Where am I losing energy? I ask myself this question a lot. I want to know what is draining me, what is pulling me down. I want to minimize those influences. Sometimes these things are, partially or completely, beyond my control—doctor’s appointments, conflicts with loved ones, stores with disturbing fumes. In these cases, I can take deep breaths. I can take it slowly. I can limit my exposure to necessary, but distressing situations. But, in the end, I really just have to shrug my shoulders and go through them (Squelch! Squerch! See last week’s post about this.)
I’ve been realizing recently though, that there is at least one way in which I am losing energy that is completely within my control. It’s the way that I talk to myself. I know, this is not news. Some 2500 years ago, the Buddha was warning folks that “what we think, we become”. But I’m speaking very specifically here about my attitude toward how I am approaching any given task. I have noticed that very often I am telling myself that I am not doing a good enough job. The song goes a little something like this: It’s taking me too long to shop. I am paying too much for this box of granola bars. Why can’t I write faster? Why can’t I always make the perfect egg? I’m not learning fast enough. I should be making better progress. I can’t believe I spent so much time playing games on my iPad today. I should have been nicer to that stranger. I should be getting more done. I should have gone to bed earlier . . .
You get the idea. If I let it, my dissatisfaction with myself becomes a constant drone behind all my other thoughts. It’s not fun. And it’s been kicking my ass. It’s been me, kicking my own ass, draining my energy, allowing my power to squirt out every which way. Not cool.
So what’s the antidote? Well, of course, there is the wonderful practice of mindfulness in which I catch myself having these destructive thoughts and counteract them by expressing self-compassion—maybe with a hand on my heart and an internal assurance of, “It’s okay, Sweetie.” If there are any casual observers of my behavior out there in my town, they can vouch for the fact that I have my hand on my heart, a lot. It works. But, what if I forget? What if my mindfulness is not working very well, and I get to the end of the day, and find that not only have I been disapproving of myself all day, but I didn’t even notice I was doing it? Well, that’s when I get out my gold stars. You think I’m joking. I’m not. I now have several exciting sheets of congratulatory stickers (like the ones used by kindergarten teachers) and, as I record the events of the day in my journal, I think of at least one thing I accomplished, write it down, and I plop one of those stickers down next to it. Sometimes it’s for doing something I was scared to do—like expressing myself honestly even though I feared retribution. But the bar is not always that high. Sometimes I give myself a gold star for vacuuming. Sometimes it’s for self-care, like say, napping. You’re laughing right now. I get it, but the truth is that if you’re like me, you do a whole bunch of things during any given day for which you give yourself no credit, whatsoever. Why? Because “You’re supposed to have done that. You don’t get a gold star for brushing your teeth, or feeding your family, or hugging your kids when you’re an adult. That’s ridiculous.” I agree, one hundred percent—but ONLY, if you are asking for that gold star from someone else. I can’t expect other people to get excited about my taking good care of myself. I can’t expect them to reward me. But when I acknowledge to myself the things that I am doing—even the stuff that I “should” be doing as a matter of course—I shift my self-attitude from a person who’s failing all the time, to someone who could maybe do some things better, but who is also doing a heck of a lot of things absolutely right. And that chick, definitely has more energy than Perpetually Failing Woman. Plus, she’s a lot more fun to be around.