Self-pressure is my term for the mental expectations you have about yourself that differ from what you really need in this moment. It’s an instant stress-creator. Self-pressure can seem very subtle until you get used to noticing it. For example, I often decide I’m going to work out X number of days in a week, for X number of minutes. This is an arbitrary mental choice, not based on any of my body or soul’s actual needs. Automatically, I have set myself up to feel stress and pressure—from me.
When the time comes for my specified workout, if my body isn’t up for it, I immediately feel guilt, frustration, and stress. My mind goes into a little battle with itself:
Me: “Well, you said you’d work out x number of times. You’ll HAVE to do this tomorrow, now, and on the weekend.”
Other Me: “But I feel sick to my stomach. I really don’t think I can do this workout today.”
Me: “You should really be working out right now. That’s the plan. You are not sticking to it.”
Other Me: “But I really don’t feel well. I think I need to lie down.”
Me: “Failure is not an option! Oh no! This is terrible! You should be working out today!”
Other Me: “Blehhhhckkkk.” (Actually vomiting.)
Etc. That’s just one example. The conversation can be different each time, but the essence is the same—me getting frustrated with the me that is taking my body and soul’s needs into account, creating a sense of pressure.
Oddly, this is actually an improvement over the past, when I used to simply override and ignore my body and soul’s needs entirely. Yet, it’s not quite the sweet spot, where I actually listen to my body and soul needs each day and make my mental decisions based on those instead of the arbitrary mental expectations.
This sweet spot is a relaxed, health-enhancing zone. It’s where you listen to what your body and soul actually need in this moment and take action from that knowledge. I spend a lot of time in the sweet spot, but I’m certainly not perfect at it. So, I recently came up with a new concept to help myself remember how to get back to it.
Here’s how you enter the sweet spot:
1. Notice when you are feeling stress. Easy enough, right?
2. Look for any ways you are employing self-pressure. Remember, it can be subtle. Anytime your mind has made a decision based on arbitrary expectations, this self-pressure can arise. (For example, I noticed it last week, while writing a blog post. My mind had decided I must write blog posts on Mondays. My soul felt differently—it prefers Thursdays. The dissonance created self-pressure. I felt stress.)
3. Let yourself off the hook. This is a blissful moment where you recognize that your mind has made a decision based on arbitrary expectations and then release those expectations. Just because the magazines say it’s a good idea, the book you read last week recommends doing it this particular way, or mom told you to do it this way when you were ten does not mean it’s right for you, in this moment. But your mind may be hanging on to old information, random information, or simply deciding stuff on its own. Make this moment conscious by asking the question: “Where can I let myself off the hook?” What can you change/not do/do differently? Where can you let go of the expectation that is causing the stress? (For example, I quit writing the blog posts on Mondays, started writing them on Thursdays, and felt much freer.)
4. Enjoy. There is nothing quite like the feeling of relief when you actually see the silliness of these subtle and pervasive expectations. You might find yourself dancing with abandon, skipping joyfully, spontaneously smiling, or experiencing other such signs of soul-relief. Letting yourself off the hook gives you the chance to listen to what your body and soul really, truly need in this moment. Maybe it’s not a 45 minute weight-lifting workout. Maybe it’s a walk. Maybe it’s ten minutes of stretching. Maybe it’s a job. Maybe it’s a swim. Whatever it is, it is exactly right for you. This is you honoring yourself.
To enjoy this experience, you’ll need to tap into what I call your Inner Nurturer. This is the mothering, nurturing voice within you that is often drowned out by the Inner Critic or the Arbitrary Decision Maker. Call up your Inner Nurturer and ask her to help you find ways you can let yourself off the hook. She’ll have ideas. She’ll speak softly, lovingly, and gently to you. She’ll be curious about your body’s needs, and she’ll want to know what your soul is saying right now. She’ll be open to new ideas and ways to honor yourself.
Don’t worry if your Inner Nurturer is a little shy. She might not have had a lot of room to speak in, say, the last thirty years or so. Maybe she’s been shoved aside by the Inner Critic and needs a little encouragement to speak up. You can conjure her by imagining how you would treat your own child in this moment, or your pet, niece, or student. Anything that brings out your mothering instincts will help you tap into this Inner Nurturer’s wisdom. Then, turn that feeling-state inward, toward yourself.
You might discover that your life changes in surprising and fabulous ways the more you let yourself off the hook. I once spent a few weeks letting myself off the hook around eating vegetables. I counted pickles as veggies and called it good. Talk about freeing! Then, when veggies stopped feeling like self-pressure, I found myself inspired to make new kinds of salads. I was able to enjoy them again. I’ve let myself off the hook in hundreds of little ways in the last several months. Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear the fun, funny, and surprising ways you’ve decided to let yourself off the hook, today!