The Mental Trap of “Used To”

Confused Minds

For the past week, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my past and my actions, or lack thereof. I’ve been digging inside my soul, turning over every stone, to learn more about who I am today. Suddenly, I realized something and caught myself saying “used to” a lot. Now, those words can be used for the purposes of motivation, but I began to discover that those words were robbing me blind from any possible growth.

Without going into “my story”, all you need to know is that I lost my job in March 2017 and have been struggling to have a steady career since. What’s more, upon digging around, I’ve really been “lost” for quite sometime before that but used losing my job as the reason.

You see, when life began to not go exactly as I planned, I lost faith in myself. Once I lost faith in myself, I began to lose friends, relationships, material things, and stopped loving myself. The cornerstone of this is because I was never honest with myself; and this is was a shocking discovery.

When I started losing weight way back in 2013, I did it primarily change my physical appearance. Sure, there were some mental things that got worked on along the way, but that was never my drive. My drive was for external purposes; I thought I’d have more friends if I looked better, I’d have better relationships, and other people would be attracted to me. When this ultimately failed to come to fruition after years of hard work, I lost my drive.

Over the course of time, I began beating myself up mentally time and time again. And this is when “used to” crept back into my life. I began telling myself, “I used to weigh less. I used to work out more. I used to get compliments. I used to be able to fit into that shirt. I used to fit into size 34 jeans. I used to…” I never really thought how much damage that negative self talk would do. But as the self talk grew stronger, my life continued to spiral. “I used to enjoy work more” robbed me of the possibility that I could enjoy work again. As I continued struggling to find work, I’d catch myself saying:

  • I used to have a nice car.
  • I used to have bikes.
  • I used to have nice clothes.
  • I used to be able to go out to lunch.
  • I used to have my own place to live.
  • I used to to be quicker at programming.
  • I used to pick up learning new things quicker.
  • I used to be “happier.”
  • I used to be “healthier.”

All of that self talk caught me in a mental trap of not seeing the beauty in the present or the possibilities of the future. Instead, despite consciously wanting to improve my life, unconsciously I was still living in this imaginary world where I thought I was “happy.” What I realize now, is that despite having made a radical physical change years before, I never really gave the world my authentic self because I was afraid. That lead to a disconnect between me and the world.

While thinking about how I can change “used to” and begin writing & thinking in the positive, I caught myself trying to beat myself up again. I’d say, “I’m going to be healthier again.” I almost did a double take as I couldn’t believe how easy it was for me to unconsciously slip in that comparison. So, I chopped of the word “again” and simply made it, “I’m going to be healthier.” But, we can take that one step even further by declaring who I want to be, but in the present tense: “I am healthy.” Ahhhh, so much better just saying that, free of self-judgement. When you start telling yourself that you are something, you become it! Go ahead: I am a walker. I am a runner. I am a biker. I learn quickly.

One thing I’d also like to share… that’s how “used to” can put a strain on any type of relationship or attempt to form a new relationship. When I discovered this, my mind was blown. I recalled how often I’d tell friends, “Oh, I used to have my own place.” or “Aw man, I used to have a nicer car.” For some reason at the time, I felt like that was necessary for me to tell whoever I was speaking with. Now, reflecting back, I ask myself, “What kind of response was I really expecting?” Because the only response I received was either an awkward silence or an “I’m sorry…” which just makes it seem like I’m asking for pity. And maybe, unconsciously at the time, I was creating my own pity party. Actually, reflecting back… I most definitely was.

So, as I wrap up this article, I realize that I have further work to do on myself and I must continue to love myself and stop beating myself up. However, I will continue to dig deep and ask myself the tough questions and I encourage you to do so as well. While digging around, be incredibly careful to leave all self-judgement out as you consciously discover what you may have unconsciously been doing.

On a final note… remember to also…

Treat Yo Self
Donna & Tom from Parks and Recreation

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