E01: Be your own friend and have grace for a busy season
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
This has been a tumultuous year for most of us. Isn't it time that we allowed ourselves a little grace in a time of chaos? Even in our hardest times, we can speak kindly and reset expectations with ourselves, and practice self-care as a way to relieve pressure and anxiety.
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Being your own friend. It sounds cheesy, doesn’t it? Honestly, at face value, this isn’t a topic that would resonate with an old version of me that thought that I always needed to be tough and power through all the hard times. But this past year has been a long year of hunkering down and powering through. Sometimes that’s a necessary mode of survival. You can’t make your problems disappear. But, there are ways to be gentle to yourself and give yourself a little grace even in the midst of chaos. Right? If you can’t make the big events of 2020 go away, at least you can be kind to yourself though all of the little moments. Life is made of mundane moments, and mundane thoughts, and the cumulative impact of these mundane things makes up who we are. They’re the building blocks of our mindset.
This concept of being your own friend is foundational to everything else I’m going to say. I didn’t figure this out on my own. I spent years beating myself up - I wasn’t thin enough, strong enough, popular enough, I couldn’t do everything perfectly, and more - and these neurocies followed me into adulthood and marriage where I ran into issues that forced me to be kinder to myself.
Notably, I had a miscarriage a couple of years ago and it was devastating. I had zero control over what my body was doing and it was a physically very distressing experience for me, in addition to being emotionally gutting. I’ll go into the details of the miscarriage in more depth in a later podcast because I have found that sharing things like this helps me and others who have dealt with a similar issue. Vulnerability helps people heal. But it’s not our focus today.
At the time of the miscarriage, my already busy and overwhelming life suddenly felt like it was suffocating me. I had a high pressure job doing marketing consulting for technology companies, there were social and family obligations, and any marital stress or fight would always send me over the edge. On top of that, I had put pressure on myself to lose the 10 pounds I’d gained while pregnant. I wasn’t giving myself any grace or time to heal. If a friend of mine was going through a similar season, I would encourage her to give herself a break and set realistic expectations about what her body should be doing. But I didn’t give myself this same positive talk.
It was around this time that I was having a conversation with a really close friend where I was trying to decide the right decision to make about something. I can’t remember what that thing was but I do remember what she said. She said “Well, what would you say to me if I was in your shoes?” This method of engineering decision making was brand new to me. At the time, I thought it was just a really smart way to make choices. But a couple of years and one baby later, I’ve realized that it’s a mechanism that can help you develop some much-needed kindness for yourself. If your best friend were in your shoes, what would you say to her, how would you treat her, and what kind of grace would you give her for her circumstances?
We’ll talk about the things we do and the lies we tell ourselves that keep us from being our own friend. But first, we need to understand why being our own friend is so important.
Let’s do a thought exercise. Think of how you treat your children or if you don’t have children, a child in your family. If they make a mistake, I bet you show them a whole lot more grace than you show yourself. You assume they didn’t mean to mess up. You don’t condemn them over and over. In fact, you might even hug them after they apologize. It’s the loving thing to do. They should see you model this grace consistently - to them, to others, and to yourself. That’s the best way they can learn about grace and kindness. Do you want your children to see you beating up on yourself? They should see a confident mom. If this mom makes a mistake, she doesn’t beat herself up, she recognizes what happened and then she fixes it. This is what grace and love for yourself should look like.
Secondly, there is a mandate from scripture. The golden rule is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” So, how could you love your neighbor, or other people, if you aren’t loving yourself? Loving yourself means being honest, kind, forgiving and showing yourself grace.
Grace is going to be key as we address our faults. We all have a lot we could change. No one is perfect. I’ll be going through various hard topics in the next few weeks like habit formation, stress management, and relationships. It’s going to get real. But if you are coming at each area of growth from a place of condemnation or self-loathing, it won’t work. You need to give yourself grace for your faults and flaws as you work through changing them.
Now this doesn’t mean that you’re blind to your own faults either. Love also means that you’re honest, and sometimes you’re honest about hard things, in the same way you’d lovingly encourage a friend to address their blind spots. We are going to, together, acknowledge that we have things to work on with objectivity and grace, and without condemnation or self-hate.
Here are a few things you can do this week to start to train your brain to think differently about yourself and your circumstances. Things like post-it notes on the mirror and positivity mantras have never really resonated with me. I feel like they encourage people to just fake being happy or positive and I can’t abide by that. So I’ll try to come up with a few realistic scenarios you can practice. We’re going to tackle how you talk to yourself, reset your personal expectations, and how you give yourself more time. At least one of these will likely apply to you.
First is how you talk to yourself. Be kind to yourself. The example I’m going to use here is around weight and body image because it probably applies to most of us. Most women are not completely happy with what they weigh or how they look in the mirror. I want you to quickly think about what your initial gut reaction was right after the last time you weighed yourself or tried on a swimsuit. Was your gut reaction happiness or displeasure? Or, if you’re ok with your weight, can you recall a time you haven’t been? What did you say to yourself? I can think of some pretty nasty things I’ve said to myself like, “I’m disgusting” or sad feelings I’ve had. Flip the situation around and consider what you’d say to a friend who wanted to lose weight. I would probably say “I think you look great. But if you want to lose weight, I’ll help you. Let’s make a plan.” Maybe your conversation would go differently. Maybe you’re the kind of person who always tells their friends they never need to lose weight no matter what. Regardless, I’m sure we’d all be loving, objective, and accepting toward our friends. We’d never say to them what we say to ourselves. Or, maybe you are exercising right now but you feel crummy doing it. You wished you ran faster, were stronger, or were more flexible. You’d tell your friend that she’s doing great as long as she’s doing the best she can.
The challenge for you this week is to be kind to yourself in this area. I have a no-nonsense unemotional approach to accepting circumstances we don’t like and making an objective plan to fix them. This is something I’ve internalized after years of working in a high-pressure job, and, whether I like it or not, it’s helped me a lot in my personal life. I’ll share it hear and the goal is to train yourself to think constructively. This week, you are allowed two possible reactions to your body, your weight, your fitness, your diet, etc. Pick an area that’s a trigger area for you. For me, it’s my post-baby tummy. I don’t like it and I try to hide it under all of my clothes. The next time you’re confronted with your trigger area - if you weigh yourself, or try on clothes, or try to exercise - you’re allowed one of two reactions. You can either decide that you’re ok with it as is and pat yourself on the back for being exactly where you intend to be. Or, if you’re like most of us and wish things were different, you can choose to accept it and make a plan to change it. Accept it and make a plan to change it. If you choose that, you have to give yourself some objective, unemotional self-talk. For example, you can take a deep breath and say, “I know I’m not where I want to be but I think I can change a few things and see if it helps.” See how in that sentence you have accepted your situation, but also decided that you will try to change it? What works for me is to make my mind up before I even step on the scale. I tell myself, “No matter what it says, I know I feel healthy and good right now so my weight doesn’t matter.” Or, I tell myself, “If my weight is too high, I’m going to cut out sugar and go on a walk every day.” Or something similar. Basically, I decide in advance how I will respond. By priming my brain, I preemptively shut down unhelpful, unconstructive thoughts. Obviously, these thoughts might still creep in. It’s hard to keep them out entirely. If you have any lurking unconstructive thoughts after going through this exercise, give yourself a do over. Literally step back on the scale or try the swimsuit back on and tell yourself you’re going to react differently. When we repeat things like this, we create habits, which are like grooves and pathways in our brain. The more we go through the same pathway, the more we cement the behavior and make it easier for our brain to complete the action automatically.
If the weight and body image area just doesn’t bother you, first of all, congratulations. And there are other areas you can use this mental trick. In any situation where an unfavorable outcome is likely to make you doubt yourself, tell yourself in advance that you’ll either accept the results as-is and feel fine or that, in the event of a negative outcome, you will have a predefined objective and constructive response. For example, if you’re trying out a new recipe for a family event or working on a big project for work. Don’t put on blinders to things that should have been done differently or things that need to change. But do give yourself grace and have a kind response. Accept that it didn’t go as planned and be objective about what needs to change.
At least once over the next week, you’ll have an opportunity to do this exercise. And I bet you’ll notice even more negative self-talk now that you’re thinking about it.
The next challenge is to have realistic expectations. By all means, strive for excellence in everything you do. But understand that there is an order of priorities in where you need to be excellent. Your character, integrity, and relationships are far more important than anything else. If you disagree with that, then we probably won’t get along. But I do hope you’ll keep listening! If striving for excellence in a certain area of your life is causing you to sacrifice being an excellent person inside, to yourself, and to everyone you love, then you need to take a look at your priorities and have realistic expectations for yourself in the areas that just don’t matter as much.
You can do this by having the same expectations you would have for your best friend. When you go to her house, are you judging her home’s cleanliness, noticing toys that aren’t picked up, or whether all of her towels match? Nope, you wouldn’t. You would want her home to be warm and welcoming, which is possible even if it’s not perfectly picked up. Cut yourself some slack when it comes to your home. This isn’t permission to be disgusting - you wouldn’t want your friend’s home to be unlivable - but this is permission to give yourself a break if your home can’t be perfect all the time. I will never have a perfect home because I just don’t care enough. It’s not a main priority for me. I keep my main living areas fairly clean but, there is usually some visible mess or clutter. I don’t worry about it though. I always tell myself that the kind of people who care that my home isn’t perfect aren’t my kind of people. This takes a burden off my back and allows me to enjoy being a host. I love having people in my home. People who judge your home for not being perfect aren’t your friends anyway. So don’t be too hard on yourself.
Other examples where we are too hard on ourselves and wouldn’t be hard on a friend. Would you judge your friend for letting her kid watch youtube for 10 minutes so she could focus on getting a task done uninterrupted? Would you judge your friend for an occasional unhealthy meal if it meant that she didn’t have to cook or worry about dinner for one night? If you wouldn’t judge a friend, or wouldn’t care that they meet some expectation of perfection, then don’t judge yourself.
Once again, I have a specific challenge for you. The goal of this challenge is to relieve pressure on yourself so that you can be a more present and relaxed person. Your challenge is to reset your expectations starting with this season of life - the holiday season. Usually this is a crazy busy season, especially for moms. But it doesn’t have to be. Think about what stresses you out the most about the holidays. Is it gift giving? Decorating? Cooking? Hosting? Find the thing that makes holidays less enjoyable for you and makes you kind of a grinch to everyone around you. Then alter your expectations for yourself. If decorating the tree is a really hard thing for you to deal with, allow yourself to not have a grand tree this year. Seriously. If you have kids or a husband who really wants a tree, tell them they can set it up or give them a small pre-lit tree from Home Depot. Or choose a different fun thing for the family - maybe it’s decorating your own stockings or putting lights on a bush outside. I know gifting can be an area where people put a lot of pressure on themselves. A few years I bought individual gifts for everyone I love. It was a lot of money and pressure. Last year I had just bought a new house and was still remodeling our old house so we weren’t exactly flush with cash. Instead of buying gifts, I made bags of homemade spiced pecans for everyone. And you know what? All of my friends who got pecans are still my friends. No one batted an eyelash. Pecans aren’t cheap and I think I made them taste pretty good! I have a personal alteration of an Alton Brown recipe that I use. If anyone is interested in getting it - just let me know! If you aren’t into homemade gifts then just give everyone an Amazon gift card. Who doesn’t want the gift of buying their own gift? No one who cares about you will complain. My challenge is to buy more store bought food. I love cooking and baking and will usually make everything from scratch - from cranberry sauce to salad dressing to bread and whipped cream. But now that I have a baby, I just don’t have as much time. So I’m giving myself permission to be the person who shows up with a premade dessert from Costco. They’re delicious. No one will care.
These are just ideas but I think you get the direction I’m going in. Don’t feel pressure to be perfect or do things a certain way this year just because you think people expect it or will think less of you. The people who matter in your life won’t think less of you and, when you relieve pressure on yourself, you are more able to show up as a relaxed, present human being. People remember and love you for who you are first.
The third actionable thing you can do this week is for yourself. Do something solely for yourself this week. This can be hard, especially for moms. Self care is so important though. You can’t pour into others unless you’re full and have something to give. I recently embarked on writing down everything I did for an entire week and we’ll discuss this in an episode on time management fairly soon. But what I learned was surprising. I thought I would see that I wasted a bunch of time or wasn’t as productive as I needed to be. Don’t get me wrong. I do waste some time and watch too much YouTube but what I learned was that I do almost nothing that falls into a “self care” bucket beyond basic hygiene like showering and brushing my teeth. I can’t even remember to take my vitamins.
I have a close friend who is pregnant with her third - she’ll have three babies under three and a half. She doesn’t really have free time to pour into herself. She and I met up for brunch a few months ago and talked about this topic. We had had our husbands watch our kids while we went out and it was so refreshing to have kid-free time. We realized we hadn’t really done anything like this, for ourselves, in a very long time. I even mentioned that I had a hard time with feeling bitter when my husband would casually take off for a hike - even though I said it was fine for him to do so. Why did I feel bitter? Couldn’t I just as easily tell him I’m going somewhere for awhile? It’s easy to blame being too busy but in reality, we couldn’t think of a real reason why we hadn’t. We had just never tried to make it happen. We had never even thought of prioritizing ourselves. But if we asked, of course our husbands would watch our kids - or a mother in law or other close friend would - so we could go out and have brunch for a couple of hours. Of course, they would. We decided at that moment to make our mom’s date a monthly thing. In addition to a monthly date together, we encouraged each other to ask our husbands to alleviate our burden at least once a week so we could do something for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be going out. It is just a brief, uninterrupted period of time for us to do something for ourselves. It could be going on a walk, reading, taking a nap, or an extra long bath.
That moment of recognizing that I could do things for myself if I just made them happen and asked for help was really empowering. I am now paying it forward and encouraging you to intentionally pick a time this week that you will do something solely for yourself. Tell your husband or whoever supports you most that you are doing it and tell them you need to be uninterrupted. I recommend at least doing it in a way that you can’t hear kids or babies crying because that tends to cause the blood pressure to shoot up. So if you can get out or go to a part of the house where you can’t hear them, try to. And if you don’t have kids, all the more reason to take a break and invest in yourself!
Self care doesn’t have to be a big decision or event that you plan for. Life is made of mundane moments and we make small decisions to neglect ourselves daily. We feed ourselves last, wear clothes with spit up on them, follow people on social media who make us feel badly about ourselves, and clean when we really need a nap or a few minutes to relax.
In summary, you have three things you can practice this week or in this holiday season that will help you be your own best friend. Practice them repeatedly so they’ll slowly morph into automatic behaviors. One, practice kind and constructive self talk. Accept your circumstances and either make a plan to fix them or decide that you are fine with them. But do not talk down to yourself. Two, reset your expectations for yourself this holiday season so that you can be more present and relaxed. In 2020, more than any other year in recent history, don’t we all need a little break from pressure? Three, do something this week that is solely for yourself. Plan it in advance, clear your calendar, get help from a husband or relative if needed, and give yourself a break. Remember that loving your neighbor as yourself starts with loving yourself.
I hope you’ll tune in for the next episode! In the next few weeks we’ll be talking about vulnerability, habit formation, and how lessons I’ve learned from the corporate life translate into the home life.
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