3 Ways to Soften and Why You Should
Going easy on ourselves has benefits. Many, in fact—and further, creating ease has a positive ripple effect for us down the road.
Softness, as I’m using it here, is a forgiving and open frame of mind. It’s a gentle approach to life. It gives relief. Being lenient helps ease the weight of the day, including any accumulated frustration, self-judgment, or disappointment, allowing us to settle into the heart of things. Softness reduces stress.
Cultivating a relaxed state of mind supports us to think positively, concentrate, remember and recall, and make clear decisions. In a gentle mindset, we are more likely to be creative, take chances, or think outside the box—because well, why not? There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. Solutions come easier and faster, light bulbs go on.
Another positive ripple effect of softness is that our view tends to be broader and more expansive. We remember to consider important questions that affect the quality of our daily journey.
For example, we might call to mind questions like these: Is there anything I might do this morning that would allow me to navigate the day ahead with grace and ease? What can I do, who might I reach out to, to heal this moment? Who am I at my core and how am I expressing that today?
Having the option to “go soft” on ourselves is an important skill. It’s a downshift. It’s a step back to release stress before it causes physical symptoms or illness.
Overall, the ability to be soft and think soft is an important way to stay centered and clear. Suppleness is a vital aspect of being our best during any average day.
One: Becoming Aware of What We Learned Growing Up
Going easy on ourselves is an important aspect of our relationships, too, because if we know how to go easy on ourselves, we are more likely to offer the same grace to others. We can resolve a relational problem by giving it the marshmallow treatment.
Maybe you’ve had a tiff with your partner and irritation is lingering in the air between the two of you. For some of us, a simple way to begin to soothe irritation is to close our eyes and imagine being parked on a cloud, or resting comfortably on a gigantic pile of fluff from a cottonwood tree or milkweed pods. Or we imagine ourselves floating blissfully on water or lying peacefully in a hammock. A “cushion” of any kind will do. We could sit on a marshmallow that fits our backside just right.
The idea is to sit soft in order to breathe soft and think soft.
It is my experience from years of working with people in 1-on-1 sessions that our reactions to others are often learned. They aren’t (technically speaking) ours. We borrowed them. And often, our reactions are not soft at all. They cause a stress response.
As a child, let’s say I witnessed countless versions of irritation between my parents. Repetition guaranteed that I learned it well. (Take a long, slow look next time you find yourself irritated with someone’s lateness, a health choice, or a political opinion. Who taught you that?)
If a reaction doesn’t belong to us, we can give it back or let it go. We can leave it on the curb, toss it to the wind, or give it to the river.
Okay, Say A Little More…
Recently, I discovered a learned reaction of mine. It burst out unexpectedly in a conversation with another person. A member of a group that I meet with regularly on Zoom offered an observation about me, one that pierced my heart like an arrow.
She didn’t intend it as a criticism, and it wasn’t a criticism. It was a truth she saw, and she offered it to me in a question. Because we have standing permission from each other to be real, honest, and loving, I took note of the arrow and its impact and got curious about it.
After some unraveling, I realized I had borrowed beliefs from my father that weren’t mine. After contemplation and extra help from this group of beautiful souls, it was clear that it was time to let the wind have its way with certain thought forms I had held as mine for so long.
As an impressionable child, we adopt behaviors, points of view, or approaches to life from our parents and caregivers. This is common to all of us, whether or not we know it consciously.
Before the age of 7, we absorb most everything in our environment without a filter. We soak up these environmental influences efficiently and thoroughly, through all of our senses. I absorbed my father’s mentality—his reasoning, limited thinking, and fears—over and over without realizing it. This has affected me over time.
This seems to be one way humans grow.
Maybe you’ve witnessed this or experienced it directly, too. You watched your grandparents hand the baton of unfinished struggles to your parents. Your parents did their best, and then handed the leftovers to you, tagging you with the task of completion. Each time one generation tackles and solves pieces of a family puzzle, I swear there’s a galaxy wide celebration!
Our assignments from the previous generation can deepen our compassion and understanding of many things, most notably love and respect for ourselves and others. Every experience, especially a difficult one, offers us a chance to become a truer version of ourselves.
This is how I’m using this a-ha about my father. It is serving me well. I have softened as a result of realizing that a part of me that I thought was me (and needed fixing) was simply borrowed. “This “Getting softer” required my forgiveness of him and of myself. After self-forgiveness though, I’m happy to report that letting the borrowed thing go sure is efficient!
Two: What if Someone Is Upset with Me? How Do I Soften That?
First, I’m sure you’ve experienced that an upset reaction from another person has less impact on you (and dissolves more quickly) when you’re feeling centered, strong, and supported in life. Maintaining self-care practices that help us be centered and in good spirits is the first step. It’s our job to remember to do what keeps us well.
Next, it’s an excellent idea to be a good listener, yes, but how do we take care of ourselves when a person vents? Do we let them “go after us” with words? Where’s the marshmallow effect then? Or the fluffy cloud or the peaceful hammock?
In the face of difficult words from another person, with the first signs of your mind racing toward a default defense mode, breathe. Pause. Slow down.
There’s nothing more important than this step. This pause-breathe-slow-down moment gets you out of “fight or flight” mode. Instead of being in survival, you can proceed with reason and logic, as well as come from your heart.
Next, ask your ego to have a seat. Egos are present in interactions, that’s natural and normal, but don’t let them run the show. Don’t let your ego sit in the driver’s seat. If you’d prefer a satisfying outcome, your ego cannot steer the journey before you. It cannot lead the conversation.
In a state of calm, we are able to ask open-ended questions. We’re better equipped to draw the long ribbon of upset out of a friend or partner. Even if comments are aimed at us, we know they aren’t about us at the core. They are about the person speaking them.
We can look at our part in their upset later (that’s beneficial and responsible), but for now, offer kind attention to them and be of service.
Teaching yourself to be lightER-hearted about thoughts or feelings doesn’t mean glossing over an issue or ignoring that you feel hurt, wronged, or discouraged.
It requires learning to observe, which is the skill of stepping out of your reaction enough to realize consciously that you’re having one. One way to do this is to say “Oh, there it is, I’m reacting.” Or when you feel hurt by someone’s remark, say to yourself “Hmmm, I notice I feel hurt.”
Doing this develops your self-awareness skills, which are at the root of healthy personal change. In the simplest terms, self-awareness is the ability to have thoughts and feelings about the thoughts and feelings you’re having.
When someone breaks up with you and you notice you’ve thrown up your hands and further, you went the extra mile to dub this experience as evidence that you’ll never, ever create a lasting relationship, say to yourself, “I see what I’m doing. I’m declaring a negative future. Oops!”
It’s not the best idea to add to a problem by sticking yourself to it, identifying with it, or owning it as if it’s yours forever or that it will grow worse over time. Wherever you are in the process is moving you toward true-you. To remind me of this, there is a small piece of art in my bathroom that says “Absolutely everything is progress.”
Some of my more imaginative clients have told me that they released the weight of a burdensome thought by dissolving it into colorful mist rising. Others gave their problem a pair of wings. Some said their confusion or frustration became musical notes or leprechauns in leotards that danced away. These may work for you, too.
However if this isn’t your style, do your best to come up with something that lightens the load for you. Doing something physical or changing your stance such as assuming a wonder woman position (legs slightly apart, hands on hips) might be more appropriate. It’s a scientific fact that changing your posture changes your mind. Then, as soon as possible turn your valuable and powerful attention to the truth of what you prefer and who you are.
Three: What About Softening Drastic Life Changes?
When a drastic change occurs, one that requires a profound shift on our part, it is helpful to soften by getting curious rather than pushing against or being resentful.
To start, consider the point of view that life is always for you, not against you. Even though you might not see the benefit of a change thrust upon you suddenly, the idea is to regard this shift as direct assistance.
Let’s say you’ve been holding tight to a job, and today you get fired. Wow! You didn’t see that coming.
After the initial shock, other feelings will come up, and many of them not pleasant. After that first wave of feelings (or in the middle of the wave if you’re able) remember to consider being curious.
What if getting fired is helpful? Even though I don’t like my job, I wasn’t ready to hand in my resignation. Maybe the Universe knows something I don’t know and is giving me a shove toward something I would enjoy.
Sometimes the Universe loosens our fingers to help us release something we never really wanted in the first place. Now that’s deep love!
Adopting the philosophy that the Universe works in our favor shortens the time span between “Oh, no…” and “Oh, yes…”
You are beautiful. Capable. Inventive. Creative. Resilient.
Here’s to finding SOFT you!