I receive a lot of very tender, precious emails from women that all say some version of the same thing – Help! Now that I’m being kinder to myself I’m feeling really *really* unmotivated to:
- go to the gym
- to lose the extra weight
- to set any boundary on food
Most women share that they feel frightened by their lack of motivation. They panic and wonder – should I just go back to forcing myself to just “do it?” Does this kindness thing even work?!?! They worry that the only thing that was keeping them motivated was their harsh inner talk and perfectionism.
First, I want to acknowledge this very vulnerable space. When you seem to be going “backwards” – like not caring, gaining weight, anything goes – it’s easy to feel frightened. It’s easy to want to give up and to go back to familiar patterns, like perfectionism.
I want to be honest with you – if you take an inside out approach to healing – one focused on relationship and healing the roots of the problem, and not just going for the quick fix (healing the symptoms) – it may take longer. It may look messier. It may appear that you’re going backwards. (You’re not and it’s absolutely worth it – while that can be a whole post in itself, I’ll just say that healing the symptoms is what creates real, lasting change. I’ll also say that any change done at the expense of our inner worth and dignity – like the whip – creates suffering.)
When you shift out of old habits and patterns, there’s a bit of lag time where it feels very, very messy – think lots of awkward growth! During this time, you’re not only unlearning old habits but you’re also learning new ones. You feel all over the place. Unmoored. You swing from one extreme to the other – from rigid rules and a whip to “who cares” and “anything goes.”
Dear one, if this scenario describes you, let me reassure you that this is very very normal. In fact, in my experience, everyone goes through it. I would also posit that it’s how we learn. (In my experience, we learn by doing and practicing.)
Your heart and mind is seeking a new level of homeostasis. If we spent a long time at one end of the spectrum – with a lot of self punishment, rigidity and high expectations – then we may veer to the other extreme – no expectations and anything goes – in our attempt to create balance. (True kindness is not anything goes; is not giving up.)
We are living, breathing, dynamic beings. We live our way into balance, and the back and forth is necessary. It’s not proof that there’s anything wrong. It’s proof that you’re learning. The only way you can learn balance is to experiment and to live it. You learn – oh, if I’m too rigid and goal focused and too hard on myself, I feel terrible, no matter how thin I am or what I’m eating. And if I veer too far to the other extreme and let myself do whatever I want I feel all over the place, unmoored, and sick from overindulgence.
Eventually, you’ll find your way to the center – your center – a balance that feels good to you. You find your way by being curious, listening to yourself, laughing at yourself (not taking it too seriously) and by being compassionate with yourself. These tools create the safety you need to grow. Like a child who relies on a parent to be there for them if they fall when they’re learning to walk, your kindness, love and compassion creates the safety you need to try, mess up and try again.
As you walk this path of healing from the inside out, it may help to reflect on the different aspects – and qualities – of love. When we usually think of love, we think about the soft and sweet versions, and not its power or strength. This reminds me of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. -
Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.
Love can be fierce, like a mother’s protective love, it can be firm, like a sword, it can be authoritative and strong, setting boundaries. It can be tender and soft and sweet. It can be passionate and fiery and intense. Love has many flavors.
You want to include all these aspects of love in your life – a mix that is large enough for every flavor. In the same way that a loving parent can express love in 40 different ways with a beloved child – saying no, offering a hug, wrestling or playing rough, drying tears, fixing a meal, reading a story, and even forcefully grabbing a shoulder when they get to close to the street – you will express your love for yourself in a multitude of forms, shapes and sizes.
Some of these may not look like “love” because there’s structure, discipline, or firmness involved. And yet those too are love.
As you let this idea sink in, I’d like to offer a few gentle suggestions:
- Trust the process. Rilke says not to look for answers but to live our way into them. I’ve found this to be true in my experience, too. Trust yourself to find the balance that works for you. It’s a process and a practice, something to live, not something to arrive at.
- Tap into your values. Recognize that something will arise to take the place of fear. When we’re using a whip, self judgment or criticism to motivate ourselves, we’re using fear as our motivation for change. When we soften these approaches and rely instead on kindness as our motivation, we’re tapping into love. This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever feel afraid or anxious if you practice love. On the contrary, in my experience, anything worth doing brings some nervousness or fear. It does mean that your primary reason for doing something good for yourself – whether it’s eating regular meals or exercising – will arise from somewhere deeper, from those aspects of love that are most important to you. This is the kind of motivation that produces results, because it is bone, soul deep.
- Structure is your friend. When we move away from punishment, we start to think that all goals, all structure, and all discipline is “bad.” We need to balance structure and discipline (what I call loving boundaries) with kindness and self compassion.
- Add to. You “add to” to soften – it’s not about eliminating something all together. If you’ve historically been too harsh on yourself, you add in compassion to soften it. You still might be more of a type A person, but your drive will be tempered by your compassion and much more balanced – less prone to cause you suffering.
I invite you to play with this idea this week. Here are 3 ideas:
1. This week, jot down the different ways you love yourself in a journal- you may love yourself with firm boundaries when you want to stay up late and watch your favorite TV show, but your wise self says, “No, it’s time for bed. I need sleep.” You may love yourself with compassion when you make a mistake. You may love yourself by doing something really nice for yourself. Just observe the different ways of showing love.
2. Here’s where it gets really juicy – which forms of love are more comfortable for you?
Which are less comfortable? Which do you resist or even dislike? In my experience, when we’re aversive or uncomfortable with certain forms of love, it’s often because it’s connected to a past wound. So we protect ourselves by relegating that behavior/way of being into the trash heap, something we’ll never do to ourselves. We throw the baby out with the bath water, and veer to the other end of the spectrum….
For example, if you grew up in a very strict house with an excess of discipline and control, you may feel aversive towards any structure – to you it’s like going to the dark side, and has nothing to do with love. So for you, healing may mean integrating some loving structure into your life – healing this belief that says, “All structure causes harm.” (By the way, I see this example over and over in women who deal with binge or overeating…..) We heal these old wounds and tapes so that we can move forward and integrate positive structure into our lives – structure that serves rather than hurts us – without all the attached baggage of, “But it’s so wrong!” It’s how we practice unconditional love – loving all parts of life, all parts of ourselves, all our needs, and all our polarity (our opposing needs or parts.)
3. Start a ritual – a way of expressing love.
One way to turn this into concrete action is to set up rituals. Create a ritual around doing something kind for your body. I do a ritual at the end of yoga class where I bow to myself, kiss my palms and wish myself peace. It’s a gentle reminder to practice kindness towards my physical self – and a reminder that the purpose of my exercise is to care for (and enjoy!) my body, not punish it with a regimen that’s too hard or shaming myself because I lost my balance in tree pose. It brings me back to a place of rest – a warmth in my heart and belly, and a deep relaxation in my heart – every time.
As I close this article, I’m super curious about your experience – which forms of love do or don’t feel like love to you?
Needing some hands-on help?
If you’d like to read more about this topic, try these articles:
- How to kindly change painful habits
- Does intuitive eating lead to sugar addiction?
- What to do when you’re resistant to helping yourself
- The #1 need to create health
- Why you don’t have to punish yourself after making a mistake
If this is an area of challenge for you, I recommend my overeating program, Heal Overeating: Untangled. This 12 session audio program offers tools to balance structure with softness. You’ll learn how to create loving “food rules,” how to set loving limits, and how to soften self criticism, perfectionism, and all or nothing thinking.