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Looking Back with Self-Compassion

Looking Back with Self-Compassion

I am currently in a history of psychology class (sounds riveting doesn’t it?) where we have been learning about how we tend to look back on the past with a presentist point of view. Meaning, we use our present-day lens with our present-day values and ideals to judge what people did in the past. With that lens, no one measures up! We think of them all as ignorant, racist and sexist, and we think of ourselves as the enlightened generation that has got everything figured out. 

These discussions have led me to think about the ways in which I am presentist to my own history and life. With side parts and skinny jeans supposedly going out of style and middle parts and boyfriend jeans coming back in, I have been reflecting on the weird and wonderful fashion trends I looked back on with a presentist point of view. Remember the jeans and dress combo, when the height of fashion was to wear a skirt or a dress over your jeans in the early 2000s? Maybe that was just me…

Or the zig-zag part in your chunky highlighted hair that needed to be dead straight?

Or the crop top with the low-rise jeans?

I’m hoping I’m not the only one here with photographic evidence from my school years that suggests I followed some of these trends. Whenever the old pictures come out, I find a small bead of sweat making its way across my forehead because the photos are so embarrassing! These pictures could certainly be used against me one day (and here’s my presentist point of view being shown!).

When we think back on the past, whether it’s fashion mistakes, or something actually meaningful, I think it’s healthier for our self-worth to do so with a little less presentism and a little more self-compassion. If we’re talking about embarrassing fashion trends, instead of cringing so much that you sweat and rip up every picture of yourself in high school, how does it feel different in your body to respond with “that was the trend at the time, and nearly everyone was doing it – it was actually very fashionable to wear my dress over my jeans” instead of “I am so dumb, that trend is so embarrassing, why did I do that?”. Think about how that difference feels.

I’ve used fashion as an example because it’s always changing and trying to keep up is like trying to sprint through a marathon – exhausting and not the best approach! For more meaningful things from our past than fashion, it can help us move forward more easily to look back with self-compassion instead of the lens of what we know now, or our presentist lens. 

Some of these more meaningful examples from the past could be a bad relationship you got into, or a way in which you hurt someone, or maybe it could just be behavior through high school or how you treated your parents. I have found myself thinking back on the past with presentist thoughts like “why did I do that? My priorities were all wrong. I should have acted [X Y Z] way, I would do it differently now”. Well, of course we would do it differently now, we are different people now than we were in the past. 

Our learning and experience have taught us new lessons, and our brains are more developed; of course we would act differently now. I like to think of it in terms of a tool kit – for each experience we go through, we have a new tool in our tool kit. When you look back with self-compassion instead of presentism, you realize you only had less tools in your tool kit then. You used the best tool you had access to at that time.

The situations I have described already pertain to how we tried to use the right tool but we didn’t have enough tools to pick the right one. Looking back with self-compassion even means being kind to yourself if you purposefully used the wrong tool or didn’t try your best to respond well in a certain situation. 

In those situations, I think it feels a lot nicer to say “I made a mistake, which makes me human, and makes me alive, and helps me to connect with everyone else who has made mistakes” which is all of us! You are not unique for making mistakes, and it can unite us if we can accept that we, like everyone, will make mistakes.

Looking back with self-compassion means no longer cringing at past behavior but sending some love to your past self who was likely trying his or her best. You would hope that other people in your life could look back with compassion for you and for themselves too, but if not, that’s OK – maybe that tool isn’t in their tool kit yet. 

Stop using that lens of presentism and recognize how your knowledge and skills were less back then. And, even if it were purposeful behavior, that just makes you more human and still expands your tool kit in a meaningful way. I challenge you to look at old pictures of yourself from high school (always daunting!) and try some of these powerful ways of speaking to yourself. You might find that being a little more kind to your past self dissipates some of the pain old memories can bring.  

It’s OK to Fall Over

It’s OK to Fall Over

Over the Christmas break, I was gifted an evening of night skiing with my brother and my husband. I was so stoked to dust off my old ski gear and strap on my salopettes. It had been years since I had been skiing – an activity that my family and I used to love. Growing up, we would spend one week each winter in the Alps (a 12-hour drive from where I grew up in the U.K.) where we would ski to our heart’s content each day. It had been a huge family bonding activity, one that we all look back on with fondness. 

Fast forward 11 years, and I was missing the feel of the snow beneath my skis and the crisp mountain air in my face. On the evening that we were supposed to go skiing, I pulled my old gear out of its dusty box, got dressed (well…my snow pants from when I was 15 were markedly tight, because I don’t have the body of a 15-year-old anymore, thank goodness my body has grown with me!), and we headed for the slopes. 

As we approached the towering mountainside, I noticed my thoughts turning towards fearful nerves and “what ifs”. Like, what if I couldn’t remember how to ski anymore? What if my pants that were so tight they had to be undone fell down while I was skiing (please no!)? What if I fell over? What if I hurt myself? 

I acknowledged my nerves to my brother and husband, who were regulars on the mountain, and apprehensively clipped myself into my skis and we set off. As we glided up the mountain on the chair lift, taking in the glorious nature around us, I found myself setting the goal to “just get through the whole night without falling over” this evening. 

Having been skiing quite a lot growing up, I had been very confident on my skis and barely fell. But here I was, 11 years later, hoping that skiing was like riding a bike or a horse, and that muscle memory meant you could just pick back up where you left off. I told myself if I can make it through the evening without falling over, it would be a success. That was my goal. And I worked toward that goal, I went slower than I could have, I took safer routes than I could have, I turned slower and certainly did not attempt any jumps. I even sat out on some runs. When the evening was coming to an end, I quickly agreed that it was time to go because so far I had made my goal of not falling over – what if I did one more run and that was where it all went downhill (no pun intended)?

I loved my evening of skiing; it was a fabulous gift and so good for the soul! But, as I look back on the evening, I can’t help but regret my goal of not falling over. With that vision in mind, it stopped me from fully living in the moment and having the most fun I could have had. I was so concerned that I would look like I’d lost my skill level, that I actually looked like I’d lost my skill level by going so slow and avoiding anything remotely adventurous! 

I had self-sabotaged! I had not lived in the present moment, I had been more conscious of what I looked like, and I had set an AWFUL goal. What is wrong with falling over when you’re trying something you haven’t done for 11 years? Would I care if I went skiing regularly and then went with someone who hadn’t skied in 11 years and they fell over? No! So why did I put that on myself?

My daughter is currently in the phase of life where everything is brand new to her. Walking, climbing, jumping, sliding…the list goes on. She falls over about 200x a day. And the most miraculous part of that? She jumps back up without any look of embarrassment and tries again. She could not care less about how she looks and would probably never set the goal to not fall over, because that would mean she’s not having fun doing what she wants to do. 

I learned a valuable lesson during that skiing trip, that falling down is not the enemy – living in fear of falling down is the enemy. Falling down doesn’t stop you progressing – but living in fear of falling down stops you progressing. It reminds me of the beloved phrase from the classic 2004 film A Cinderella Story featuring Hilary Duff, which says “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”. Call me cheesy, but I think that phrase epitomizes the lesson I learned that night. I was so scared of striking out that I barely played the game.

In eating recovery, there will probably be times you strike out or fall over, and that’s OK. It’s all part of “playing the game”. In fact, that’s expected. In fact, that’s part of recovery.Don’t put your eating recovery on hold because you’re afraid you won’t always do it perfectly all the time. Don’t be too worried about what your dietitian or therapist or doctor will think if you have a bad day in your recovery – they will likely understand better than anyone. 

Don’t listen to that little voice that says it’s easier on my self-esteem to not try than to try and fall over. It might be causing you to move slower or take safer routes, like me on that mountain. Think of yourself in the way that you think of a child you love who is learning to walk. They fall over and you probably don’t berate them for it. You probably lovingly hold them and tell them it’s OK and to try again. 

Think of the power you would have in your recovery if you could lovingly hold yourself when you fall over and tell yourself it’s OK and to try again. That’s a lesson I learned from my experience of skiing again: it’s OK to fall over – don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.

 

Lessons Learned from a Year of COVID19

Lessons Learned from a Year of COVID19

As I write this, it is exactly one year ago that my phone exploded with emails detailing how every organization I was involved with would be closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was terrifying, and if I’m being totally honest, a little bit thrilling to see life as we knew it shift and evolve completely. I sensed that we were a part of history, and that this would be a day I would remember for the rest of my life. As time has moved slowly forward, and we haven’t reached normality yet, I have found myself musing over the lessons we’ve learned during this unique time.

What have we learned?

We are resilient. 

Persistence works. We keep on living even in the face of tough things. We can do hard things. We can beat our personal Goliaths. For many, the pandemic has been a time where mental health struggles have increased. Rates of eating disorders have increased, rates of domestic violence have increased. People have lost their jobs and lost their loved ones – the pandemic has been horrifying for so many people across the world. And if you’re reading this, you’ve made it through that. You can do hard things!

We work well together; together is better than alone. 

There has been a special sense of togetherness that I’ve felt while we’ve been separated from one another. My parents (who still live in England) have been totally locked down since March of last year, with strict rules regulating when they can leave their house, for what purpose, and how often. They are not allowed to see other people at all. Yet, they reported that there is a marvelous sense of togetherness that they each feel while segregated in their own homes, almost like the feeling that prevailed during the war years of the 1940s. They expressed a sentiment that abounds in the UK is that we humans are stronger than any of these elements that wage against us, and that we will simply be victorious. While we may be physically separated from our loved ones, we can share in that glorious feeling that we are fighting the same battle and will eventually succeed.

We are creative and adaptive. 

Look how we have adapted to this situation! We are used to sanitizing everything, wearing masks, and using zoom like it’s all we’ve ever known. We’ve been creative and learned that it’s OK to ask for help to meet our typical demands in an unusual environment. For some that might look like extensions for deadlines, for others that could be changing their job, and for others that could be looking for the silver lining like being able to wear pajama bottoms most of the time.

We need to take care of ourselves, in all ways. 

Self-care has almost never been more important than right now. We need to know our own limits and set boundaries that help us to stay sane through these times!

Our thoughts play a huge role in the way we feel and the way we act.

What I tell myself when bad things happen is important. When the clinic closed, think how differently I would have felt if I had told myself “coronavirus is going to infect me and I will likely die” to “what an exciting opportunity this is to live life differently for a short period of my entire life”, and in turn, how different my actions would be.

We are more similar than we are different. 

We each are trying to get through this time and keep our loved ones close – that unites us more than our political or religious beliefs may separate us.

How are we different now?

Preparation is important…

otherwise we run out of toilet paper!

Some things are more important than others.

For example, relationships matter…a lot. We have seen how being isolated from one another makes us feel.

Fluff doesn’t matter much; we know more about what is important. 

We got down to the basics, for some people that included family, for other people that included having time without work which meant figuring out what are necessities and what is considered fluff.

We are harder in some ways; softer in others. 

I would guess we are “harder” in that it would take more to knock us down now; we know we are larger than many trials, and we recognize our own strength in the face of them. Yet, I think we are softer in how we view others’ needs, the suffering of our fellow men/women, and in how we make time to care for our own needs.

What we can control and what we can’t control may be clearer. 

We know that we cannot control a pandemic, and we cannot control what our neighbor chooses to do. But, we have learned that we can control our behavior in response to events, and we can control how prepared we are.

Overall, I am so grateful for the lessons I’ve learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been one of the most difficult years of everyone’s lives, with circumstances that we will hopefully never have to repeat again. As we aren’t through this yet, keep your chin up, seek help when you need to, and move toward the things that keep you going. We will get through this!

Special thanks to Dean Barley, Ph.D. (the Director of the BYU Comprehensive Clinic) for sharing some of his thoughts on this subject.

 

All the Feels

All the Feels

Recently, I’ve had a lot of people disclose to me that they wish they could be less [insert mental flogging device here]. The end of that sentence often looks something like “perfectionistic” or “depressed” or “reactive” or “anxious” or “opinionated” or “attention seeking”. Sometimes it’s the opposite, and people wish they were more [insert mental flogging device here]. The end of this sentence often looks something like “slimmer” or “fitter” or “a better mother” or “kind” or “creative”. As you can tell…we are a complex bunch, aren’t we? We each seem to wish we were different in so many ways. (more…)

Harnessing Self-Compassion

Harnessing Self-Compassion

I once heard it said that you can motivate a donkey to carry you to town in one of two ways: you can whip the donkey, forcing him to move out of fear of pain, or you can hold carrots in front of him, lovingly encouraging him to move forward to receive his next reward. Both are legitimate ways to get the donkey to do what you need him to do. (more…)