I’m a huge fan of Laura Numeroff and her children’s book series “If You Give….” Her whimsical book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” has often been my “go to” easy explanation for how our daily lives simply unfold in a series of unplanned, seemingly disjointed events; some are fun and creative, some are messy and disruptive; some are energizing and others exhaustive. At the end of the day, we take stock of what we got accomplished. Very often it was much more than we had intended and very little of what we thought we needed to do and upon reflection, full of spontaneous, present moments of life that matter most.
Using Laura’s books as a template for my own personal growth journey, I have begun to extract little nuggets of wisdom that unfold throughout an ordinary day. If I didn’t take the time to reflect on what transpired throughout the many interactions of my day, I might miss all those opportunities to “connect the dots” of the “before and after” pivots that are evolving as I am changing.
In July, 2021, I launched a new component to this blog website — Nuggets of Wisdom. My Nuggets of Wisdom posts were planned as a monthly compilation of witty, inspiring, educational and uplifting self-discovery insights that I was experiencing and witnessing. In true “If you give a mouse a cookie” fashion, this monthly collection began to organically shift to a daily practice. I combine my love of photography with my little “gummies” of wisdom — two of my favorite things rolled into one.
My photos and my creative writing came together unexpectedly and now, I simply cannot imagine a day without my daily “gummy”. While I take supplements to support my physical health, my daily gummy of personal growth nourishes my continued learning, keeps me invested in my practices, and has most definitely cultivated greater awareness of myself and others.
Here is one of my biggest take-aways from seven years of personal growth and self-discovery: We are changing every single day and often are completely unaware of it. When we make a commitment to a growth mindset, to stepping out of what is no longer working for us, to practice every day (even just a little), to have the courage and the drive to “show up” in healthier ways — amazing transformation organically takes root in us.
I am living proof of the results. I am not the same person I was when I started this personal growth life plan. I have observed it in the researchers, the experts, the teachers, therapists and coaches that educate me. What has touched my heart the most is the similar transformation I have witnessed in my family members and friends who are also doing their personal growth work. For this very reason, I am kicking off this blog post of “gummies” with this one: Be Yourself
Daily Gummy of Wisdom: Be Yourself
Be yourself. What does it feel like in your body when you are as open, as playful and overjoyed as this little guy?
Notice that he is “belly up”…..soft side showing. Arms outstretched to embrace the present moment, to be aware and grateful. He is smiling — from the inside out! Do you feel his invitation to connect? To play? To share his unabashed joy?
This little guy broke the script….he opted to spend today with a fresh perspective, leading with openness and vulnerability. Notice not only the difference in how he feels — notice your reaction to his change!
Normally, his protective armor and clever disguise that shows when he is walking around as usual sends out a warning sign: stay away, beware, leave me alone. Same old routine…..head down, seeing only a foot or two in front of and above him….plodding along, dragging his tender underbelly on dew-covered grass….headed back to the swamp. He’s missing out! and so are we!
That’s what protective armor and old behavioral patterns do — they keep us from breaking the script, breaking free, seeing and experiencing life from a fresh perspective — and most importantly, inviting “connection.” Connection to our true nature, to what brings us joy, ease and that blissful inner peace of being comfortable in our own skin, knowing who we truly are.
Own it….you intuitively know your bets parts of you. Show them — be yourself! Be like this little guy and surprise yourself and those around you. Soft belly up, heart open, stretching into your true self.
This little gummy reminds me not to “armor up” with old reactive patterns. I vividly recall a memory of being told “not to be my sunny self” when I was younger. Being a people pleaser at that time in my life, I complied. I turned down the dial on my authentic self and in doing so, I did not even feel like myself. Someone snapped my photo in that moment. When I saw that photo a week later, it was very evident from my facial expression and my body language that I was not my true, best self. I looked sad, demure, snuffed out. It took a photo to show me what should have been so obvious. Tamping down the best parts of myself — what made me feel so good, so energetic, so engaged — was a temporary fix for someone else’s fleeting need — but a reinforcement of a habit of hiding my most genuine self. This silly little ceramic alligator, laughing on his belly like a joyful child, is a strong mental image of what my best self looks and feels like.
It also serves as an important reminder to tease apart the cost of not being our authentic selves when we are hoping to meet the needs of others. Just because someone else was having a bad day and preferred to marinate in all that grumpiness, did not mean that I needed to do the same as a way to prove my support. A more skillful pivot is to stay grounded in who I am (my sunny self), while being supportive and listening to understand. The irony is that my genuine sunny self has deep empathy, kindness and patience; my armored self loses touch with those traits. They are blocked by resentment.
If I shut down my most authentic self, I cannot offer what would be most beneficial and supportive to another. We both lose.
Today if I feel resentment moving in like a hazy fog, I remember that my inner sunshine cuts the fog and lets me see more clearly. “Get back to home base” I will remind myself. “See things clearly and course correct; don’t jump ship (i.e. don’t abandon your true self).”
Daily Gummy of Wisdom: Practice Makes Us Skillful
This gummy of insight was inspired by Forrest Hanson, host of the Being Well Podcast, one of my favorite resources for all things personal growth, self help and mental well being.
I love this terminology of “practiced people” coined by Forrest Hanson. It puts the emphasis right where it needs to be — on the practice. And it tosses out that old cliche that “practice makes perfect” when comes to self-discovery and personal growth. We are definitely not striving to be perfect — we are “practicing” to be more skillful in our lives and relationships.
Rarely are there optimal circumstances for any of life’s obstacles — that’s why skillful matters more than striving for perfection. We are better served with flexility, resourcefulness and calmness. For example, no two drives to work are ever the same, right? There’s weather, traffic jams, the level of gas in the tank, the amount of time we have vs. the amount of time we need (you get the metaphor, right?). It’s the consistent practice in ever-changing driving situations that make us better (not perfect) drivers.
“Practiced people” still face the same emotions, the many thoughts, the challenges that everyone faces each day. They are, however, better resourced with tools and skills to support themselves in healthy ways. The pivot for them is the daily commitment to “practice” these skills and using these tools. They also “practice” core inner resources — self awareness, self compassion, emotional processing and regulation, and personal accountability.
Practiced people are great sources of support for each other – and for the novice just dipping their toes into self-discovery.
We can read books, listen to podcasts and even use current self help buzz phrases….but it is the practice that is the engine of real progress.
This gummy of wisdom actually came to me as I reflected on how my conversations with my own “practiced” friends have evolved over recent years. At the beginning of our engagement with personal growth, we felt like school kids poring over the material of a brand new subject. We’d read or listen to the textbook material, then call a friend and say “this makes no sense to me” or “what are you getting out of this?” Time would pass, we’d integrate what we could and often we’d find some new book, teacher or modality to explore on our own. Then we would happily share the new information with each other.
The gift of each of us being invested in this personal growth work was that we all wanted to get a passing grade and were willing to support each other to accomplish that. We’d laugh together when something finally clicked into place and made sense. We’d share our little hand drawn charts to help us remember key lessons or the clever images that served as cliff notes. We’d remind each other to use the new skills and tools, not just read about them.
We had a lot of heart to heart conversations, sharing parts of our stories that we had never told before. While it was often initially uncomfortable to be so honest not only with ourselves but with each other, we soon discovered that this got a lot easier and was so cathartic. As we unearthed old memories that needed to be processed, we leaned on each other to do the work. We uttered a lot of “me too’s”. We helped each other discard or reframe old narratives.
There has been a lot of encouragement and celebrating along the way as well. We know just how far we’ve all come and we love seeing how our personal transformation has brought out the best in us, how freely we laugh now, how we move through life more effortlessly with less resistance.
Yes, we do still deal with the same daily issues that everyone does, but we handle them more skillfully now, honoring and processing emotions in real time instead of decades later. We don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ask for help if we need to rumble through tough problems. Honestly, we just ask better questions and do listen to understand more deeply than we once did; we do this for ourselves and we do this for others. Less armor, less defense mechanisms — more space, grace and generosity in believing we are all doing the best we can.
A few years ago, I had heard an incredible story of the invaluable role that older women played in a very rural community for young people who did not have easy access to mental health resources. The patience, compassion and the listening that these women offered to others proved to be as beneficial as a formal, professional counseling session for members of their community. It was the origin story of the Friendship Bench. Those older women were “practiced people”.
I have reflected on the concept of the Friendship Bench often coupled with the teachings of Dr. Bruce Perry about the importance of our relationship scaffolding – the very webbing we all need to support our basic needs and forward growth. We can all benefit from good conversations with “practiced people.”
An AHA Moment:
Even the long-time experts will be honest about the ongoing nature of personal growth work, about the times they have slipped up, got caught by strong emotions, and made mistakes. We love their candor and take heart in knowing that this is human nature. We learn from them that we can fix our mistakes, we can create stronger relationships through rupture and repair; we can even be more understanding of each other through our own personal growth work. It simply reinforces that we are working on being skillful, not perfect.
What’s fun about all this work is going back and re-reading books or our journal notes and realizing just how far we’ve come — and possibly discovering something new to learn; something we might not have been ready for when we first got started.
That’s what my daily gummies do for me — they not only reinforce what I have learned previously, they continue to foster greater awareness and help me see where there is room to grow.