Saturday, January 2, 2010

Be polite—to yourself

We would never tell our best friend that she has walrus thighs, that the last thing she said was so incredibly stupid that people just can't wait to get away from her, or that she's hopelessly clumsy and uncoordinated when she drops something. Yet we subject ourselves to a never-ending barrage of criticism in our internal dialogue with ourselves. Would you try to motivate a child by telling her she's stupid? Would having her start every sentence with I'm sorry, or maybe, or this is probably wrong build her self-esteem? If your child's teacher tried that, you'd be planning a lawsuit against the school district.

So here's the deal. All those people who told you to "be nice" when you were growing up forgot two important words: to yourself. Maybe you're lucky enough to be surrounded by a cheerleading squad of friends who remind you how wonderful (or at least okay) you are at regular intervals. If that's you, then go gloat while the rest of us figure out how to cheerlead for ourselves. How crazy is it that we are mean spirited, sniping, critical, and belittling to the only person that can fulfill our dreams? Did Cinderella bitch out her fairy godmother for being too fat? Her momma didn't raise any fool, and neither did yours. She just neglected to tell you that your fairy godmother resides in your very own head. Think back to the last time you accomplished something you were proud of. Would it have happened if you hadn't set your mind to it? Of course not.

Support is great but your accomplishments are the product of your strengths, and happened on days when you felt good about yourself and treated yourself like your own best friend. So, okay, how do you start being nicer to yourself? This is a skill that can be learned like anything else. Start by getting your body to

feel as good as it can in the morning. There's nothing like waking up in the morning feeling like you got hit by a truck during the night to set you off on a harangue against yourself. If you wake up in low blood sugar, you can almost guarantee yourself a bad day. By the time you eat some breakfast, you've already found ten things to be mad at yourself about. If you choose to eat sweets, and this includes foods that are mainly flour-based, make sure that you don't eat them after 7pm (six would be better) and that you eat protein at the same meal. If you indulge later in the evening, (which I strongly suggest you don't do if you have plans for the next day that require you to be at your best), make sure to eat some almonds or other unsalted nuts before you go to bed. Nuts aren't on your diet? Be honest...neither was that dessert, more than likely. While you're learning to be nice to yourself, it's more important to insure that you wake up with energy and a positive attitude than it is to save a few calories. Any good nutritional guide can explain why eating high carbohydrate foods before sleeping plays havoc with your blood glucose levels. Most of us have figured out that eating candy or bread at 3pm when we start to lose steam after a busy day means we'll be even more ravenous at dinner. The temporary lift we get from sugar last only a short time, and our blood sugar drops like a stone a few hours later. Low blood sugar makes you feel foggy and out of focus, and cranky if anyone gets between you and more food. This sets you out first thing with a negative attitude and low energy. Miracles don't happen to cranky people.

This is the body level of learning to be nice to yourself. As you're passing up on the sweets, or getting some protein or nuts in your system before you go to sleep, tell yourself you're doing it as a favor to the self you're going to be in the morning. Tomorrow, the next level of learning.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Resolutions and habits: how to make them or break them. Part 1

Trying to break a habit or make a change in your life is not a matter of willpower. Stop beating yourself up for giving in to temptation while on a diet, for saying yes when every fiber of your being is silently screaming "no." Would you ridicule a six month old for not knowing how to walk? Do you expect to be able to speak French just because you've decided to take a trip to France? Why do we then expect to be able to make major life changes just by deciding to make them?

The decision is the all-important first step, but it's not what makes change actually happen. Adults forget that we are still learners, and are our own harshest critics when faced with a skill we need to acquire. How many fledgling painters have given up when their first attempts aren't worthy of framing? It's uncomfortable to be a beginner, a novice, a newbie. We'd rather be in control, accomplished, and acclaimed, thank you very much. We should be able to "figure" this stuff out, right? All that life experience must be worth something..
If we honestly want to make a meaningful change in our lives, we have to be willing to swallow our pride, take baby steps, and fall on our asses with aplomb.

How do I know this? Because I am the queen of dilettantes. Jill of all trades, master of darn few. I hate feeling stupid, and learning new skills and habits makes me feel dumber than dirt. I made up my mind to do something...that should be enough, right? I can figure this out intellectually. If I understand it, how hard can it be to actually DO it? Astoundingly hard, actually. Habits and skills are not like multiplication tables--memorization is not necessarily mastery. Think about it. If logic were enough, the Just Say No campaign would have put drug dealers out of business. The first week the Surgeon General's warning appeared on cigarettes, Phillip Morris would have gone bankrupt. And yet we have such high expectations of ourselves, and punish ourselves with negative self-talk and poor self-esteem when we fail to meet our own expectations. If we're not a protégé, we don't want to play. I've always wished I played piano. There was an old upright player piano in my grandmother's house and at about age 4, I would pound away on it for hours, stretching to reach the foot pedals, trying to make my young hands stretch to hit the notes I wanted to hear. I never had lessons, and when they tested us for musical ability in grammar school, the only thing I showed aptitude for was the drums, and the band already had a drummer, so that was the beginning and end of my musical career.

About four years ago, I saw a portable electronic piano for a reasonable price and asked for it for Christmas. I signed up for lessons with a local woman and kept them up for a few weeks, but I couldn't handle the fact that I was making mistakes on pieces written for children. Somehow I thought that wanting to play should make me able to play. The piano was packed away in the attic by February.

Desire and intention are not enough. To learn something new, we have to know enough to:
  • make a sincere commitment, 
  • take some trial runs, 
  • practice the small steps toward the goal, incorporating as many of the senses as possible  (more on this as we go on) so the learning becomes deeply imprinted, and --
  • celebrate your successes, no matter how small. 

You'll need to learn how to become your own coach and cheerleader if you don't have others who'll support you toward your goal. And even if you do, these are good skills to have--no one else’s hidden agendas or jealousies to contend with.

Next: Be NICE!!!