Why You Should Take a Step Back from Yourself

There really only is one thing to change…

Enoch Li
Enoch Li
Jan 29 · 6 min read

New Year’s in my household was not as relaxing as I’d hoped it would be.

My daughter had a stomach bug and threw up all night before New Year’s Eve, then it was my toddler son’s turn, and then, as we stepped into 2019, my husband had his turn with the bug. I’m bracing myself for mine!

As painful as it was, I saw the funny side too.

“Let’s start 2019 with a detox, flushing out everything from the body that did not agree with us and getting it out of our systems — literally and figuratively!”

This is a common theme around NYE; many people have grand ideas of making changes in their lives. We think that if we eliminate our perceived cause of stress — be it demanding work, a sour friendship, or a toxic relationship –, everything will be fine. That this might finally be our year.

Or not.

Here is the harsh reality: it will not be fine, not if we keep trying to change everything from environment to people to pet food brand. Problems do not go away like magic, though we wish they would.

We assume that, by changing our jobs, or getting a new boss or a new team, work will become fun and stress-free. Externalizing our issues and challenges is a common coping mechanism, and one that we often do unconsciously. The trouble with this is that we tend to end up with the same issues all over again, just with different people. This kind of change is not sustainable.

Stress does not disappear into thin air. In fact, stress can even motivate us if we use it in the right way. Stress is not the problem; it is how we experience, perceive, and cope with the stressors that make the difference.

So, as you take stock of changes this year, I suggest looking at only one thing: yourself.

We need to look within. Of course, this is difficult to do because it requires us to be honest with ourselves — to see our ugly bits, our dark sides, and to accept them as part of us. And in doing so, it dispels our fantasy that we have things under control, that we are good people.

There is good news, though: looking within can be done in fun and gentle ways.

Below are some pointers to help guide you through the process.

Let’s take a concrete situation of, say, the economy going through a downturn. You’ve got a pretty crap bonus, a heavy workload resulting in you going home late, and on top of that, your partner is nagging you for not spending enough time with the kids because you’re too tired from work.

Before you get tempted to hit the job market, let’s explore other options.


Start with the question, “How have I contributed to this?”

Sure, the sales targets might be unreasonable, the economy is shit, and yeah, our partners are naggy — I’m not disputing any of that. But what about our part in the situation?

Start by thinking about the impact of your behaviour on others — have you simply made assumptions or jumped to conclusions?

Let’s reflect:

  • Could you have been resisting calling that one client by procrastinating for about a year?
  • What is this procrastination about? Is it because you’re afraid that your results may not be up to scratch and think that if you don’t call the client, they’ll never find out?
  • Is this fear of not being good enough real or self-imposed?”

Or, if you have a particularly difficult team member, could it be because you unintentionally ignored him one time, and so he now tries to stay out of your way? Maybe he’s not mean at all, nor does he consider you his nemesis — maybe he’s having some family issues, which is why he has a frown on his face all the time.

Find our inner selves — and make it fun with some Bearapy

I have no doubt that you are a great human being — kind, funny, generous, thoughtful, intelligent etc. I also have no doubt that inside of you there are some perceived unpleasant elements lurking around.

But these don’t need to be scary. Give them a name, a funny name.

I called mine my Inner Bears. I named part of myself “Fuzzie Bear”, who is a calculating perfectionist. Another part of me is “Crummie”, easily agitated and judgmental. Don’t even mention “Beezie”, who runs around and burns himself out. Do you have a side like Beezie too? Perhaps you like to fill your own schedule to the brim, or you keep scrolling on your phone when you are supposed to be reading a bedtime story?

Well, changing partners (or kids) will not stop the nagging any more than scrolling on social media make you less tired.

What are your inner personalities? The inner princess? The inner mischievous kid? The inner meanie?

We all have a dark side — it’s not such an abhorrent concept. There is no shame in admitting how you feel and how you really are. By admitting and accepting all parts of ourselves, we are embracing ourselves as a whole, and we don’t project our self-loathing onto others as a result.

You might find that your colleagues are not all that insufferable — it was just you projecting your own self-loathing onto them.

Change what you can, i.e. yourself

Do I need to say any more about this one?

However right you may be, you can’t change how others behave, only how you react. You can change your behaviours, your perspectives of the world, and your mindset. You can mould your brain, rewire habits, and unlearn patterns.

Look at things from another point of view — you might just understand why your colleague has forgotten about their deadline and delayed your project. By doing so, you can empathise with them — they have their own fears about themselves, just as you have about yourself.

Be kind to yourself

Do not mistake introspection and reflection for finding blame or fault. Finding blame brings with it bitterness against the world, as if that one thing or person was the cause of all your misfortune.

When you identify your own part in the situation, you widen your outlook and see things in context. Our tendencies are to see what we want to see, but we forget that there are multiple perspectives and a myriad of interpretations. I could berate the stomach bug for making my kids sick, lament that the flu shot was not worth the money, or simply confess that my son must have swallowed some soft bone from the chicken feet I gave him to munch on …

Explore what you can, one thing at a time. When you feel you can no longer stay in the rabbit hole, resurface and take a break.

Be kind to yourself. The world can wait.

Enoch Li is the Founder of Bearapy, a mental wellness consultancy, and author of “Stress in the City: Playing My Way Out of Depression”. She has been writing about depression, playfulness, and mental health for almost a decade. Her blog is NochNoch.com.

Want to see more from Enoch? Read Stress in the City! Here’s a sneak preview …

Having grown up in Hong Kong and Australia and educated in France, Enoch Li always had international aspirations. By her 28th birthday, she had achieved everything she had ever laboured toward. Her mum was speechlessly proud of her financial earnings, she had a supportive and loving romantic partner, and she had lots of friends who adored her. So why did she feel as though something was missing?

One could hardly guess that a strong, successful young woman who travelled the world, lived in multiple cities, had a high paying salary and had rocketed up the corporate ladder, would one day crumble to pieces, so hopeless and devastated that she believed life was no longer worth living.

In Stress in the City, Enoch Li shares her experiences at the top of the corporate game, reflects on the warning signs she refused to see, and documents her journey back from the edge through the rediscovery of her inner child.

Enoch also discusses how companies can help their executives be mentally and emotionally well through her research into the psychology of playfulness, workplace burnout, and company culture.

You might just find that the toys around us may be more meaningful than you think!

Enoch’s penned a few posts for us — check them out here.

Originally published at www.triggerpublishing.com.

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.

Enoch Li

Written by

Enoch Li

Founder of Bearapy. Mental Health & Play Consultant. Executive Mental Well-being expert — avoid burnout, depression and anxiety. Finds wisdom in Dr Seuss.

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.

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