One of the most frequently cited reasons I hear for difficulty with change is that when the beginning of some grand plan doesn’t roll out exactly as imagined, there’s no more wind in that sail. We don’t start the workout on January 1st, and all that energy and excitement go “poof!”, right out the window.
I know that feeling, and have fallen into that trap so many times. It’s such a sticky one! It’s not going perfectly, so the impulse is to abandon it. Framed more accurately, we are not behaving perfectly so we abandon ourselves. It’s quite a thing to notice that when things are not going well, we just sort of turn away from ourselves. We may not consciously recognize this as rejection or as violence toward self, but what if someone else did this – turned away whenever we did something they deemed less than perfect? Can you get a sense of the power of that response? How terrible it would feel if someone did that?
What do you imagine you might feel like if you did not turn away from yourself when things get tough? What does the part of you that stumbles and has fits and starts need in those difficult times?
So here’s the tricky part: if you haven’t seen that, or didn’t receive much of it early in life, chances are that turning away is how you learned to respond to your own discomfort. And, it may even be as you read this, that you either cannot understand or get a sense of why it would matter. THAT’s how powerful the adaptation is! It numbs us to the parts of ourselves that feel how bad it is to be alone in that pain, to be turned away from. We might even be proud of that ability suck it up and carry on.
Trouble is, that numbing is also buffering the feeling of the fullness of life. Brene Brown says all the time…you can’t selectively numb. I think it’s a really good, succinct way to convey the price of checking out when we’re in pain. The price is life, beauty, joy, up and down, all of it.
Experiment time. What would you say to someone else in those moments? Better yet, what would you say to a child? What would you do for them? Can you imagine what they might feel like to be receiving it? Can you imagine what it might feel like to be on the receiving end of that kind of compassion yourself? Notice what comes up. If there are thoughts like “nothing will ever get done and I’ll misbehave”, look a little closer to see if that’s true. Does the kind voice saying “it’s ok, you can start over right now, or choose an easier goal today” make you want to quit, or is it motivating? Does the voice of “you missed your chance, you’ll never get it right” steal your energy, or make you feel like starting however you can?
We all want big change, instant gratification…to feel better right now. We all think it comes after we do the big thing, make the big change. It’s a trick – a trap. The “feel better” is in the shifting how we relate to ourselves in the present, right this second. It’s available in every moment. Ironically, self-compassion leads to greater honesty about our situation, greater self-acceptance, and the CHANGE we seek! Stable, lasting, healthy change begins to occur in all those places we tried to whip ourselves into shape so many times, as if by magic. Don’t take my word for it…you have to experience it to believe it. No risk. If nothing changes, it didn’t cost thing.