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When You Hear “Stop Being So Hard on Yourself” A Lot, Listen.

April 29, 2014

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This is part four (the final!) of our interview with Colette Bennett, who launched The #ican Project. Check out part one, part two, and part three of our discussion, or listen to the audio from our interview.

Speaking of this mindfulness and taking time for yourself — how much sleep did you get last night?

Eight hours.

Is that a pretty standard for yourself?

Yeah, and that’s funny you should ask that question. So I’m 36 now and when I was in my 20s sleep was not remotely a priority. Self-care was not a priority, it was just “Sleep when you’re dead, eat if you want to, eat whatever you want, don’t worry about what you eat, or if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t eat. Exercise, what is that?”

I’m interested in finding out how I can live best.

You kind of have to accept that you can either choose to be the cool kid that stays out all night or you can choose to be the person that cares about being well rested for the next day. Sleep is a big one, and I think to be honest, the people who are like “I can get by on 5 or 6 hours” are going to pay for it later.

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So would you go back in time and force your earlier 20s self to go to sleep more?

No. I think the memory of so much lost sleep and so much drinking and hangovers is such a nice contrast in my memory that makes now more of a peaceful time. But it’s funny — it’s more radical to be peaceful and go to sleep early than it its to go out and party, because at least everyone else parties. But if you’re like “I have to go home so I can meditate before I go to bed,” people are like “What is wrong with you?”

Some of the standards that not only I suffer, but many other people suffer themselves, are SO brutal!

At some point you started integrating these new behaviors — what spurred those changes?

Frankly, complete unmanageability is what pushed me to it, and I think that’s what will push most people to make major changes is crisis. For me it was consistently not getting enough sleep and feeling insane. Or digestive issues for instance came up – you start to get to this point where you’re like “I’m interested in finding out how I can live best.” Like I said before, it’s really something that I’m still working on. Sleep is definitely better than it used to be because I do prioritize it, and I know without it I’m kind of crazy, but things like food? Still working on them. In fact, I wrote an #ican about that. I was like “Yeah, I’m still learning this cooking thing but…”

I like the phrase you used – “How can I live best?” Best can mean different things every day and it’s not about trying to live perfectly, for example.

My whole life, people have said “Stop being so hard on yourself.” If a few people tell you something like you’re like “Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong” but when every person you meet is like “Gosh you’re hard on yourself!” then you start to realize that maybe they have a point. Some of the standards that not only I but many other people suffer themselves are SO brutal!

If you follow Buddhist teachers or Eastern thought, there’s a lot of talk about softening and being gentle with yourself and working on the voice in your head that says “Oh great you fucked this up again” — every phrase you say to yourself can be changed. A friend of mine who is religious said she when she felt really challenged by something, she was taught to write a letter from God to herself about how to do your best. And she said that writing the letter was really interesting because thinking it was from a loving source was helping her think that way.

I hope that other people take the chance too, because man, it is an ultimately amazingly bountiful life, you just have to see it that way.

A friend of mine always asked me – “Do you judge me as harshly as you judge yourself? And if not, why do you judge yourself so much more than the people around you?”

I do think this [American culture] is an extremely critical society and we just grow up thinking about competition all the time. So you have to make a conscious decision that you’re just not going to participate and I know it sounds like can’t be that simple, but really I think we feed the flames of “I’m not thin enough “or “I’m not successful enough” [ourselves].

I think people play by the rules sometimes, and the people that don’t take a lot of risks and face a lot of flack, but ultimately they might have more fulfilling lives. I’m not saying I’m one of those, because I’m not there yet, but I certainly aspire to be there. I hope that other people take the chance too, because man, it is an ultimately amazingly bountiful life, you just have to see it that way.

What I do to push myself through the day? I do something nice for someone else as soon as humanly possible.

I hope that if there’s anything I do, that I practice, whether it’s #ican or whatever the next project be, that there’s some portion of that — because once you get it in your heart, you want to give it away to everybody.

A friend taught me this – when you feel terrible, the days that you wake up and you’re like, “I can’t do this, I can’t” — you ask me what I do to push myself through the day? I do something nice for someone else as soon as humanly possible. Like, early. That might getting gas and unexpectedly tipping the person behind the counter, or it could be any really small thing but when you give it away, it keeps coming. The next thing you know, someone smiles or something happens and you’re like “Oh, was I worried about something?”

I think that’s a lovely thought. You give it away because it means that you’re coming from a place where you have stuff to give. We all always do, but we forget it a lot when we’re in that bad mental space.

We really do, and so far, that trick has worked for me like clockwork, so I sure hope it can work for someone else!

Photo credits to Colette Bennett,  as well as the #icanproject tumblr.