The greatest revolution in our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives (William James)
You know those random memories that are not particularly noteworthy, but for some reason remain etched in your brain? Well, here is one of mine.
I am in a dining hall surrounded by my swimming teammates. We are staying at a hostel in Dunedin for the South Island Championships (that’s New Zealand, folks). We are finishing up dinner and starting our nightly competition debrief.
“So, what did we learn today?” Our coach’s voice is hoarse as he forces it to speak over the clanging of cutlery as plates are scraped and passed down the table in the echoey hall. I am only 12, and shy, so of course I won’t speak up. Someone else does though; one of the senior swimmers on the team.
“Yesterday, I ate three pies for lunch, and today I swam like pie,” he says, with a sheepish grin. “Today I learned that you really are what you eat.” Everyone cracks up.
It’s stuck with me. Of course we are what we eat. We are surrounded by gym adverts, body-shaming diet fads, endless new research discovering new and fantastic “superfoods” and extreme weight loss tv shows to tell us that.
But the principle goes broader.
What we put in to something affects what comes out. We reap what we sow. What goes around comes around, or something like that. And, the thoughts that we allow ourselves to feast upon really, truly, significantly, affect how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. In the words of Henry Ford,
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.
I’ve been living a battle in my mind as of late. I guess that all Mums face this challenge at some point. Actually, I’m fairly sure that all humans go through these battles, but I’m now privy to the challenges a woman faces when entering motherhood, particularly stay-at-home motherhood. Many of us go from full-time work, where we know what we are doing and are given daily feedback, clear instructions and (hopefully) gratitude most days to becoming servant to just one client who has no way of telling us their expectations or feedback via any other route than guilt-inducing wimpers, heart-melting tears and the (hopefully) occasional headache-triggering wail. We eagerly wait a good few weeks for the smiles, and they could mean anything from “I love you Mama, to “I just burped and it felt goooood” to, “oooooh look! a button! I’ve never seen such a wondrous thing!!”
We go from days filled with face-to-face encounters with friends and coworkers who (hopefully) say nice things to us, or, at the very least, acknowledge us in the hallway with a smile, to spending a lot more time in the company of ourselves (albeit, with bubs always within arm’s reach). And, let me tell you: my friends and coworkers, I am afraid to say, have always spoken a lot more nicely to me than I do. Also, let’s be honest, when we do get out of the house, most of our friends do pretty well to start with a “hi, how are you” before all attention goes to the bundle of cuteness in our arms. I do it too, although I try not to…and it really doesn’t bother me, but it does result in less positive reinforcement than life pre-bubs.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not intended to be a “woe is me, Mum-life is so hard” post. I’m just trying to be real here and write about something I am constantly learning; to take responsibility for my thoughts. On the days when I’m tired, Bubs is cranky for one reason or another, I have no friends checking in, the laundry is piled up — it is easy to judge my integrity, question my decisions, criticise my work, throw up doubts about my station in life and constantly berate myself for my perceived failures and shortcomings. And those days, where I allow myself to dwell on those thoughts? Well, they turn into bad weeks, regardless of what goes on in reality. Negativity clouds my perspective.
And, an untamed mind can be potentially paralysing in terms of progressing in life. It has the power to turn leaping aspirations into stone by simple thoughts of inadequacy that undercut the desire to strive.
If you are reading this you probably know that my enjoyment of writing has, as of late, surfaced in the form of this blog and other writing ventures. I have unformed dreams of perhaps even publishing a book one day in the future. Publishing a book! Even as I type the words I have to fight to keep the ruthless discouragements of my alter ego from entering my mind. As always, with every step forward, I have to work on silencing the naysayers in my head who would tell me my words are not crafty enough, my thoughts not deep enough, my ideas not unique enough, to be paid to write and, my ultimate writing goal, to affect people positively through my words.
Paying attention to myself
So it was, a few weeks ago, that I realised I’d been feasting on junk thoughts. I was interviewing a lovely and wise woman for an article I was writing on postpartum depression and she was talking about how destructive negative self-talk was in her life at that time. I had one of those epiphany-type moments and my inner film projector started clearly replaying some of the thoughts I’d been allowing my mind to churn over lately. I was shocked. How dare I speak to myself so rudely! Thoughts of inadequacy, failure and discouragement that I wouldn’t dare utter to any person, friend or foe — why do I speak to myself that way sometimes? So I set my mind to put into practice some mind-transforming habits.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2, the Bible)
Watching what I eat, mindfully speaking
If I am to watch what I think, I need to be careful what I feed my mind with. I have to admit I have been reading and viewing more than my fair share of guilt-inducing parenting articles, clickbait “news” feeds documenting hotly-debated “thou shalt not” parenting sins and other social faux pas (and especially the nasty comments that can usually be found in the discussion section), overly negative parenting blog posts/status updates (I’m all for honesty and the power of sharing, but spending too much time reading strangers’ outright negativity, as opposed to sharing doesn’t help me too much), trashy tv shows, tales of back-stabbing frenemies — yea they are certainly not the mind-equivalent of quinoa and spinach. Of course, we all have different sensitivities and I’m certainly not trying to add to the “you shall nots” for anyone reading this, but I just know that I’ve changed my reading and viewing habits for the (much, much) better and it has helped set a new tone to my inner dialogue.
Looking for the uplifting moments and people
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things (Philippians 4:8, the Bible)
Instead, I’ve been making a concerted effort to focus on good things, uplifting things, things that feed my soul. This is not to say that I want to turn a blind eye to suffering and ‘bad’ around me; no. But I do want to feed my soul and mind in a way where I am so full of joy, thankfulness and confidence that I am in a position to be a positive influence in this world and ready to listen, lend a hand, give an encouraging word, offer a prayer or whatever else may be useful.
For me that means littering my day with positive-thought triggers, soaking in the life-giving truth of the bible and talking to God every day, letting my FB newsfeed fill with inspiring news stories (I LOVE the page “Love What Matters” FB page), practicing intentional thankfulness, making mindful background music, blog, podcast and tv choices, making an effort to encourage others, and making the most of the encouraging, life-giving friendships with which I am blessed.
It’s making a difference, and I like that I am, little by little, becoming more and more of a positive thinker, which translates, I hope, into more of a life-giving person — although it’s always going to be a work in progress!
On that note, before I end this long-winded post, here is what I say to you, hard-working Mama. You are amazing. You love your child, you’ve taken on a huge an admirable task and are sowing seeds into something so very important. I’ll leave you with this passage from a book I’m currently reading by Dr Tim Kemmel entitled “Grace-based parenting,”
…(for parents) raising children is the greatest thing that you will ever do. It’s greater than any milestone you can hit in your career. It dwarfs any fame you may receive for your ideas or inventions. You’ve been handed a piece of history in advance–a precious gift you send to a time you will not see–and you play the biggest role in how that history will ultimately be recorded.