I wasn’t always this perfect. And I won’t always be as imperfect as I am now.
A while ago I said something epically insensitive to a friend of mine who struggles with infertility. She didn’t say anything about it at the time but in a quiet moment later that day it occurred to me how hurtful my comment may have been. In this particular instance I felt strongly that bringing it up to apologize would only cause her more pain so I could relieve myself of guilt.
I felt terrible every time I saw her after my open-mouthed foot insertion. The guilt was eating away at me. I thought, I am so insensitive. I can’t believe I said that to her. I always speak before I think.
And then I stopped.
No, I thought, I used to do that. As of this moment, I don’t do that anymore.
This was a profound moment for me and I’ve used that phrase over and over since.
I used to do that.
As a mature woman who allows myself to evolve and change, when I look back at my life, I find there are things that I just don’t do anymore. There are little bad habits, sins or unkindnesses that come to mind and I think, I used to do that. But I don’t anymore.
I try not to beat myself up over these Used-To-Dos. If I don’t do them anymore, then thinking about them should make me happy. Oh, my, how I’ve grown!
But how long do you have to wait before you go from, “Dang! Why do I always do that?” to “I used to do that”? A week? A month? A decade?
I propose that if you want to conquer a bad habit, you turn it into a Used-To-Do immediately. Whenever you do something you wish you hadn’t, rather than beat yourself up again, say, “Wow. I used to do that.”
Fix it if it needs fixing. And then move on.
If only wishing made it so, you might think. Saying, “I used to do that,” doesn’t automatically make it so I won’t do it again. Nope. I believe it can. Over time. At least far better than shaming and guilting yourself.
Let’s say you want to get up on time in the morning but you always find yourself hitting snooze. You wake up far too late, in a grouchy mood, and start the day off frustrated. You spend all day thinking things like, Why do I always do that? I know better than that but I’m so lazy. I’ve got to get up earlier but it’s so hard. If I don’t do better tomorrow, I’ll have another lousy day. I am so bad at mornings.
There are a few things that are messed up about this line of thinking.
1. You are reinforcing the negative behavior – “I always do that.” “I’m so lazy.” “It’s so hard.” “I’m so bad at mornings.” By telling yourself this story over and over again, you are digging it into your neuropathways, reinforcing it with steel beams and covering it over with cement. If you want to keep sucking at mornings, this is the way to accomplish that.
2. You are marinating in shame and guilt – Who was ever motivated to peaceful positive change by excessive shame and guilt?
Shame and guilt are key components of addiction and other out-of-control negative behaviors. A small amount of shame can help us fit into society by providing that little voice that tells us not go topless to the mall and a small amount of guilt can help us desire to make things right when we hurt another person. However, excessive shame and guilt can leave us feeling hopeless and grind us to a halt on our journey to healing and growth.
3. You are not being productive – There are no real solutions in this type of thinking. You are tearing down, rather than building up, criticizing rather than motivating.
Now think about this. Your alarm goes off one morning and, as usual, you hit snooze several times. You wake up late and frustrated and you think, I used to hit snooze a million times in the morning. That did not help my day go smoothly. Good thing I don’t do that anymore.
Throughout the day, as you feel unprepared or frazzled you think, This is frustrating. I used to feel like this a lot when I used to hit snooze in the morning. I’m glad I don’t do that anymore.
This does a few things to help your progress.
1. It stops your negativity before it spirals out of control – This is frustrating. But it’s temporary because I don’t do that anymore.
2. It redefines who you are and what you are capable of – I’m a person who makes positive changes. I have a plan to improve and I am improving at this very moment.
3. It reinforces positive behavior – All day long you rehearse the new improved version of yourself. I am a person who gets up early every morning.
You may need to do this again the following morning. And the next. But, if each time you hit snooze you think, I used to do that you will likely find that you hit snooze less and less.
Eventually you will transition to a place where your alarm goes off and, as you reach out your arm to hit snooze, you think, I used to do that, and slowly sit up in bed rather than dozing off again.
You reach the final stage when you don’t reach for the snooze button anymore, when talk of snooze button abuse comes up at a PTA meeting (as it so often does) and you think happily to yourself, I used to do that.
Saying, “Drops of Awesome,” when I do something positive helps me celebrate the good and keep my momentum going. Saying, “I used to do that,” when I do something negative interrupts the destructive behavior and reminds me of who I am and can be.
In the middle of writing this post, I went to the kitchen for a snack and saw the other half of Wanda’s breakfast grapefruit sitting on the counter. I should eat that before it goes bad, I thought. But then I decided there was probably more appetizing fruit in the fridge. I started to walk away and leave the grapefruit on the counter to die but then I thought, I used to waste food, and I ate it.
I used to eat chocolate right before bed. I used to say insensitive things in the name of humor. I used to ignore my kids when they got home if I was in the middle of writing.
What did you used to do today?