I’m seated on a chair in the middle of the kitchen in my childhood home, a towel draped around my neck like a makeshift cape. My mom and grandmother read instructions from the back of a box. How hard can a home perm be? The curl-inducing chemicals smell like a lab experiment gone wrong. I go back to third grade looking like a poodle. Has anyone else had this experience?
I thought of my home perm last week when we took our granddaughter to get her first haircut. (God brought her mama into our lives when she was twenty so, yes, we’re young grandparents.) Eula is two years old and brought her favorite stuffed animal, Fifi, with her to this momentous occasion.
The stylist hands Eula a small mirror and tells her to look into it. It’s an attempt to help her sit still, and it works. Eula leans toward the mirror until she’s so close her breath makes fog on it. She’s intrigued by her own face. Watching her, I’m struck by how differently she and I look into mirrors. Even way back during the home perm era, I’d already learned to search for flaws, not look with fascination.
When a new year begins, many of us take a closer look at our lives. We reflect on the past and look forward to the future. We often do so with a harsh eye; it’s so easy to be hard on ourselves. We remember our mistakes. The goals we didn’t meet. We tell ourselves, “This will be the year I get it right,” as if everything that’s come before has been wrong.
But what if we try Eula’s approach instead? What if instead of looking with criticism we look with curiosity? Criticism condemns, curiosity invites us to learn. Criticism shuts us down, curiosity opens us up. Criticism holds us back, curiosity inspires us to grow.
Curious questions sound like . . .
– What did I learn last year?
– How did I grow?
– In what ways have I become stronger?
Then we can ask how we can continue learning, growing, and becoming stronger in the new year.
This kind of thinking doesn’t come naturally to us. Studies have found our brains notice and remember what’s negative more than what’s positive. This makes sense for survival: recalling the stove is hot takes a higher priority than the laughter we shared with our sister while we made cookies.
Our negativity bias can be helpful when we apply it to specific practical circumstances (the hot stove). But when it turns into self-condemnation, it becomes harmful.
The Mayo clinic says the benefits of making our thinking more positive include:
• Increased life span
• Lower rates of depression
• Lower levels of distress
• Greater resistance to the common cold
• Better psychological and physical well-being
• Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
• Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
Disclaimer: Positive thinking does not mean being happy all the time, sugar-coating difficulties, or walking around with a fake smile plastered on your face. That’s not helpful either. I struggle with anxiety and depression. Pollyana positivity isn’t beneficial, or even possible, for me. Realistic positive thinking means approaching our lives, and ourselves, with curiosity rather than condemnation.
The Apostle Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy — dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
When we read these verses, we tend to apply them to our external surroundings. But what if we applied this to how we see ourselves too? (If that sounds tricky, start by imagining how the person who loves you most would describe you.)
Yes, let’s hold the mirror up to our hearts and lives as we start 2020. Let’s find ways to keep learning, growing, and becoming stronger. As we do, let’s also remember that curiosity is more helpful than self-criticism. Let’s resolve not to use condemnation as motivation when the God we serve only uses grace.
And no home perms. Not this year. Not next year. Not ever.
Want help seeing yourself and your life differently this year? You don’t have to do it alone. Join Holley’s *free* Strong, Brave, Loved Online Bible Study — it starts this week and there will be lots of gifts for Study members.
Let’s resolve not to use condemnation as motivation when the God we serve only uses grace. - @holleygerth Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Just when I think I’ve gotten off the condemnation train, my mind defaults to negativity. My laptop is, thankfully, working again. It had crashed. I guess you could say I reamed myself out but good about this. How could I be so stupid about not being diligent in backing things up? I’m stupid when it comes to technology? Other people are smarter than I am…their computers don’t crash. I wish I was different than I am….you get the idea. Nothing like starting off the year with a good condemning dressing down?? (My anxiety disorder didn’t help either). Curiosity over condemnation. I see that I need to practice this more as I head into a new year. Thank you so much for a wonderful red flag warning to make a conscious choice to switch to curiosity when condemnation begins running away with my thoughts. Not Pollyanna, but good practical advice (and Biblical to boot). I WILL certainly try this. Excellent post and so timely!
This was such an encouraging read. I said “wow” when I read this in the picture at the top – “Let’s resolve not to use condemnation as motivation when the God we serve only uses grace.” Amen, Amen, Amen.
I also found this very encouraging – “Realistic positive thinking means approaching our lives, and ourselves, with curiosity rather than condemnation.” Amen!’
Oh yes, it is so so easy to be hard on ourselves. We often focus on the negatives as we strive to get better, BUT we often neglect the good, and the things that *are* working! Reminds me of a post I wrote a few weeks ago – Stick to what works.
Thank you for these encouraging reminders Holley. May God continue to minister truth and encouragement to our hearts. Amen.
Blessings & Best wishes to you and your beautiful family:)
Kathy Cheek ~ First Breath of Morning says
I am definitely going to add the ingredient of curiosity to my hopes and expectations for the New Year and gratitude for God’s grace to walk in day by day! I love the clean slate and new beginning a new year offers…
Love your words today, Holley, thank you!
Barbara Schultz says
Thank you, Holley, for such a timely word for me, who finds it so easy to condemn rather than appreciate who God made me to be. I also remember those home perms!! – and that it seemed every other girl in school was allowed to have long straight hair!! But I do remember my mother laughing during these times, which is a lovely memory that counteracts the memory of my pain, and reminds me of good days with her before the M.S. took its hold on her. Knowing she’s rejoicing in Heaven with Jesus, and now my Dad too, is such a wonderful feeling!
Michele Morin says
Goodness, Holley, this is so good! My mind immediately goes to the negative side of what I see in the mirror, what I’ve produced, and even what I’ve said so much of the time. How wonderful to be reminded that God is regarding all of this with loving eyes and plans for a hopeful future.
Holley you are my most favorite of my favorites. You are always so raw, exposing everything so that what is real is the most obvious. No way to see it other than just look and see what is really there, the way God sees us, exposed potential.
I am always more than a little shocked when someone says that I’m beautiful or pretty or they like my hair or some other descriptive term that I NEVER apply to myself. Oh, I love me, warts and all but I have no doubts about my outer beauty or lack thereof. Yet, when I read your thoughts I remember old phrases like “beauty is as beauty does” or “ beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or “ it’s not what’s on the outside but on the inside that counts.” As true as all these old familiar phrases are, they sound to the physically unattractive like placations.
Then I remember that Christ gave his life for me just as I am, not because I’m beautiful, not because I’m smart, not because I’m rich or fun to be with, but because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever (me) believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Amen and Amen!! I’m a whosoever and I’m good with that!!!
Thank you, Holley, for this timely post. I struggle with self condemnation. These past few years, I have been establishing my identity in Christ. I am His beloved. I love the idea of using curiosity to look at myself rather than criticism. I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for God’s amazing grace. God bless you in your writings.
Jennifer Waddle says
Yes! I had a similar “perm” situation the day before I started Jr. High!!! It was an outdated Lilt permanent my grandma pulled out of her linen closet. I begged my mom to give me the perm, then silently cried at the bus stop the next morning with my outrageous poodle hair barely contained by two clippy barrettes. Too funny. Thank you for this beautiful post Holley!
Theresa Boedeker says
Applying Philippians 4:8 to ourselves is a great idea. How sad that we criticize ourselves so much. but yet protest when we hear others criticizing themselves.
Pearl Allard says
Holley, just wow. On so many levels this was encouraging. You met me where I’ve been at the past couple days. Until this morning I was fighting to celebrate the positive. I like the word curious you used also. We can celebrate God’s faithfulness in the past year and look forward with curiosity to how He’ll sustain us in the new year. Thanks again.
Beth Williams says
You are always so open & honest with your words. Women tend to be very hard on themselves. We feel we have to do it all & perfectly. Why? God never once asked us to do everything & we are merely flawed humans. Why do we tend to look in the mirror & see only flaws? God sees a beautifully made person in the image of himself. We need to get our thoughts back to His. Love the idea of looking back on the year & seeing what we did right. Sure we may have made mistakes, but did we learn from them? Maybe you tried to lose weight & get in shape. Make your goal? NO-ok but did you at least lose a few pounds & try to exercise some? Give yourself credit for what you did right. For me 2019 was a year I learned to work in a hospital ICU Step down unit clerical. I’m proud of what I accomplished & learned. I’m going to think positively about myself & each situation. Thus giving myself a better outlook on life itself.