“You’re getting older, what do you expect?

Think about all the times in your life you’ve berated yourself for doing something wrong? I bet that most of those instances weren’t particularly serious, that is, they weren’t life-threatening or particularly harmful to anyone, but the level of self-flagellation was brutal. Many of us just seem to be heavily invested in beating ourselves up and feeling guilty about everything. That’s why they call guilt ”the gift that keeps on giving.”
It’s important to realize that some guilt is useful; after all, it helps form a conscience. Guilt is helpful in stopping us from being unethical in our business relationships or mean-spirited toward those we love. But leaving dishes in the sink or not making the beds doesn’t fall into the same category. Ruminating over such mundane situations accomplishes nothing. Unless, of course, they create an Academy Award for the most guilt, then at least we’d have something to put on our mantel.
Think for a moment of the hundreds of different ways you make yourself feel bad throughout the day. Trust me, I’ve done it more than most. I learned this dynamic well. I had great teachers, starting with my grandmother, who used to wear black all the time, just in case somebody died.
Trying to lose weight always elicits major self-flagellation. I usually start well in advance of the actual process of shedding pounds by spending a few months torturing myself with how awful I look and continually asking myself, “How did this happen?” The answer is obvious..I ate too much. But that doesn’t seem to quiet the monster of self-loathing that many us are familiar with.
My voices continue in an inspired chorus: “You’re getting older, what do you expect? What happened to that 24 inch waist, now it’s your thigh measurement, isn’t it? I wonder what year you’ll fit into that size six you used to wear? Maybe they can put it on you when you”re dead.” Then when I’m actually invested in some type of program, the voices remind me that I didn’t exercise enough, even if I ran a 27 mile marathon; or that I just finished eating a meal consisting of a lettuce leaf washed down with a bottle of water.
Similarly, my friend Shirley always talks about how she stays late at work to catch up, even though her overtime is starting to exceed the amount of hours she was actually hired to work. In some ways this drama gives us a form of negative validation, but it saps our energy and devours our spirit. If Shirley spent the same amount of time on the task at hand she would probably go home early. And if I walked as much as I talked about losing weight I might be thinner. If we could spend more time being aware of our thoughts, we just might be able to stop beating ourselves up.

Turn on the music and dance away your stress!

When I do day long workshops I love to add a dance component. No, I’m not talking about bringing in a ballroom dancing instructor, but rather getting participants to express their stress through movement. Can you imagine how tenuous most people are about getting in front of their peers and letting loose through a series of interpretive moves?
Gabrielle Roth, a famous dance therapist, speaks about the benefits of the above technique in her book, Sweat Your Prayers. She states that a lot of stress has a staccato feel to it—if we took the time to dance it, we could release the tension.
One woman in my workshop spent a great deal of time discussing her inability to stop worrying. She actually raised the bar to new heights by worrying about what she was worrying about. By our final day together, after we’d gone through several different ideas and techniques, she was feeling that nothing could help her.
I then divided the group into ten teams of five people each. I told them they needed to choose one group member’s stressor to create a dance around it. I’d brought a wonderful array of music with me that featured a lot of drumming and rhythm. I told participants to wear one of my costumes (of which I have many) or arrange their own clothing in an unusual way. I gave them fifteen minutes to plan the presentation, because too much time makes people start thinking too much.
I heard all kinds of excuses: “I have two left feet,” “This feels strange,” “I can’t do this”…all of which I ignored. We all love to come up with excuses why we “can’t” do something, don’t we? The can’ts always seem to far outweigh the cans. So I insisted, albeit tenderly, that they give it a shot.
Time was up, and the show started. Each group was outstanding. An accountant who had felt taken advantage of was dressed in a black cloak.They put her in the middle of the circle and danced around her singing “Poor thing, poor, poor thing,” like a Greek chorus. The most amazing dance came from the “worrier” and her group. They started in the corner and deliberately and slowly showed the feelings of worry. With furrowed brows, their hands on their temples, feigning despair, they hunched over and looked at each other with startled expressions. In movement they managed to effectively demonstrate the pain and destructiveness of worry.
But even more profound was the way this creative exercise changed the woman’s perception of how and what she worried about. I saw her six months later and she said it literally changed her thinking. She saw her own role in continuing the “dance” of worry, and the terrible effects it had on her life. You might give it a try. Turn on the music and dance away your stress!