“I hate myself for staying in this job.”
“I can’t stand the way my body looks in these clothes.”
“I always fall short for my kids and my family; I’m never enough.”
“I am so stupid for staying in this relationship for this long.”
I have heard all of these harsh rumblings from my clients over the years, and I’ve probably had some of those thoughts myself somewhere along the way regarding an aspect of my life. That’s just our beautiful humanity showing up and trying to help us grow.
Many of us experience those thoughts invading our brains somewhere along the way in life, but it’s what we do with them that matters.
In the past few weeks I’ve thrown out this truth bomb to a few clients of mine:
“You cannot hate yourself into loving, long-term and sustainable change.”
Argue with me you must, but in the 20 years I’ve spent building a career in human development, I haven’t worked with anyone who’s told me that they beat themselves so hard into submission that they are now the happiest they’ve ever been in their lives.
Let’s take losing weight and a positive regard for the amazing human body, for example — an issue a lot of my clients want to work on. They rail against themselves and say if they only had more willpower, discipline and control, then they’d treat their bodies perfectly with a flawless eating and exercise program.
That’s like saying that if every day of their lives unfolded in exactly the same way … if every encounter with another person was a perfect interaction and manifested the perfect outcome … if every plate had its perfect macros, ketos and carb cycles … then they’d be happy. Maybe they’d be miserably chasing happiness, but they’d at least be on the job (and diligently tired and frustrated). And probably hungry. Likely hangry.
So how do you begin to turn that around?
You do that by working with your mind and becoming aware of your thoughts and what you’re telling yourself. It sounds so simple, but awareness is so powerful.
When you’re aware, you can slow things down and see where you might be being too tough on yourself. You can ask yourself more powerful questions like, “is this going to help me get closer to living like the woman I want to be or keep me stuck in the same old loop?”
You can begin doing this by taking charge of your emotional vocabulary and swapping out a few words to help you guide yourself with more grace and less harshness.
Instead of grinding your gears in pursuit of willpower, discipline and control, try these on for size:
What if you offered yourself more compassion, awareness and patience?
For example, instead of telling yourself that you hate your body and have no self-control with food, become aware of the language you’re using first.
Would you say to your daughter or best friend, “I can’t stand your body and you really go off the rails with food. Get your shit together. Don’t you have any discipline, control or willpower?”
I’m guessing that’s a “no.” (And doesn’t that sound awful to your mind and heart to even read that sentence out loud as if it’s directed to one you love? So why condemn yourself in such a hurtful way?)
What if you said to yourself, “What do I really need here? What I’m doing now isn’t working and is making me angry at myself versus helping me. How can I offer myself more compassion? If I’m already trying to make changes, where do I need to be more patient? Beating myself up isn’t working, so what’s the opposite?”
Those were the questions I started asking beautiful me holding my beautiful baby (who’s now 19 years old). I remember the sting of disappointment and embarrassment I felt about myself when I looked at this photo.
Every mental dig at my appearance and my body was also a teardown of my personhood. I was that body and that body was wrong. Something was wrong with me.
I have learned — through my own personal transformation and that of my clients – that this way of being with yourself will help you for the long haul. There is nothing wrong with willpower, discipline and control — they can augment the change process powerfully — unless you start using them as weapons against yourself.
Just for the sake of doing something different and seeing if it has a positive effect, lay down your arms and welcome a softer shift.
All of those statements at the top of this blog post are things that have come out of the minds and mouths of my clients, and when we worked to shift to a less rigid, but still powerful, mindset, this is what happened in a couple of those examples:
“I’m going to be aware of what I like and don’t like about my current job. I’m going to be compassionate with myself — I stayed here because I needed to for the time that I needed to. I will be patient in my search to find the ideal place to land in the next phase of my career. It’s never too late.”
It is never too late. This client landed a great job in a city where she’s always wanted to live. She texts me photos of the view from her office window.
“I am going to commit to moving my body at least three days a week. I’m going to get a coach to help me and surround myself with healthy and positive people. I’m going to make some changes to what I eat and notice what’s working versus what isn’t and adjust where needed. I’m going to give this as much time as it takes. I will make plans for myself. There’s no starting over. I just keep going.”
This client lost 22 lbs. and got connected to a healthy community and new friends. She also parlayed the renewal of her health and confidence into two businesses she loves where she’s helping other women.
Watch your mind. See where it goes. If you want discipline, practice becoming aware of your undisciplined mind and use that concept of willpower to lean into patience and love.