How to Practice Doing Better When You Know Better
August 24, 2018
Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”
It's a major theme in the new season of Insecure, creator Issa Rae told the Hollywood Reporter. And, if the first episode of the new season tells us anything, it’s that this is a theme that will both guide characters through their respective journeys and present itself as an ongoing challenge.
As a late twenty-something, I can relate. Aren’t we all trying to spend less time scrolling through Instagram when we know we could be getting work done, knowing better than to hang with that toxic friend who makes us feel small and weak, but doing so regardless? I know better than to keep eating hot cheetos, but I continue to eat hot cheetos, much to the dismay of my intestines. Why am I like this?
According to therapists Linda and Charlie Bloom, our ability to actually practice what we preach might be limited by unconscious patterns, to which our allegiance may be stronger than we realize. In short: Underneath all our big goals and dreams, there's still a part of us that resists change. The Blooms call it a “shadow intention,” and it's the reason we set out to do one thing and end up doing something different.
An example: Behind the intention to live and speak truthfully might be a shadow intention to also please those around you and avoid disapproval. Maybe that connection isn’t inherent right away, but the two work against each other. These shadow behaviors can fall under what Swedish psychiatrist Carl Jung refers to as our “dark side”—certain characteristics that we dislike or would rather ignore.
If these values are tied to who we are, then we don’t have any option but to work with them instead of trying to get rid of them. We can’t escape our physical shadow in our real life, and our “dark side” exists in the same way.
The characters of Insecure are going to continue dealing with the same demons that challenged them in the first two seasons, so what can they—and we, in our IRL lives—do to work with our shadow intentions?
Here, a few ways to start:
1. Identify and Accept
Identifying our shadow intentions and what they compel us to do (see: hot cheetos) can help us accept and eventually work with them instead of against them.
For example: My habit of mindlessly scrolling Instagram. When I stop and think about it, I realize Instagram isn’t my actual problem at all—it’s my brain that needs something to do when it isn’t ready to solve a problem! I use Instagram as a means of procrastination. I know that I turn to it when I face a problem that requires extra mental effort.
Once I recognize this behavior, I can actually come to accept it. Maybe instead of deleting Instagram from my phone (I’ve done this many times, it doesn’t work for me), I can actually practice healthy boundaries. Maybe I can put my phone away when I know I have work to get done. Also: If I know that procrastination is something I need to eventually solve a problem, then maybe I can turn that procrastination into something that is productive.
I recently made a promise to myself that every time I want to procrastinate with something that doesn’t make me feel great (no offense to my friends on Instagram, I just don’t find the mindless scrolling productive), I can instead focus on my side hustle: DJing. I can refine my library of music and create new cue points for live remixes. Procrastination can be my partner in productivity if I accept that it’s just part of how I need to get things done.
2. Be Your Own Friend
Psychologist Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D., says that the idea of befriending oneself can actually mirror the relationship that a person might have with their therapist—we're capable of speaking with and dealing with ourselves in a way that is, “honest, direct, interested, inquisitive, warm, compassionate, non-judgmental, understanding and deeply feeling.”
Insecure tackles this head-on. In the show (spoiler alert!), Issa quickly realizes that living with Daniel (her ex) is only going to work if she sets firm boundaries, which can only happen by acknowledging that she does still have feelings for him. She tells him that it’s hard to watch him bring his new hookup buddies around, admitting not only to him, but herself, that this situation is not only challenging, but a means to an end (she just needs a place to crash until she figures her life out).
I can’t speak to what will happen for the reason of the season, but this act of accepting her truth and communicating that to Daniel is also an act of self-love and self-compassion. She’s not going to share a wall with Daniel and listen to him with other women when she knows she’ll be in her feelings during and after the fact.
3. Talk to Yourself
This is something I’m actually practicing right now. Have you ever had a conversation with someone about your anxieties and realized, the moment the words left your mind, that they no longer held the weight you assigned them? That same thing can happen when you talk to yourself.
A lot of the time, negative thinking patterns only continue to be negative because they are talking to themselves. If you think “I am inadequate” and there’s no counter to that, then, yeah, you will probably feel inadequate. But if you practice talking to yourself, taking the time to have inner dialogues (or outer dialogues, if you feel comfortable talking to your mirror like Issa does!) you can actually work to change patterns of behaviors and thought.
On Insecure, Issa’s raps play an important role in actualizing and affirming a lot of her realities, whether they’re good or bad.
Talking to yourself doesn’t have to be cheesy and positive all the time—sometimes it’s just a way to help name what it is that’s happening and help you understand what the reality is. Try it for yourself!
Read next: How to Actually Treat Yourself Like a Friend