Tightening the Knot

Why trying harder makes things worse and how to loosen up your knot

Your Natural Self

Coach Michael Neil has a nice metaphor. He puts it like this.

Inside you is a diamond. There always has been. And always will be.

At some point you forgot this and negative thoughts and feelings about yourself began to cover your diamond in a layer of stinking horse shit.

Nobody wants that, so you decided so you found a way to pretty it up by covering it with a nice shiny layer of nail varnish – the people pleasing, perfectionism, striving or self sacrifice you started to use to make up for who you thought you were.

I’ll Be Acceptable if….

That made you feel a bit better. But without knowing it, you also took on an exhausting, isolating, anxiety-laden job – to keep fixing and reapplying that nail of varnish for the rest of your life.

You began to feel you were only acceptable IF you kept achieving new goals, winning others’ approval or avoiding mistakes,.

And it worked in a way. You did something clever, made someone laugh, passed an exam, did a favour, achieved a goal – whatever your thing is – and you felt OK. Not just pleased with what you did. But able to accept yourself. You got a temporary ‘pass’ into life.

Why Trying Harder Makes Things Worse

But it came at a price. Although doing ‘your thing’ – being helpful, dutiful, funny, self-sacrificing, seemingly perfect – helped temporarily, you also unknowingly started reinforcing the original rejection. You started sending yourself the message “My natural self is not good enough.”

And this is where the damaging loop arises.

Shame Cycle #3 Tightening the Knot

The worse you feel, the more you try.

The more you try, the worse you feel.

But as you get that temporary relief from doing ‘your thing’, habits begin to form. The more layers of nail varnish you put on, the more alienated you become from your natural self.

The isolation builds and with it, your vulnerability to shame, guilt, and harsh self criticism.

Not pretty. 🙁

But don’t worry. Seeing it is part of solving it. And now you have seen it, you can begin to release yourself from this damaging cycle.

Effortless Effort

Faced with a knotted ball of string, the first thing we instinctively do is yank at the ends to see if comes free. All it does, of course, is pull the knots tighter. So we pull again even harder! The knots get even tighter. Applying frustration and force to untangle a ball of string makes it worse.

Instead of the effort and frustration you might have used in the past, untangling your particular knotted ball of string is going to be a gradual gentle process of loosening. Less effort, more awareness.

It is not necessarily easier. But this is a different kind of application. Less struggle, more patience and kindness: Deepening self awareness, soothing old feelings, loosening unhelpful thoughts, learning new skills.

It’s a beautiful, challenging, life-releasing journey.


Write the answers to these questions. Put them in the comments, email them to me, or write them for yourself.

  • What has been your way of covering up your natural self?
  • What are two occasions you have you tightened the knot you have been caught in by repeating your pattern?
  • And what are two times you have loosened it (or you have simply noticed it being looser).

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