I Am That Girl Now

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I think I'm putting this together.

As I sort of mentioned in my last post, we spent Thanksgiving in the company of small nieces and nephews, all under the age of eight, all very cute. I spent a lot of time with them, taught them to do a few craft-type things (which they reacted to as if I'd done magic: "You can make a SCARF out of THREAD?" "Well, yarn, but yes") and cobbled together a new mode of dealing with them, partly based on my knowledge of what they've been missing in life at the moment, partly based on my recent therapy, partly based on childhood memories.

In short: encouragement, praise, encouragement, explanation, encouragement, praise, comfort, encouragment, ad nauseum. Lots of repetition. Lots of praise for small things that they'd done well. Followed through on any promises I made, so that the actions always had expected results. Didn't yell; I did get quiet and calm and forceful at one point when one of the kids pitched a fit, and let her calm down on her own and then let her return to the playtime without any negative comment. Seemed to work.

[Now that I think of it, this is the first time that I've spent time with these kids without resorting to emulating one of my parents. Wow. This gives me a lot of hope for being able to break the cycle of frantic perfectionism and angry outbreaks that has plagued my family for at least three generations. I was a lot better at reading the kids this time, too, and a lot calmer, and it really made a difference. I may be meant for this parenting gig after all.]

The thing that surprised me the most was the thing that really shouldn't have: kids pick up things fast, repeat what they hear, incorporate it. Suck it right in. I'd encourage one of the girls with "you're so good at this," and moments later she'd proudly announce, "I'm so good at this." Totally call-and-response. I mean, I realize that everyone does this to some extent, but I've spent so little time around kids during my adult life that this just blew my mind.

I found myself adapting to this, changing my approach to give them as much of the good programming as possible. If they were going to be repeating something, I wanted it to be something that made them feel good and confident; I wanted them to enjoy trying new things, and to believe that mistakes mattered less than picking themselves up and trying again.

If you've caught the punchline already, good for you; it took me until this morning to realize that this was the same stuff I wanted for myself. When my therapist had been talking about having a kinder, more encouraging inner voice, this was the voice she meant-- the same voice I'd been using on the kids.

Now, step back to what I'd been talking about last time: trying to figure out motivation without fear or shame.

First, I concluded that when it comes to habitually doing things, the habits I keep are the ones that I enjoy in the short term. Not ones that have long-term effects that I like; not ones that have theoretical preventative effects against things I don't like. I do things that make me feel good, or that the reptile-brain part of my mind thinks will make me feel good, short-term. Immediate response. Immediate gratification.

That's the biggest problem, I think, when it comes to weight-loss-- even more so when it comes to weight maintenance. There are people out there who aren't naturally bone-skinny (the type who have to fight their metabolisms to keep anything on their bodies at all), but they maintain a normal weight effortlessly; I've come to the conclusion that the difference between those folks and, say, me, is that they have the blissful luck of enjoying the very things that keep them at a normal weight, whereas I have a long history of enjoying things that would keep me sedentary and overweight. It's not that they want it more, or are naturally better, or have stronger self-control or willpower or what have you. They enjoy things that keep them at a healthy weight.

On the one hand, this might sound like a reason for despair-- an indication that living healthy would mean a life of eternal drudgery. Which sounds exactly like the reason that healthy living gets shelved when I'm depressed, or when I need comfort, or when I'm celebrating-- all the times I want to, or need to, do things that I actually ENJOY.

On the other hand, it occurs to me that Mary Poppins was right: in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun... you find the fun, and SNAP! the job's a game! (Yes, I ended up watching that over Thanksgiving. I blame the kids.) There's an element of truth there. In everything I need to do, there's something about it that I enjoy. For everything I ought to eat, there's something that I enjoy about it, and a way to cook it that makes it comforting and tasty and desireable. If I want to enjoy doing things that make me or keep me healthy, I'll need to a) find the particular variants of the activity or food that I am most prone toward, and b) concentrate on, play up, and accentuate the features of that activity or food that I enjoy.

And, it has finally occurred to me (zoom, back to the original point!) that I am not so different from the kids. If I am encouraged and praised on something, it makes me want to try it again. If I enjoy something, it makes me want to try it again. What I need, in short, is to use the encouraging teacher/parent voice on myself. The voice that teases out the fun in things and makes drudgery into a game. The voice that encourages-- "Look how far you've come! Wow, you did that all by yourself! Good for you!"-- and praises-- "Wow, you're so good at this! You're really strong! You're really talented!" The voice that, when it turns out that I've made a mistake, praises me for catching the mistake and praises me for fixing it.

This isn't too far off from what I was trying to do in the first place, way back when I started this blog. The difference is that before, I was trying to impose it upon myself, and I wasn't using the encouraging inner voice, and I wasn't feeling my way or really counting baby steps as important. I don't think that the sort of fast change I was looking for before is actually possible. I think that I'm not much different from a child; I should use the techniques on myself that I would use to teach a child, and expect that learning will be slow.

Short answer: when you use the carrot to lure yourself for each task, it's slow improvement, but it lasts. When you use the stick to prod yourself forward, you go a lot faster, but it won't last. Gotta keep working on my new carrots.


  • *claps hands*

    By Anonymous Nienuh, at 5:01 AM  

  • Totally right in every respect.

    By Blogger The Troescher Team, at 6:21 AM  

  • I never thought of it this way, I wish I had read this a long time ago! I have been trying to do this the past year, I just didn't realize why it was working until now.

    By Blogger Angel, at 11:29 AM  

  • awsome awsome post and so true on EVERY level. :)

    By Blogger PartTimeMom, at 6:04 PM  

  • wow, what a great post.... Hugs, Carol

    By Blogger Thisisit!, at 10:30 AM  

  • I love this post and totally connect. Recently I played "catch" with my nieces. One is particularly athletic (like me) and when she dropped the ball she looked stricken (have felt this so often when I have "failed" or "dropped the ball" in any small way). I reassured her "that's ok" ... and she believed me! Minutes later as she was tossing the ball up and down to herself she dropped it again. I heard her reassure herself "that's ok!" in exactly my intonation. Thought it was cute and positive at the time. When I got home and told my boyfriend he floored me when he observed "you are totally giving her the affirmation and unconditional love you didn't get." Trying to give it to myself now, but boy is it hard!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:08 AM  

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