Dear Determined One,
I know you are tired, and I know that you have tried. Tried to grow through tough times. Tried to be a better person, better partner, better parent. This isn’t just about rallying your motivation yet again. It is about doing the journey differently.
If it was only about hard work and effort, you would definitely be there by now, and these words would be irrelevant. This is about doing goals, doing life, differently. To grow through tough times, to embark on this journey and to get different results than your efforts in the past, you will also need to prepare for the journey differently.
In the past, when I was determined to change a part of my life like losing weight or being a more patient parent, I would muster motivation by looking at the damage I was doing by not changing. This is where you can picture an American football coach grabbing the mask of his star player as he shouts motivation in his face. Yup, that was my inner dialogue all the time, and it was exhausting. Each day was about desperately filling my tank, so that I had the energy to ‘be’ the long list of ‘shoulds’ I believed I needed to be in order to be happy and fulfilled.
One day I came to the end of myself.
You know, that place where you know you have tried your hardest but are still getting the same discouraging results. You are defeated, you are tired, and you are finally willing to admit that this isn’t working. This place is terrifying and liberating at the same time, and it is the reason I have found a different way to create change for my clients and myself. It is not a clean linear path, though, and it requires some key ingredients to successfully navigate it and grow through tough times. Today, I want to share those key ingredients with you.
Key Ingredients for Lasting Change
1. To grow through tough times, you will need curiosity, (which for the record, cannot peacefully live with judgement).
I know what you may be thinking: “But I use judgement to do better, to get motivated, to clearly see what I am doing wrong.” Yes, this may be true, and it is too heavy of a tool to bring with us where we are going. Curiosity gives us an ability to look at our cycle of tryhard – fail- get back up and see what needs tweaking without the weight of feeling like we are failing. Judgement and condemnation give us a quick boost of motivation to do better, but the drawbacks are too great for our long term goals. Curiosity invites an open mind. It naturally gives us more space to understand our behaviour, our attitudes, and our thoughts without creating the hostile environment of shame.
Here is a personal example: I used to be an angry mom. I didn’t want to be an angry mom. I love my kiddos with all my heart. My mom and dad weren’t ragers…so what was wrong with me? I would ask myself this very question with a shameful heart everytime I found myself losing my cool with the kids.
Then I got curious. How did non-yellers do it?
How did they think when they were in the same situations that would boil my blood? So, I began asking: “What do you do when you are trying to get out the door and your kids are fighting and not listening to you?”
What was interesting about all of the moms I talked to was that they had the same situations, but it was how they thought about them that was different. Instead of accusing thoughts like, “Why are you doing this to me?”, or condemning thoughts like, “What am I doing so wrong?”, they had compassionate thoughts that included themselves, “Wow, we are all not having a lot of fun right now”, and “this is a tough morning for all of us.”
And just like that, my mind was blown. It was through curiosity that I was able to see an invisible, yet game changing difference in self talk. They had empathy for everyone including themselves…I had judgement and regret. Which brings us to ingredient number two.
2. To grow through tough times, you need self-compassion. Compassion is the antidote to shame, and learning doesn’t take place in an atmosphere of shame.
Let me correct that: the learning that we want doesn’t take place in an atmosphere of shame. We will learn to avoid what is causing the shame which means we avoid the learning because it is too painful to explore.
Here is a vulnerable example of when this learning got very real for me. My kids were quite young at the time. It was that typical morning where I tried to beat the chaos by getting up early to make sure we were ready on time. I was happy and playful with the kids, trying to be an amazing mom. Then it was time to get out the door and the shoes weren’t getting put on and backpacks mysteriously went missing. The final straw? My kids started fighting with each other. I was trying so hard, and still everything was falling apart. So, I let it rip, screaming at the kids from my guts. I saw the startled look on their little faces and immediately felt an earth-shattering shame. So I put myself in a time-out.
My ‘self-talk’ in time-out: “I am a therapist how can I be losing it this bad?”
“Wait. Compassion. What does that look like now? How would one of those calm mommas be talking to themselves right now?”
It felt awkward. Foreign. I didn’t feel like I deserved compassion, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that compassion is not a reward, it is a tool.
Then I had the thought, “This has been really hard. Not just for the kids, but for me. It is difficult when I try and still don’t get the result I wanted.” Just like that, the compassion flooded in as I acknowledged that this was tough for me too. I don’t want to be angry, to yell. I don’t easily cry, so I was startled by the emotions that flooded out of me from a place of compassion instead of shame. And just like that, something changed.
I am not going to say it was magic, but after that it became easier and easier to switch out of judgement and shame into a space of curiosity and compassion. What truly feels miraculous is that my kids have no memory of an angry mom and find it funny to picture me spazzing and having my own tantrum. For my kids to know me as a patient and calm mom, was always a heart’s desire which is the final ingredient you will need for this new approach to change.
3. The third necessary ingredient for permanent change is intention.
Why do you want to change and what are you changing into? This is our reason to get back up again. This is our compass setting of where we are going, and you will need a compelling “why” behind this to stay the course. Be clear, be detailed, and play out in your mind why you want what you want and why it is worth fumbling forward towards. That’s right, it is not always going to look pretty, but even when we are fumbling in the right direction, we are gaining ground in who we want to be.
I always knew the type of mom I wanted to be.
Calm, a safe space, loving, fun, nurturing…I was also very clear on my why. Practicing loving well without loving in exchange for having a need met, is one of our highest callings. To be able to pour into these two amazing beings in a way that they grow up pouring that same love out into the world is a part of my created purpose. It is this clarity that has me get back up and try again when I stumble and fall.
What I realize now, is that applying these three powerful ingredients to any part of my life created profound shifts. I was able to grow through tough times. And I was able to navigate change with clients and myself with greater confidence and ease. That, my Determined Friend, is worth the price.