Cringe-worthy but worth it all the same

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

This Wellness Wednesday is going to make some of you – potentially a fair number of you – cringe. If I’m being honest, I even cringe a tiny bit. But let’s do it anyway, because there’s something to it.
 
Here’s how it goes: in the morning as soon as you realize you’re awake, put your hand on your heart and say:
 
“Good morning, Elizabeth (except your name), I love you.”
 
See? Corny. But the science behind the silly is this: our primitive brain doesn’t operate on sophisticated sensibilities preventing it from being soothed by hokey-ness. It will be as hokey as it wants to be. And it is very responsive to compassion which makes it feel safe, thereby down-regulating our nervous system and our fight/flight response.
 
It’s why self-kindness and self-acceptance work so much better for behavior change than being a name-calling bully. Shame is threatening, which sets off the fight or flight mechanism, which then sets off the need to self-sooth and we all know that self-soothing does not usually involve carrots and exercise. There are countless self-compassion studies bearing the virtuous cycle of this dynamic out. It’s particularly strong in the addiction literature where shame is often such a factor.
 
So starting the day off feeling safe and secure is not a bad way to dive in, though the practice is not confined to the morning dawn of our first consciousness. This simple declaration is especially useful when we’re in the hot misery of a problem and would like to part company with ourselves. For instance, say you’ve called a meeting and then forget to go yourself! Not a glorious moment. There’s probably also not a lot of self-love going on. But raising your hand to your heart and feeling that warm and grounding pressure -- an act of self-solidarity in and of itself -- followed by a statement of steadfast love is enough to get your ability to think straight back online and put things in perspective.
 
Personally, I had the opportunity to really test this technique yesterday when I totally embarrassed myself, doing something I’ve coached myself a million times not to do but did anyway. In my hot misery all of a sudden I thought, hey, why not put my hand on my heart and declare my love?  So I did and a minor miracle happened. As for today, I’m pretty sure out of the 12,000+ employees across the NLH system, someone is going to do something leaving them semi-mortified. If it happens, it can’t hurt to put your hand over your heart and give yourself a little love.
 
If you’re slightly intrigued and would like to know more about this phenomenon,  you can listen to this podcast interview with Shauna Shapiro, PhD on her new book, Good Morning, I Love You, or check out the book.