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