incentive

Every January I try to ignore people’s declarations of resolutions. Not because I don’t want to be supportive, but because I know that soon after I will want to ignore the signs of said resolutions collapsing.

I’m not so cynical, however, that I can’t appreciate the need for self-motivation, particularly at this time of year. Mostly I hear variations of:
“When I lose _________ lbs, I’ll do _________ for myself”
“When I look like _________ , I’ll do _________ to reward myself”
“When I earn _________ dollars a year, I’ll _________ in celebration.”

The intentions are good, I know. But I try to ignore this sort of commentary because I find it too discouraging. I know it doesn’t work for me because I used it for a long time.

Years ago, I was overweight. Because I was overweight, I was always harsh with myself, with my own variations of those lines: “Once I weigh _________ , then I won’t have to be so harsh whenever I’m eating or thinking about food.”

SK © 2015

SK © 2015

I was harsh with myself anytime food came to mind. At mealtimes: You’re so ugly. At snacks: Why can’t you get yourself together? Anytime I was hungry: You’re such a mess. Even when I thought about what to put on my grocery list!

And thus I was mean to myself all day long. On a day when I felt particularly discouraged, I took a meditation break. I sat in my favorite sunny spot at home and gathered my icky, nasty thoughts. You’re so fat and ugly. Why can’t you control yourself? You’re just a disaster.

For a few minutes, observing these hostile thoughts was the meditation. I witnessed myself being my cruelest critic. But staring down those thoughts was exhausting. I was desperate for an alternative point of focus.

My mind wandered to contrary commentary—things my spiritual teachers had told me over the years. For example: you’re already divine. You’ve always been divine. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re always worthy of love and respect.

Sitting in that sunny spot, I considered switching camps. I wondered how it would feel to change from self-hater to self-supporter. I wondered if I was even capable of not being a self-hater. But as mentioned, I was desperate—desperate enough to try what felt like woo-woo cheesy hokey BS. Gritting my teeth, I took a deep breath.

<There’s nothing wrong with you.>
[eyeroll] Yeah, but I still want to be better.
<You’re already divine.>
[grinding my teeth] Well, that’s a little easier to accept. Fine. I believe it.
<You’re always worthy of love and respect.>
[big sigh] Umm, yes. OK, yes. I think so.

So much resistance. But I continued this meditation of sorts, repeating that dialogue. And even though I didn’t believe that it would benefit, I did feel a bit better when I stood up again.

Indeed. SK @ 2015

Indeed.
SK @ 2015

The real insight arrived soon after, when I realized the true meanings of that kind of incentive. What I thought I was saying:
“Once I weigh _________, then I won’t have to be so harsh whenever I’m eating or thinking about food.”
“When I look like _________, I’ll deserve to appreciate myself.”

Actually, I was saying:
“Once I weigh _________ , I’ll be kind to myself.”
“Because I don’t look like _________ , I don’t deserve to appreciate myself.”

I understand linking rewards to accomplishment. But that self-talk signified that I had to wait until I accomplished something to be worthy of something other than the hostile critiques.

I also noticed that my standard ways of thinking were EXHAUSTING. Sustaining meanness requires tremendous energy.

I had always considered a “soft” approach to be a cop-out. But my new understandings convinced me to try the opposite approach—to consider that a soft approach didn’t have to equate to avoidance. And even though I worried about becoming lazy, the possibility of expending less energy on nasty thoughts was appealing enough for me to try something else.

So instead of the hateful conversations I was so conditioned to having, I had loving ones instead. Rather than the goal being prerequisite to a loving conversation, I talked to mySelf as though I’d already reached it. “Once I weigh _________ , I’ll be kind to myself” changed to:
“You’re deserving of love now, regardless of your appearance now, regardless of whether your appearance changes in the future.”
“You deserve to feel nourished every time you eat.”

Eventually I expanded that perspective to other situations.
“It’s ok not to get everything done immediately; take care of yourself.”
“You deserve to sleep enough so that you don’t feel exhausted all day.”

And then even more broadly:
“There’s no reason to be mean to yourself.”

Use it in everything. SK © 2015

Use it in everything.
SK © 2015

Guess what happened? I lost weight. I don’t want to tout this as a miracle story, but rather that kindness was the catalyst for making better decisions. I cut down on sweets because they didn’t feel as nourishing as more balanced meals. I slept more because I gave myself permission not to prioritize work over my well-being.

We all need incentive. For me, everything changed when I realized that kindness motivated me far more than any meanness. Not to abandon working towards better health, but to deliver the message more constructively, to have a better tone of communication.

I thought I needed sternness. But I really needed love. Not superficial teddy bear Valentine’s Day love, but the kind of genuine love that inspired the holiday in the first place.

SK © 2015

SK © 2015

SK © 2015

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About stephanie francesca

Stephanie Francesca lives a life of eclectic and ecstatic passion. In no particular order, she is a writer, yogini, musician, teacher, nomad, lover, thinker, reader, dancer. She strives to balance effort with surrender, precision with laughter. Live life, love live, live love.
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8 Responses to incentive

  1. Charlie says:

    Stephanie,

    What a great piece! I’ve been starting that journey myself. With the gentle help of my wife and a friend, I’ve started to see that all I can do is be me and love me. Thanks for being just one more sign from the universe that I’m on the right path. With love, Charlie

  2. Vajra says:

    Jai MA! Loving-kindness, ALL the WAY!

  3. castleblake says:

    I relate to this so very much!!! I love my purposely-kind life so very much more now!!! 🙂

  4. Francine says:

    Thank you for this insightful post, Stephanie. You have identified an important truth that is known only to a minority of people. For some, it’s assumed that in order to do well in life, we must be demeaned, belittled or diminished in some way. This is somehow supposed to motivate us to do better. As you have discovered, the opposite is true. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
    Francine

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