Changing from a Place of Love

As we all continue to be inundated with messages of ‘New Year, New You’ and lots of external sources telling us all the ways we can be smarter, more productive, healthier, more attractive and just better. Despite the unceasing reminders of our New Year’s Resolutions and the countless promotions and support groups, research at the University of Scranton found that only 9% of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions. The question then arises “what do I do if I have a change I deeply want to make?”

Many of us have aspects of ourselves we want to improve, such as quitting smoking, going to sleep earlier, exercising regularly, being more present or having more balance between work and family. These are all great goals, but it’s helpful to remember that change comes more easily and is more lasting when it comes from a place of love. Most likely you can remember a time when you’ve used self-criticism as motivator for change. You may even recall moments when others used criticism to try to motivate you to change. Was the criticism successful in supporting you in making lasting change? If you’re like most of us, the answer is no. We frequently beat ourselves up repeatedly hoping that this time it will finally give us the willpower and tools to change.

Take a minute to try to connect with the pain you experienced as a result of your self- criticism. First offer yourself some compassion for shouldering such pain and then ask yourself, “is there a kinder, more supportive and caring way I can motivate myself to change?”. You might want to consider how you would motivate a friend to quit smoking or establish better sleep habits. Most likely you wouldn’t chastise them if they slipped up and stayed up late watching TV shows once again. Instead you might remind them that you love them and care about them feeling their best and their health and therefore want them to keep trying to go to bed earlier. You might even offer that they set a reminder on their phone or help them brainstorm ideas of their own.

It’s easy for us to see that our friend is more likely to keep digging deep and working to establish new patterns of behavior if they feel loved, supported and understood. Why don’t we use our insight into supporting other people who are making difficult changes to help ourselves? Why don’t we try using love and self-compassion to motivate and encourage ourselves instead of continuing to cause ourselves emotional pain by continuing to criticize ourselves?

If you’re having a hard time believing that you would be motivated to change if you aren’t hard on yourself, you can conduct an experiment on yourself. Think of a pattern of behavior that you really want to change and in the past have used self-criticism as a motive. Simply try to use self-compassion and love to support yourself in making change for a week. After a week evaluate whether you were able to make some progress. You should also check-in on your overall well-being and level of contentment. If using self-love and compassion didn’t help you start to make changes or increase your overall wellbeing, you can go back to your old habits. If more self-love and self-compassion benefitted you, please keep it up!

New Year’s Resolutions

Every year on January 1st we are all bombarded with messages about self improvement. Gym membership ads on social media, radio news reports about the newest weight loss diet, apps to help you meditate more, newscasters discussing ways to save more money and more. It seems like everywhere you turn people are discussing their New Year’s Resolutions and all the things about themselves they will change. Your sister will stop drinking so much, your friend will run everyday, your neighbor resolves to follow a new diet, the list goes on and on.

There’s nothing wrong with resolving to make changes, but I encourage you to examine your motivation for changing. Are you resolving to lose weight or read more because you feel like there’s something wrong with your current weight or reading habits? Do you want to change because you believe (whether knowingly or not) that there is something wrong with you? Do you believe you are not enough as you are now? 

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So often one’s drive to change comes from fear, self- hatred, blame and deep feelings of isolation and unworthiness. We feel as if exercising more or eating differently will somehow “fix” us, but what if we don’t need fixing? What if you are already whole and beautiful as is? What if the qualities you dislike about yourself didn’t make you different than others or unworthy of love? What if you recognized that your perceived flaws are what make you human? What if you sent love to your darkest places and worked to change because you love yourself and deep down you know the change would allow you to live more fully?

This year, instead of resolving to change or improve, I’m resolving to remember that I already am whole and deserving of life’s splendors as I am now. The contemporary Indian master Bapuji writes:

My beloved child,
Break your heart no longer.
Each time you judge yourself you break your own heart.
You stop feeding on the love which is the wellspring of your vitality.
The time has come, your time
To live, celebrate and to see the goodness you are…
Let no one, no thing, no idea or ideal obstruct you
If one comes, even in the name of “Truth,” forgive it for its unknowing
Do not fight.
Let go.
And breathe– into the goodness you are.

This year will you let go of the stories you tell yourself about your unworthiness and breathe into the goodness you are?

If you’d like you can turn the poem above into a gatha (a short verse that helps you practice mindfulness). Repeat the lines in your head or softly aloud while breathing in and out.

The time (breathing in)
Has come (breathing out)
Your time (breathing in)
To let go (breathing out)
And breathe (breathing in)
Just breathe (breathing out)
Into the goodness (breathing in)
You are (breathing out)

You can repeat this gatha during a traditional sitting or walking meditation or repeat it at a time when the negative voices in your head are strong. If you try it out, please let me know how it goes!

Recognizing Your Warning Lights

The holiday season can be tough. There are numerous partied to attend, lots of gifts to buy, holiday cards to write, extended time with family and friends and the guilt that often comes with not being able to do everything.  I often find that I turn to unhelpful coping mechanisms, like compulsively planning or eating when I’m not hungry, more during the holidays. Although these coping mechanisms aren’t “bad”, when I use them too frequently, I find myself moving further away from my values of inner peace, flexibility and self-care.

One way I work on keeping my values at the forefront is to use mindfulness. When I notice myself compulsively planning or eating when I’m not hungry I treat those behaviors as a warning sign. Instead of beating myself up for being too controlling and rigid or for eating when I’m not hungry, I try to shift my focus. If I’m able to see those behaviors as a warning light and an opportunity to check in with what I’m feeling, I have more compassion for my unhelpful behaviors and have a new opportunity to give myself what I really need.

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For example, when I notice I’m having circular planning thoughts, I first notice these thoughts and recognize them as unhelpful (they normally make me anxious and make it more difficult to focus on what I’m presently doing). I even visualize a warning light flashing when I notice the behavior. The visualization helps me stop my compulsive and mindless behaviors.

Then, I take a deep breath before asking myself, “what emotion or difficult situation am I avoiding by focusing my mental energy on planning?”

This answer isn’t always obvious, but with some practice and awareness I can normally identify a difficult emotion like anxiety, sadness, loneliness or fear.

Once I acknowledge the difficult emotion, I use self-talk to acknowledge and validate the emotion. Frequently I say, “wow, Kate, feeling anxious is really uncomfortable. I know this is a difficult moment. What do you need to be with your anxiety right now?”

What I need in the moment varies wildly. Sometimes I need a few minutes to be by myself and meditate. Sometimes I need to reach out and connect with a friend or loved one. Other times I need to take an action that I’ve been putting off, like saying no to a party I don’t really want to attend. It’s not always possible to give myself what I am needing in the moment (I can’t always drop what I’m doing to meditate or a friend may not be available to talk), but often identifying the true feeling and need is enough to help me proceed more mindfully and, at least momentarily, engage in more helpful behaviors.

I’d love to hear from you! What are your warning lights? What do you think about these steps? Have they been helpful for you?