photo courtesy of Liana Mikah via Unsplash

As we approach the longest part of winter, the seemingly never ending (even without a global pandemic) and chilliest part, I find myself facing the fact that this will be the last year I can call myself a “twenty-something.” And while that stirs up some particular…feelings, my birthday has me growing reflective as I do every year around this time.

I’m the type of person who loves a plan, setting goals and breaking down those goals into little accomplishable tasks so I can feel the little rush of adrenaline when I make the tick on the box that means it’s done. So normally, now would be the time when I make those pie in the sky goals for my next year of life, and vow to myself that I’ll do better, accomplish more, and find more ways to keep go, go, going.

I’m not feeling that this year. 

Perhaps it’s growth, perhaps I’m too tired, perhaps I’m still figuring out my way back to myself after the year 2020 (aren’t we all?). Maybe it’s a mix of all three. But while I do have some goals for this year in general, I’m not really feeling the approach I’ve taken to birthdays in the past. Instead of goals, and vows, and productivity, all I really want to do for my birthday is set an intention.

To me this differs from a goal in that it’s not so much a one-time get it done and check it off sort of task, but an action. It’s something to continuously strive for, a reminder that I need to nudge myself toward for the next year and beyond until it becomes habitual.

My intention for my 29th year is to offer myself more gentleness.

In the past ten, fifteen years, I’ve grown harsher and more intense with myself. I’ve let my anxiety, regret and the lies I’ve told to myself about myself alter my perception of what I deserve. I’ve spent so many years denying myself the gentleness I strive to give to others around me, ignoring the fact that I am equally as deserving of this kindness. It’s taken me until now to accept that gentleness is actually a worthy pursuit.

As with most things, I’m certain I’m not alone here. If you’re someone who is prone to being too rough with yourself (so many of us), then I’d encourage you to also try to give yourself a break in areas where pushing yourself does more harm than it does help. I’ve decided to come up with some ways and areas of my life I can practice gentleness that I hope will help me soften the edges of the view I’ve crafted of myself over the years. Here are three ideas for doing this that I have for myself that I hope can also help you.

1.  Practice True Relaxation

For a long time I’ve considered myself the Queen of Burnout. Taking on too much, running myself ragged, laying low for a while before regaining energy and doing it all over again is second nature to me. And it’s not sustainable. A few years back I realized that, even while trying to practice the ever elusive self-care, I couldn’t fully let go of stress because I didn’t know how to relax anymore. The niggling feeling, that voice whispering “I should be doing something more important” was always present, even when I was taking a break.

That said, the first aspect of being gentler with myself will include practicing true relaxation. This involves doing things that I enjoy but that don’t necessarily have “a point” or an end goal. For me, that includes things like allowing myself to play video games, watch movies, paint, play board games or go for a long, leisurely walk to nowhere in particular. The key here is to allow myself to do them without feeling any guilt for doing it – to help teach myself that it’s okay to take a real and actual break.

2.  Acknowledge and Be Proud of The Effort

Goal-setting is another thing that comes easily to me, and while it’s been helpful at getting me to aim toward what I want, it’s also a bit of a double-edged sword, particularly when I fall short of the goal. If I accomplish anything less, my knee-jerk response is to deem it as a complete failure. I judge myself harshly. But after many journal entries, moments of reflection, and reassurances from my husband and friends alike, I’ve come to realize that even if I don’t meet the exact goal I set out to meet, at the very least, I grew closer to it. Which is still something to be proud of.

In being gentler with myself, I want to learn to better appreciate the journey toward my long-time goals and acknowledge the ways I’ve grown in trying to meet them, even if I don’t actually meet them. I want to focus on removing that overly harsh judgement, to stop dwelling so much on “mistakes” and focus on moving on, giving myself a mental high five, and being okay with aiming high but not quite reaching.

3.  Stretch Often

While I know I could use a lot of emotional gentleness, I think physical gentleness is just as important. I’m fairly physically active, and when I do workout, I want to make sure that I’m taking the extra steps to be gentle with my body. This is as simple as stretching after a really long run (which I skip nine times out of ten), or actually sticking to doing yoga and other exercises which help with my mobility and make me feel great.

It’s too easy to push off, especially when my mind isn’t really in it and I want to do other things. But just like I know that it’s not good for me to just be on the go all the time with no relaxation, I also know that I need to cool down after hard workouts. It seems simple and maybe too easy, but it’s a gentle practice I know will take some discipline and that I want to commit to this year and for the foreseeable future.

Do you find you’re too hard on yourself? What are some ways or areas in your life that you are gentle with yourself? What areas could use more of it?