Softness gets a bad rap in our society. “He’s gone soft” is a put-down. Having an iron will is a prime indicator of success. And we all want rock hard abs and/or buns of steel. The only personalities I can think of who have made a lasting career out of being squishy are the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Cookie Monster—and Cookie has been trounced in popularity in recent years by the comparatively angular Elmo.
But there’s power in being mentally, emotionally, and even physically soft: Abandoning rigid thinking helps you see another point of view. Letting down your defenses makes you more compassionate. Releasing tension makes you more flexible.
I’ve been consciously trying to practice softening in the last few topsy-turvy weeks since our move to Providence, and it has been making my life better.
So, instead of getting exasperated when my grandmother asks me to explain something repeatedly, I think, “soften.” It helps me imagine how bewildering it would be to have the simplest details fall out of my head as soon as I hear them. It also encourages me to drop the drive to get her to see my point.
When I look at a moving box full of random tchtotchkes, cables, and empty DVD cases and feel my hands clenching in frustration (these boxes seem to exist solely to thwart my quest to unpack—damn you, boxes of miscellany!), I let out a long exhale. The little pause helps me get curious about the contents, which helps me really see them, which in turn helps me figure out what to do with them.
When we’re out with the kids doing something fun and it gets to be the time when we’d need to leave in order to get them to bed at their regular time, I place a hand on my heart. It helps shift attention away from head, which is starting to pump out rigid thoughts to the effect of “must.stay.on.schedule.” That’s when I can notice how great the cool breeze feels and remember that we don’t have anything special to do tomorrow – and so we stay for a while longer.
It’s all about creating an opportunity to let your guard down. When you’re not tense, you can think more clearly and notice what else you’re feeling besides irritated, frustrated, or stymied. Here’s a short list of practical things you can do to remind yourself to un-clench in the face of something stressful:
- Touch your heart
- Let out a big ole exhale, and imagine your edges going a little soft as you do, like a beachball deflating
- Think or say a word that reminds you to let your guard down, whether it’s “surrender,” “soften,” or “I’m melting,” a la the Wicked Witch of the West
- Visualize something soft but powerful, like a teddy bear, willow tree, or thunder cloud. (Or, maybe the Pillsbury Dough Boy! He does have incredible staying power.)
- Jump up and down and let your arms shake like wet noodles.
How do you let your guard down when the going gets stressful?
What do you do when you notice rigid habits rearing their heads? Leave a comment and if I publish yours in the next MsMindbody, I’ll send you How to Train a Wild Elephant, a practical primer on incorporating more mindfulness in to your life.
Congrats to Tanya!
She posted about what she’s mended lately, and won a copy of the fabulous how-to and cultural history book Sew Retro. Here’s her post:
“I tackled our laundry room. I had my husband put up some new shelving and places to hang or fold clothes. In cleaning that room, I found a pair of his cargo shorts that have needed a button replaced for 2 years!! Yep, they are fixed now too! I feel so much better.”
Take care and keep breathing,
4 thoughts on “Say It Loud: “I’m Soft and I’m Proud””
Last night at our son’s going away family and friends beach barbecue and party our truck got stuck in the soft sand and it seemed that no matter what we did it would not come out of the sand…tempers were flaring with each unsuccessful try. At one point, I just stopped what I was doing and took a deep calming breath and thought to myself, “everything will work out, don’t stress”. Our son-in-law came down and with his and our son’s vehicles we were finally pulled out. We laughed about it later when we got home, wet and sandy.
At times when the stress begins to well up in me, the quickest way I’ve found to calm me is to get into character. I love to dive into good stories with my kids, ages four and two. I call to mind the journey to Solla Sollew (know that Dr. Seuss book?), which is much too long and arduously rhythmic for their attention spans UNLESS I let go of everything (lists!) else (to-dos!) in (!!) my (sigh) brain. I make room for voice inflection. Which invites silly voices for characters the protagonist meets. Which makes the story so much more relatable–they can hear the little monster’s disappointment when things just don’t turn out as he had imagined!
I love sharing great literature with my kids–stories with meaning! So, when life is getting the better of me, be it the busy schedule or preschooler whining or two-year-old tantrums, I pretend that life is a story I’m reading them. I transform into the lovable character I want to root for. The character is above freaking out and saying horrible things she doesn’t mean–too busy making wonderful realizations that there’s no use. Much better to arm oneself with some healthy self-respecting flexibility. And a bat (thanks, Dr. Seuss) for the pesky green-headed Quillian Quails.
When I feel like I just can’t give in, but I shouldn’t be such a hard head, I ask for a hug. Thank makes me feel better and soft and it is hard to be mad when you get a big hug.
I love all these suggestions! Sheila, you’re so right, sometimes all it takes is giving yourself just the tiniest little “talking to” — that voice that knows better really cuts through all the other “the sky is falling” thoughts. And Sarah, I adore your method of choice. I don’t know that Seuss book, but I’m going to seek it out. And Susan, hugs are the best. So smart to ask for what you need in the moment. Truly.