When my children were young, I was very much a proponent of “positive parenting” and I attempted to use all the tricks and techniques that this approach advocates. I used gentle guidance with creatures who often acted like feral animals and sometimes hit, kicked and bit me, I entertained discussions with small people whose entire life experience was measured in weeks and months and whose critical thinking skills were essentially non-existent, and I tried very hard to listen to and respect these other human beings who could get them selves into such a lather over what they wanted that they would fall to the ground, convulse, vomit and hyperventilate regardless of where we were. When we had a bad day, well, I just tried to “catch them being good.” Because this is what we positive parents do, right?
But sometimes, they just wanted what they wanted and no amount of positive parenting was going to work. While I’m sure there were many such days over the years, I vividly remember two such moments where my ability to remain calm and positive was completely shaken. One was a dinner at a TGIFridays and the other a portrait appointment at JC Penny’s. Both incidents involved less than gentle guidance, restraint with a firm grip and a hurried evacuation of the premises followed by time-outs at home. Hey, I’m all for being positive but sometimes children are just awful little children and we have to be the adults and regain control of the situation. Sometimes we don’t have one gentle thing left to say. Sometimes it’s just time for straight talk.
So, it’s early January and we are still in our resolution period (or intention period, if you connected with last week’s post). Because I believe that most big accomplishments come to fruition through a series of small steps, I am generally promoting a rather mellow approach to change. If big batches of intention only lead to failure and discouragement, there is little to keep us motivated toward our goals. I know, however, that on a personal level, I am prone to procrastination in a way that can become immobilizing and, ultimately, keep me from achieving the things I want and need to achieve. When the things I am not doing because of procrastination are the things in my life that form the framework of who I am–like writing, creating art, exercising and even keeping up with the domestic responsibilities of my home–I start to consider whether the mellow approach is really working for me. When it becomes difficult to catch myself being good, I begin to wonder if I shouldn’t be angrily strapped into a stroller, pushed briskly out of the JCPenny’s and forced to sit on the sofa without my pacifier or my teddy bear until I can regain my composure and recapture my mojo.
Writer, Leo Babauta, keeps one of my most favorite blogs, ZenHabits. He’s traveled his own long, hard road to becoming the better version of himself and understands the daily realizations that are necessary for self-growth. His approach is a little more regimented than the one I’m usually peddling here at 52 Mondays, but it often speaks to the misbehaving kid inside of me who fritters away time on Facebook or Pinterest when deadlines are looming and holiday bingeing has allowed a colony of new fat cells to take up residence in my thighs. Last week, just in time for the resolutions and intentions that could end up failing, Leo published a brilliant post called, “The Child That Holds Us Back.”
It took me a long time to figure out why I, and so many others, have difficulties changing habits and making lasting changes in our lives.
It all comes down to a little child. And that child lives within each of us.
The child inside of us wants what she wants. She feels comfortable frittering away the morning on Facebook and whines that, ooooh, it’s toooooo cooooold outside to ruuuuuuun. Don’t wanna! She wants to putter around the house doing a whole lot of nothing instead of completing the work for a deadline that will bring in the next paycheck. Frittering and puttering feels nice and easy but they don’t do anything for chubby thighs or the rent. Leo would tell us that it is definitely time for some straight talk. And fast. Because this child inside of us can keep us from all kinds of things in life that, when we are in our grown-up, realization mode, we know are what we truly need to be that better version of our selves. When we can recognize that what is keeping us from moving toward our goals is the voice of the petulant and misbehaving child, we can begin to take action before it’s too late.
This is the voice that stops us from making lasting changes.
This is the voice that says it’s OK to have those pastries, those French fries, that fried chicken. Life should be pleasurable!
This is the same voice that says it’s OK to skip out on exercise, because exercise is uncomfortable and not fun and you’d rather be on Facebook or playing video games or watching TV. Life is too short for misery!
This is the same voice that causes you to procrastinate when you’re facing a difficult task. It causes you to skip meditation, or skip learning a language, or skip writing your book, because you’d rather be doing something easier.
This is the voice that keeps you from starting your own business, or pursuing the job you always wanted, because you’re afraid of failure.
It’s the voice that gives up when things are hard, and convinces you to give up too. It keeps you from meeting the love of your life, because you don’t want to go through the uncomfortableness of meeting new people. It keeps you from keeping the love of your life, because being honest with them is scary. It keeps you from learning to be alone with yourself, because that’s scary and lonely.
I’m not calling for a militant parent to be looking over our shoulders every minute of the day and I feel that sometimes a little frittering is exactly what is in order, especially after long periods of keeping our noses to the grindstone. I do, however, want to be aware of when that little child inside of me is the one calling the shots. I want to be aware of how she can keep me from achieving want I want to achieve. I want to be aware of the moments when she knows better and can do better. Because then it really is time for some straight talk.
Make it a good week, friends.
TRY THIS WEEK: Notice whether your inner child is acting in your best interests.