What The Carpet Industry Can Teach You About Self-Improvement

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In my childhood home, shoes were strictly for outdoor use. Once used outside, shoes were considered contaminated, and no longer fit for the carpeted indoors. Likewise, slippers and socks were not to be worn outside.

On those occasions when, having forgotten something inside, I would run back into the house with shoes on, I felt naughty. I was literally befouling the very fiber of our household. I still feel weird if I wear shoes in the house.

It turns out that my family's fears of walking on the carpet with shoes may have been somewhat overblown. Carpet researchers have determined that one need only walk into a carpeted building and take a few steps for shoes to be about as clean as a sock.*  No solvents or scrubbing required.  

But whether it’s a belief about dirty shoes or beliefs about your shortcomings, you can become attached to them after you've accepted them unquestioningly over time. You can come to view yourself as gravely, even permanently, contaminated, and become stuck in a feedback loop of negative views of yourself.

For example, your insecurities may lead you to avoid social interactions, depriving you of the opportunity to gather evidence that you’re likable. Or maybe you've come to believe that you'll never be truly happy, and as a result have trouble mustering the will to make the changes in your life that actually could help you to feel better.

A mindful perspective can help.

One great way to begin walking away from your negative beliefs about yourself, and the behaviors you use to cope with them, is to spend more time in the present moment. Your negative self-judgments rise from the dustbowl of thoughts that our minds produce when left without anything more pressing to do.

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The human mind tends to return to thoughts about the past or future, and these thoughts are often negative, because our minds evolved to learn from and avoid mistakes. Given the opportunity, our minds can spend the day reveling in the dirt like an elephant taking a dust bath. Cultivating present-moment awareness, or mindfulness, helps you loosen your attachment to your thoughts and be less reactive to them. It helps you shake the dust off, as it were.

Mindfulness walking meditation

If you have a few minutes, you can try a guided mindfulness meditation right now on this site. But meditating while seated in a chair or on the floor is only one way to do it; there are as many ways to practice as there are things to do.

One thing you might want to try is mindful walking meditation, since you're metaphorically hoping to move toward a more positive view of yourself. Traditionally, this is done at a slower-than-normal pace, paying careful attention to the physical sensations of the walking movements. Things like the shifting pressure points on the soles of your feet, or the effort your muscles make when you lift, move, and place your foot.

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At a faster pace, you may simply choose to rest your awareness on the sensations of impact as each foot strikes the ground, or to become aware of the movement of your body through space.

Getting creative with your practice

There are other, more imaginative, types of walking meditation that may also be beneficial for these purposes. For one, while aware of moving through space, you can try visualizing your negative thoughts and feelings about yourself migrating to the surface of your skin, and being whisked away by the breeze like specks of dirt.

See if you can notice whether a physical sensation accompanies their departure. (This technique can be quite interesting at higher air speeds, such as while riding a bicycle.)   

Another possibility is to visualize your insecurities or any other negative emotions or thought patterns collecting in your lower body as you walk, and exiting through your feet. Imagine, with each step, that they have left a dirty footprint on the sidewalk, leaving you ever more radiant.

By the way, I’m not suggesting that these, or any, meditation techniques are a cure-all for negative self-judgment or other negative thoughts or emotions. Making changes in other areas of your life may be helpful too, including seeking psychotherapy if your functioning is impaired.

For instance, cognitive-behavioral approaches aim to directly modify one's beliefs and related thought and behavior patterns. The cultivation of mindfulness can complement this type of work, since mindfulness practice can also include noticing thoughts as they arise.

A little dirt doesn't hurt

As far as I can tell from the available carpet research, walking on carpet may leave your soles cleaner, but no amount of walking will bring your shoes back to their fresh-from-the-box condition.

Likewise, you may always have areas of your life, personality, or character that you feel could use some work. That’s what happens when you walk through life: your shoes get dirty. How could they not?

But that’s not a problem. Actually, it’s great, because as long as you take care to maintain a balanced perspective, a bit of self-criticism is healthy: it can keep you humble, and inspire you to be an ever-better person to yourself and others.
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 The Carpet and Rug Institute has determined that a walk-off mat of just 15 feet, or six steps, in length will trap 80% of shoe-borne moisture and soil.