I'm learning a lot about gentleness lately. Being truly gentle takes the strength of a warrior! It all starts with learning how to be gentle with myself. Many years ago, a friend commented on how hard I was on myself. “Yes, that’s how I stay focused and keep myself motivated,” I responded with great pride. Today, I see the fallacy of that logic. Do you know that place where being tough on yourself feels like a good way to stay disciplined?
Discipline can be a great quality when it relates to focus, commitment and rigorous consistency. However, when it becomes chastisement and self-deprecating, discipline loses its long-term effectiveness for me. Here’s what happens: I set a goal or an intention like reading a certain number of books, practicing my native flute or getting a certain amount of exercise every week. Then, life happens and I don’t meet the goal.
That’s when I have a choice. I can double down and get tough with myself, making myself wrong for missing the performance goal, thinking that will motivate me to do better the next time. That rarely works in the long run. In fact, if often becomes a downward spiral of self-judgment layered on missed goals which leads to more self-judgment and nothing good comes from the harsh discipline.
Another choice is to find a way to be gentle with myself, to find compassion for my humanness, acknowledge my right intention and commit to the goal with kindness. When I do this, I have a mindset that allows me to get curious about what got in the way and what stories I tell myself about where I’m lacking. Then I can get underneath what’s going on. Often I find an outgrown belief that is ripe for upgrading. In the long run, my progress is more authentic and lasting because it stems from a positive belief about myself rather than a negative one.
I’m learning that when I start with gentleness, I’m much more understanding and I accomplish more. That doesn’t mean I’m too lenient or let myself off the “hook” for misplaced intentions! Many, many shades of gentleness applied with consistency – and a whole new track is established. In fact, as a result, I’ve read nearly 20 books this year!
Where can you be more gentle with yourself?