m told I should do but don’t actually want to (like being courteous to people just because it’s the “right” things to do), and then… what? Do what I want to do? So, be rude to people I know shouldn’t be rude, because I don’t feel like being polite? That would be me listening to my inner bitchy self, right?
And what about food and exercise? I almost never want to exercise, or eat healthy, but the same people (yes, the wellness soldiers) who tell me to listen to myself, preach healthy eating and exercising. It’s so damn confusing!
The three words “listen to yourself” are a lot like the three words “I love you”: subject to individual interpretation, fluid in their meaning for each one of us and over time, and never truly unconditional.
What it may mean for me to listen to myself may not be the same for you. But, in essence, like love, the act of listening to oneself comes from a place of compassion, and with the intent of bringing more joy or peace or satisfaction. Just like the things you do to make the person you love happy, listening to yourself is an act that should bring the same happiness to you. So, yes, it is one manifestation of self-love. It’s not a random practice we do just because of some vague sense of higher vibrations that’s associated with listening to yourself. It has a clear, long-term goal - which is to bring more happiness and peace into your life.
But, this may not look the same for two people. So, while for my close friend Stuti, group Yoga classes bring her a lot of joy, and are often the highlight of her otherwise hectic week, for me, it’s practicing alone. Another friend of mine finds Yoga - alone or in a group - deathly boring. But, while it makes me and Stuti happier, does it mean that my other friend is not listening to herself? No. On the contrary - she defies herself when she goes for yoga, and she almost never comes out of a session eagerly waiting for the next one. She does like to go for a run, though.
Our desires, likes and dislikes are not universal. They are highly individualised, and so, the act of listening to oneself is also highly individualised. But, the results are the same for everyone - it makes us happier.
Now, on some days, you may want to give in to your need to rest and procrastinate, and on some other days, you may not. On some days, you may want to listen to that pang in your belly for a slice of chocolate cake, and on other days, you may choose to act with restraint. On some days, you may choose to listen to the part of yourself that wants to always act with kindness towards others, and on other days, you may choose to listen to the part which wants to be left alone.
We often have conflicting desires, and some of those desires are good for us, while others, not so much. It is the classic conflict between Thanos and Eros - our subconscious death wish, and the will to live. Everything we do feeds one or the other, and the goal is to feed Eros most of the time, and Thanos some of the time. So, while yes, eating chocolate cake is not the best thing you can do for your health, but doing it once in a blue moon will not kill you. A helpful rule-of-thumb when it comes to deciding when to listen to your destructive thoughts, and when not to, is the 80-20 rule. 80 percent of the time, you don’t give in and reach out for that piece of cake.
The 80-20 rule may help when it comes to actions and habits. But, what are we supposed to do when it comes to our anxious, muddled, insecure, fearful thoughts? Like when you have a “feeling” that something’s off, and you can’t tell whether it’s your instinct, or anxiety?
A good practice is to reflect on triggers and patterns. Say you have this nagging thought that your partner is cheating on you. You can either call it a gut-feeling, and act on it immediately. Or, you can take your time to examine where it’s coming from. Ask yourself:
Have you been cheated on before?
If yes, is your current partner repeating some of the old patterns that you may have observed the last time someone cheated on you?
Has your partner cheated on you, or someone else in the past?
Is there someone you suspect they may be cheating on you with?
Do they have personality traits similar to someone you know who has cheated on their partner?
The key difference between gut-feeling and anxiety driven thoughts is that the former is data-driven. Your mind subconsciously recognises patterns from the past, and based on that, tells you that something is off. Whereas when it comes to thoughts that stem from anxiety, you can’t quite explain the rationale behind it.
Listening to yourself doesn’t mean pandering to your thoughts unconditionally. It means recognising what you feel, and doing what’s best for you, and sometimes that may mean doing the harder thing. It takes practice. Keeping in mind the goal - long-term happiness and peace - makes it a tad easier.