I set wild goals for myself. In the moment these goals seem ideal: I will learn to love myself. I will become more focused on gratitude. I will be kinder to my body. I will only spend time with people who lift me up. I will use my voice to reclaim my power. I will have the courage to start difficult conversations.
The list goes on and on. Sometimes I set these goals on New Years Eve. At other times I set these goals at the beginning of a new month, or at the end of a high point experience.
But after I set these goals, I often face a problem I’m sure you’re all familiar with: If I knew how to do these things, I’d already be doing them. They wouldn’t be lofty goals, they’d be reality. I’m adept at putting career goals and fitness goals into play quickly, but these personal goals are often dropped because I can’t figure out how do get there, step by step, day by day.
Last week I saw the movie Lady Bird and I had a bit of an “ah ha” moment. In the movie, Lady Bird is an 18-year-old at a religious high school in Sacramento. She wants to go to college on the other side of the country, preferably in Manhattan. The movie follows her through her senior year and at one point, it shows her meeting with the principal of her high school.
“I read your college essay,” the principal says. “You clearly love Sacramento.”
“I don’t love it,” Lady Bird replies. “I just pay attention.”
Then the principal turns to look at Lady Bird with knowing eyes. “You know,” she says, “loving something and paying attention to it are often the same thing.”
Loving something and paying attention to it are the same thing. Or, as one famous quote goes, “Paying attention is the most radical form of love.” We don’t really want fancy gifts from the people we love most — no, underneath that desire for a gift is something deeper: we want to know that they’re paying attention, that they’re listening to us, that they care.
The same is true with the road to loving ourselves, to getting to a good place in our lives, to feeling grateful and powerful and surrounding ourselves with good humans. That road is paved with paying attention. Call it what you want — mindfulness, attention, awareness — but the act of focusing your energy on yourself is loving yourself.
Paying attention means listening to your body. It means knowing which foods your body loves and which foods make your stomach feel funky. It means knowing when to skip a day of workouts and when to go hard. It means looking yourself in the eyes in the mirror and noticing what your face really looks like. It means watching for moments of angst and anger and asking “Why am I responding like this?” It means being okay with skipping a social night when you feel low energy. It means knowing if you are low energy. It means being kind to yourself when you need it most. It means meditating and yoga and long runs and slow walks and tea and essential oils and baths and naps and hugs and puppy snuggles. It means asking for what you need.
Paying attention has revolutionized my life. I feel like someone ripped off my distracted glasses and deposited me onto a new planet where I feel everything more intensely. I wouldn’t trade it for a second.
Quick & Easy Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Or “Choosing food my stomach loves, even when I’ve had a busy day.” Serves 1, but you can scale this recipe up by simply cooking more potatoes.
There’s no set recipe for this puppy. Simply cook your potatoes (I like to microwave them on high for 5-7 minutes, but you can also bake them for 45 minutes in a 425 oven). Then make toppings. I have tons of variations that I make depending on what’s in my fridge, but my favorite combinations are:
crispy bacon + guacamole + taco seasoning + spinach + salsa + mexican cheese + sour cream + black beans
butter + cinnamon sugar
crispy bacon + avocado + pickled red onions + goat cheese + arugula + toasted almonds
roasted red peppers + rosemary ham + swiss cheese + everything bagel seasoning