Publisher - January 2021
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as real strength.”
—St. Francis de Sales—
When my son was in the fourth grade, his teacher told him, “Life’s tough. Get a helmet.” At the time I agreed. Life is tough, and we have to muscle through it, especially the tough times. That’s how I was raised—to get ‘er done no matter what. To a certain degree, I believe this to be true. In hard times, the strong get stronger. You have to in order to make it.
Last year, many of us put on our helmets and rushed the firing line in order to keep our households, families, businesses and lives together. Now, everyone is thrilled to have 2020 in the past, touting that 2021 will be better. I don’t know if this year will be better or not. Many of us happily bid 2019 good riddance only to crash and burn 60 days later. Suffice it to say, the current times definitely require a helmet, as did my childhood.
My younger years were filled with trying to please everyone—parents, teachers, friends, strangers. I was hard on myself from a young age to do things well. I thought my mother liked me better when I over-achieved. I lived to surprise her with how good I could clean the kitchen, or organize my bookshelf, or do my homework. I was intrenched in an accomplish, complete and criticize cycle. What I did great today was negated if I did something not so great tomorrow.
Needless to say, I carried this cycle into adulthood, being extra hard on myself to perform at top levels. While there are many benefits to this way of tackling life—work ethic made of steel, always dependable, very thorough and top notch quality— it is exhausting and unsustainable. Did I mention unhealthy, too?
I tried to sustain this way of life for almost 50 years, though it caused much heart ache, feelings of never being enough and even panic disorder. It wasn’t until I started seeing a life coach that I realized this was a learned behavior that didn’t serve my well-being. I didn’t have to beat myself up over my inadequacies, nor did I need to jump through hoops like a show dog for fleeting praise. Turns out, I don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love, kindness or praise.
What a revelation! However, it took a lot of work to unwind it.
It’s the negative self-talk that just flows unsolicited that can put us in a state of overwhelm, but there is a flip side to the brow beating from your brain. Here’s the concept the life coach introduced to me: Be gentle on yourself. Honestly, the thought had never crossed my mind. To me, gentleness was how you petted a puppy, or how you treated your church clothes. Gentleness had never applied to humans or my daily life.
My life coach would text me, “This is a gentle reminder that your appointment is tomorrow at 3:00.” There was no accusation in that statement that insinuated failure, or assumed I wouldn’t show or remember. This is such a wonderful, refreshing way to be talked to.
Let’s talk about gentleness. Imagine the rage and volatility of the ocean during a terrible storm and being in a small boat out there to ride it through. It’s a hostile image—far from gentleness. Guess what. It emulates the state of mind into which negative self-talk decimates our psyche. This can deplete our confidence, leave us with our self-assuredness desperate for some semblance of safety and calm and lead us to destructive behaviors and habits.
Now imagine the ocean on a day that is calm, when the water is as smooth as glass, and the small waves playfully lap onto the shore. What a relief! It’s welcoming, unintimidating, and makes you want to get a fun, colorful float and gently bob around the water. It’s so calm, you’re confident enough to shut your eyes and not worry about what’s coming next. This is the pleasant state we all can live in just by being gentle and kind to ourselves.
But how do you stop being brutal to yourself and adopt a gentle protocol?
1) Become aware of your thoughts: Before you can make any change, you must know what needs changing. Every time you say, or think something negative, say the word stop. Then think of positive things that prove the bad thought(s) invalid. If your internal being is your biggest bully, start talking back.
2) Focus on the positive: When you get in tune with the shade your thoughts are casting, immediately come up with several things you are proud of yourself for. State your positives out loud, and allow them to saturate your thoughts. I have been trying to right myself since my divorce, and when I get critical about how I’m not where I want to be yet, I start thinking of the things I have achieved, and I have accomplished some huge goals. This is where more accomplishment will come from!
3) Beat your bad thoughts to the punch: Before your brain can impart its negativity for the day, start telling it all the good you were, are and will be. Believe me, this will put those negative thoughts in their place.
4) Become aware of how you talk to others. Listen to how you come across. Look for people’s expressions of enjoying being around you, or hurrying along. If you’re talking to others roughly, then you’re talking to yourself roughly. Try to change your tone, pointedness or passive aggressive insinuations. All positive changes come back as rewards to you.
5) Give yourself a break: You can’t please everyone all the time and that’s fine. I once adopted the mantra “I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all I’ve got.” Not only did it work, but I found it loving and protective to myself, and people actually backed down in their demands. How can you ask anyone to do more than their best?
6) Finally, take time to relax. Fluff your nest. Surround yourself in softness—sheets, pillows, blankets, pjs, socks, music, even meals—by letting hard things go that don’t have to be hard. Little changes and tiny gestures can go a long way, like buying pre-chopped onions every once in while—no tears!
No matter what 2021 brings—good, bad or ugly— it all will be better if we are simply gentle on ourselves and others. Now that’s the way to have a Happy New Year!