To know me is to know that I have a few favorite sayings. Over the last eight years of chatting with clients in a private practice setting, one of my favorites is that personal growth is like a measuring stick. When we want to make changes in our lives, we are not typically going to go from one inch to twelve inches overnight but instead we are on the little black lines of change. I have even asked clients to go buy a measuring stick or put a picture of one on their phones. This can serve as a reminder that we are not expected to become different overnight. What an incredible burden that would be. Yet, it’s how many of us were raised or came to believe as adults. Do it better and do it better now! Let’s all say a collective NO to that sort of internal pressure. Because guess what? It usually backfires and we end up not changing at all for fear of not doing it fast enough and without enough “perfection.”
The measuring stick approach is much more gentle and kinder to ourselves. Like the saying goes, if we are not nice to ourselves, who’s going to be? When we are not nice to ourselves, it’s funny too how we end up magically attracting people into our lives who are also not very nice to us either. Ever notice that? I sure have; both as a therapist working with people and as a woman with my own history of love and friendships.
Why is the measuring stick a good visual for folks? I think it works well because it nicely illustrates that small changes do get us somewhere and the stick shows that to be true. It may be slow and it may be small changes, but eventually we would end up from one inch to twelve inches and isn’t that super, duper, amazingly fantastic?! It’s also a whole lot less overwhelming when we make small incremental progress, rather than turn-your-life-upside-down changes. Sometimes I like to call those “snow globe moments.” We take our life snow globe, shake it all up and wait for the dust to settle. That sounds remarkably un-fun to me. I don’t think un-fun is a word but you get my point.
What kind of changes can we make using the measuring stick idea? Any change! That’s the fabulous thing about it. It works with all personal growth. Try it out. What goal would you like to achieve? Consider that your twelve inch mark. Now back track all the little steps it would and will take to reach the goal.
Next, we write those steps down and start working from one inch, which is today and where we are in the process (or lack thereof) in reaching our goal. We often have to break down goals into even smaller sizes to fit the small black lines on the measuring stick. That’s the point. Small, small, small changes.
For instance, some of you know and some of you don’t, that since my twenties I have lost over 125 lbs. Yes, it’s true. I lost a whole skinny person. It’s still very weird for me to get an off glance in the mirror and see a size 4 rather than a size 24. For me, losing weight has been a life changing experience for the better. I am not saying that everyone who is a size 24 should lose a small person of weight and poof, they will be happy. I am saying that for me, it revolutionized my life. I think it was because the weight was symbolic of other healing that needed to happen for me and when I truly dealt with those issues, the weight naturally came off.
I have previously written about my journey of weight loss and you can read them at “112 lbs and Going” “Sabotage Weight” and “Our Relationship with Food” In the 112 lbs, you even get to see my Before pictures. Now you want to go click on it, don’t you? It’s okay. I put them out there for the world to see, so go ahead and peek.
The measuring stick worked for me regarding weight because I gave myself very small, very doable goals. The little black lines of change goals. Things like “only order two Whoppers at Burger King, instead of three” or “do ten push ups against the wall tonight.” Eventually, those black lines of change became “run 10 miles in prep for the half marathon that’s in a few weeks away.” Did I start out running 10 miles? HA! I don’t even think I have to answer that, do I? Even training for the one and only half marathon I ever did and probably will ever do (check off Bucket List item), it was a lesson in the measuring stick practice.
To train for a ridiculously long run, you break down those runs into small growth in distance over several weeks. That way you gradually condition yourself to the mileage and your body adjusts to what you are asking it to do. Same theory goes for all personal growth.
What if your twelve inch goal is to have a happier and healthier relationship? Well, then, take some time to visualize what you would like that to look like at its best and then back track the small changes that would get you to the goal. See how the measuring stick works for at least the two types of growth of weight loss and improved relationships? I promise it works for all life goals.
What twelve inch goal would you like to reach? Write it down. What are the really (really) small steps to get there? Write those down too. Be realistic that it won’t be done perfectly and that’s perfectly okay. But if you keep moving forward, it will be done eventually. All the growth along the way feels really good too; not just the end of the measuring stick. As you see your hopes and dreams come into focus, the entire journey of growth is amazing.
I can’t wait to hear about what goals you have set for yourself. Enjoy the process of change.
People often ask what are some of the most read blog posts that I have written and the one about the time the “tooth fairy” snoozed through her duties is definitely a favorite on my blog. It was originally posted in May 2011 and here it is making a encore appearance…
My kiddo lost his eighth tooth yesterday while at school. He put the tooth on his night stand for the tooth fairy and fell asleep expectantly. When he woke up, the tooth was still there and he exclaimed, ”the tooth fairy forgot me!” Oh yes, this is what happened at my house this morning. As he was in the bathroom, the “tooth fairy” was running through the house to get her rewards and shove them under his pillow. He had not yet looked there for the goodies! The tooth fairy totally forgot last night about the tooth on the night stand. YIKES! Between pick up from school, going to the library, homework, making dinner, sitting at soccer practice from 5:30-7:00pm, snacks after practice, shower, prayers and sleep; the tooth fairy’s brain was a little fried by the end of the night.
As Dr. Dobson says, parenting isn’t for cowards. I would also add that parenting isn’t going to be easy for those who struggle with perfectionism. Being a parent is a messy, messy job. Ask any mom or dad who has been hit with urine or poo while changing a diaper. Raising up an emotionally, physically and most importantly spiritually healthy human being is a huge task. We will make mistakes. Like the tooth fairy sleeping on the job.
We have to laugh at our adventures and misadventures as parents. If we can’t, it’s not going to be a fun journey for anyone involved, including our kiddos. We also must surround ourselves with supportive people who understand the ups and downs of parenthood. There is no time nor space in life for allowing a crowd of bystanders who have critical or mocking spirits. I am not alone in coming into contact with these types. The parents who must compare their little Susie or Johnny to your child. The types that secretly think they could do a better job than you are doing. The types that undermine your confidence in your parenting. Those types are not operating in a spirit from the Lord and unless they are willing to change, you will have to hit the eject button on them and quickly.
No, we don’t need critical family and or friends circling; just waiting for us to make mistakes so they can feel superior. Yes, we need loving caring people in our lives who will come and put their arm around our shoulder and give us a pep talk. We need people who can laugh with us at our missteps in parenting and laugh with us when our kids take missteps because believe me, both will happen.
Be encouraged today in your parenting. We may not be perfect, but we are perfect for the kids God has entrusted to us.