When I first realized I was putting immense and constant pressure on myself, and that the pressure was causing my body to revolt, it was like putting on glasses for the first time. I could see clearly how much I was beating myself up, trying to be perfect, judging myself, and otherwise rejecting who I really am. No wonder my muscles were tense, my body hurt, and I felt terrible about myself.
The next step was to somehow learn to be kinder to myself. This was a tricky thing, seeing as I could easily beat myself up for not being good at being kind to myself. You see the catch-22 here. Being in my mind was a little like being in an M.C. Escher painting. Just when I thought I was catching on, I’d realize I had somehow slipped back into self-judgment.
Last year, I gave my dad an M.C. Escher puzzle for Christmas. (Yeah, it’s a doozy!) When I saw it in the store, it made me laugh. It’s the perfect way to approach the mind-game of learning to be kind to yourself – see it as a giant puzzle. How can I slide out of self-pressure or self-flagellation in this moment and ease my way into self-kindness? What is the trick that will work in this moment? How can I extricate myself from this unkindness without causing more of it?
If you’ve ever studied martial arts or learned about the basic concepts behind them, you know that when force meets force, not much happens. If I force myself to stop being so forceful, I just get force-squared. Resistance increases. Everything gets harder. The power of love lies in its gentleness. Take away the resistance and you get freedom.
Stop trying to force yourself to change or be “better,” and you make way for change to evolve on its own.
I had to stop trying to be kind to myself and start applying gentleness and love. What does that look like? It means that in the moment when I am beating myself up over something, instead of adding another layer of beating myself up (for being such a jerk to myself), I recognize the futility of doing so. Instead, I say, “Wow, I notice I’m really beating myself up here.” Then, I allow myself to be exactly as I am in that moment.
The ultimate kindness is to say, “It’s okay to be exactly as I am right now.” Whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re feeling, whatever results you’re getting – none of it matters. Remember, you won’t create change with force. You’ll create change with love. And unconditional love for yourself means loving yourself where you are right now. And THAT means being kind to yourself about where you are right now.
If you’re overeating right now, it’s okay.
If you’re struggling in your business right now, it’s okay.
If you’re not achieving top quality in your efforts right now, it’s okay.
If you’re beating yourself up right now, it’s okay.
If you’re ignoring your body’s wisdom right now, it’s okay.
If you’re behind in your to-do’s right now, it’s okay.
Whatever it is, it’s okay.
Your mind might say, “Aaagh! Oh no! If I say it’s okay, I’ll turn into a blimp/never accomplish anything/never get my list done/never be pain free…etc.” I’m here to gently, kindly, remind your mind that’s not true. In fact, it’s the ONLY way that you’ll lose weight, become pain free, or accomplish what you want. Self-kindness is THE ticket. The wonderful thing is, you can be kind to yourself even when you’re not being kind to yourself. You can say, “Wow, I’m really beating myself up over eating that chocolate cake. And that’s okay.”
That’s the first step to truly being kind to you. It’s what makes the next step possible. The next step is actually saying something kind to yourself. For example:
“Of course I overate this week. It’s one of my coping skills, and I’m bound to return to it sometimes even though I know lots of great new coping skills.”
“It’s natural that I don’t feel like doing anything this week. I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard lately, and I probably need some rest.”
“Sometimes I ignore my body’s wisdom and struggle with trusting it. That’s all a part of the learning process when it comes to creating a new mind-body relationship. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure – it just means I’m learning.”
It may take some practice to learn how to say kind things to yourself. If you’re like me, you’ve had years of practice saying not-so-nice things to yourself. But the good news is, with practice, you will learn how to do it. You’ll find that the more you practice, the more unbidden kind thoughts appear in your mind. You become gentler with yourself, more compassionate, and more loving. And whatever it is you want to do in the world, I guarantee that being kind to yourself will make it easier and make you more effective.
Want to start practicing now? It’s simple. Three times today, stop and ask yourself these questions:
What is the kindest thing I could say to myself right now? What is the kindest thing I could do for myself right now?
Repeat that process for a couple weeks and you’ll see that it becomes easier and easier to think of kind words and acts, toward you.
Today just so happens to be my birthday. My gift to me is threefold. 1) Saying kind things to myself today. 2) Doing things that feel kind and enjoyable today. 3) Sharing with you about self-kindness. I know that the kinder you are to you, the more you’ll spread love and kindness in the world. And that’s a gift for all of us.