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vicious cycle

I did not want to bother with the resolution this year. Instead, I am taking time to focus and tune into what I want 2016 to be about. I want it to be about change…BIG change! And so far, so good, because this week…Eric and I start our doctoral work.

YES! No resolution…just a doctorate.

But unlike so many past ventures that were exciting at first and became ever more daunting…this whole doctorate think is just daunting from the get-go. Of course we are excited about it, but it’s overwhelming how much I have to learn, processes I’ve yet to grasp, a university culture I need to remember and understand.

So I also want to be gentle on myself as I start this process: I want to be quick to forgive and to brush off negative thoughts and just enjoy the process of learning again–I mean formally, of course. I want to avoid those toxic thought cycles that can so easily start in feelings of stress. Which led me to a post I wrote over a year ago, but still find so applicable today. I thought I’d share it in the hope that it might encourage you as well.

The Toxic Thought Cycle

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a toxic thought cycle? I know that often, when I make a mistake, I find myself overwhelmed with shame and guilt–I spend more time beating myself up about it than trying to actually recover. It becomes a vicious cycle repeating itself. But what if that toxic cycle lost it’s sting?

That’s what grace can do. If we can remember that this toxic thinking is merely a reaction to stress, we might be able to allow ourselves to gently walk out of this waste dump of shame. We might be able to just brush ourselves off, wipe the tears away, and move along. If we can have grace with ourselves and let go of whatever mistake we made, we can do just that.

When my boys were little and would trip or skin their knee, we always tried to minimize the fall by telling them they were okay. “You’re okay,” we’d assure them with a smile. “You just need to hop up, brush off the dust and move on.” My philosophy was if there was no major bloodshed… no harm, no foul! As many of you parents will know, responding with this kind of positivity can prevent a lot of tears. Kids look to you to decide how upset they’re going to be.

What if we could do this with ourselves? What if we could look at the times we fail to accomplish what we wanted to, the times we fall short of our goals or “fall off the wagon,” just like the times we fall down as little kids? We don’t blame little kids for learning to walk and falling down in the process. They’re learning. We see it all as natural growth and practice. What would your life look like if you could hold your failures a little lighter, and celebrate that you, at least, were trying? That you are learning?

After we get up and brush ourselves off, wipe our face clean and move forward, what small ways can we shift the plan for more grace-filled success? My first plan right now is to start a new practice: I’m going to buy flowers for myself when I accomplish even a small piece of a goal. Sometimes we need to celebrate the little accomplishments, just like we do for children when they are trying something new. What will you lovingly do for yourself to add motivation today? A little kindness can go a long way extinguishing toxic patterns of thought. Don’t fight these thoughts–that only adds to the cycle. Instead, focus on killing them with kindness. Brush yourself off and keep running toward those goals!