Change the Why
Why? The word that so many toddlers torture their parents with as their curiosity about the world overwhelms them so much that they must know why about everything.
Why? Why? But, why?
It is counseling 101, and in reality, one of the most helpful communication tools I teach to my clients. Take the why out of your conversations, especially the difficult ones.
Saying why can feel accusatory, and when we feel accused our defenses go up which means healthy communication typically becomes even more difficult and can even shut down.
Why did you do that?
Why do you feel that way?
Why do you think that?
Why can’t you just be better?
Taking the why out of these questions feels a lot different.
What was that about?
How come you feel that way?
What is that thought process about for you?
What is holding you back from changing?
These small changes may seem trivial but just try saying those statements out loud to yourself and feel the difference. Now imagine how much your communication can be helped if you become more conscious of the why.
But, the why I really want for us all to change is your self talk why. The why you beat yourself up with when you make a mistake.
I first learned of how hard I am on myself when I took a workshop with Kristen Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, at Emerging Women last year. In the workshop, she talked us through her self-compassion break meditation and for the first time I had to see in my own handwriting how hard I am on myself when I make a simple mistake. That berating self talk, calling ourselves names and really just not being nice to ourselves at all. This kind of self talk does not motivate us to change even though we’ve convinced ourselves that it has. We must realize what our inner critic is really trying to do, which is keep us safe or or keep us from suffering or improve us but through the years it has developed a pretty mean way of doing so.
Neff’s research shows that self-compassion is where confidence and change can really occur. Her self-compassion model includes self-kindness (talking to yourself like you talk to a loved one), common humanity (reminding ourselves that everyone struggles and everyone makes mistakes) and mindfulness (being present with all our emotions). Combine that with the shame resilience skills from the work of Brené Brown and your self talk becomes a lot more pleasant and motivating.
A typical day for me will always include a trip, a spill or something breaking. It is just who I am, I am usually going too fast and as a firm believer in the one trip that often times means I am falling or breaking something. Yesterday for example, at coffee with a new friend as we are deep in great conversation I pick up my coffee cup to take a drink and it literally explodes; lid pops off, hot coffee all over my dress, the table and in my bowl of oatmeal (in my defense the barista had bent the cup before handing it to me but I was also moving too fast as usual).
Before learning the work of Kristen Neff and Brené Brown my inner dialogue would have been:
You’re such an idiot. Oh my gosh, you are ridiculous. Why can’t you be more careful? Just f*cking slow down! You’re so stupid. How embarrassing!
After doing this work in my recovery:
Well, that had to be hysterical. That sucks, I’m covered in coffee. I need to stop, slow down and be more careful. Great girl, but not great choice.
I think we all struggle with this mean inner dialogue from time to time. I see it every day with my clients. My challenge to us all is to be nicer to ourselves. To take the why out of our self talk and replace it with how come or what. And finally, to remember we are worthy, lovable and great people who make mistakes but we don’t have to be those mistakes. Today become conscious of how you talk to yourself. Be nice and change the why!