What is “Giving Yourself Grace” Anyway?

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I should have been doing the dishes.

Instead, I was sitting at the kitchen counter, drinking my coffee and scrolling through Facebook while my toddler was down for her nap.

The world has changed so much in just a short time. There’s lots of advice online about how to deal, but there’s one thing I keep hearing: “Give yourself grace.”

“But wait…what does that actually mean?”

I have to admit, this phrase is a little foreign to me. Is it because I’m a new mom? Is it because of the global pandemic? Is it just trendy?

“Give yourself grace…”

Sometimes I also find this advice just plain frustrating. Is this a nicer way of saying: “Oh well, better luck next time?” or “You should probably lower your expectations?” Does Grace come do these dishes for me? (If so, can I have her number?)

I can better relate to phrases like “give 110%,” “hustle,” or “you can do anything if you work hard enough.”

So what is “Grace” anyway?

And here’s the first thing I realized: I can work hard all day long and still not get everything done. I might feel like I don’t “deserve” this coffee/Facebook break right now, but “grace” is just that, it’s something we don’t deserve.

Let’s be clear though,“grace” is a lot more than just giving yourself a break once in a while. And like most of the best advice out there, it’s much easier said, than done.

To me, “giving yourself grace,” isn’t just one action; it’s a mindset. Grace is choosing to be kind to yourself, instead of critical. Grace is celebrating what you’ve done today, not everything that is left undone. Grace is recognizing you are doing a good job, even when you feel like you’re not.

For me, grace is a work-in-progress.

Here are five actions you can take to help give yourself more grace, starting now

Give Yourself Room

I used to love a good to-do list. Nothing beats checking off all of your tasks for the day. Then I became a mom. Having a small baby and a very unpredictable sleep schedule, my do-to list was a source of stress, instead of satisfaction.

I found myself feeling frustrated that I wasn’t able to accomplish everything and I was trying to clean up instead of enjoying playtime with my daughter. Ultimately, I decided to ditch my to-do’s and give myself some room—more room to breathe, more room to enjoy my day, and more room for the little things.

Action: How can you give yourself more room?

Here are a few ideas:

Root Yourself in What’s Important

It’s almost time for dinner. My husband is still working, dinner is half done, the kitchen is a mess, toys are all over, my one-year-old is crying trying to climb up my right side, while the dog is on my left-side waiting for some food to drop. I’m feeling stressed—I wanted a home-cooked family dinner around the dining table at 5:30…but wait, is that really what’s important here?

I picked three words earlier this month about what is most important to me right now:

  1. Family: Give love to family and friends.
  2. Health: Stay healthy by eating well, exercising, washing hands, staying home.
  3. Service: Care for and help others whenever possible.

Repeating these three words help me to prioritize what’s important, especially if I’m fixating on something like having a beautiful dinner set on the table at exactly 5:30 p.m. What’s important is that we have food on the table. What’s important is that we are all home, healthy and safe.

Action: What is most important to you right now? Try picking three words or phrases. Write them out or repeat them when you’re feeling the pressure of perfection.

Acknowledge What’s Out of Your Control

I always thought I’d breastfeed for a full year, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, of course. My daughter had other plans—she just wasn’t interested in it.

Although we might have the best of intentions and expectations, there are a lot of things in life—and especially in motherhood—that are simply out of our control; Our baby doesn’t want to breastfeed, our preschooler snubs an elaborate sensory activity we made for them, our child needs help with math assignment we don’t understand.

Action: When something is out of your control, acknowledge it. Do the best you can and remember to be kind to yourself.

Celebrate Gratitude

Do you ever fall asleep thinking about everything you have to do the next day? Or maybe things you didn’t do today that you’ll have to put on your list for tomorrow?

I started something new a few weeks ago: Each night before I fall asleep, I think about one really good thing that happened that day.

Usually, I end up thinking of more than one, and it can be anything; my daughter said “night night” for the first time, I made chocolate chip cookies, we had a fun Zoom happy hour with friends.

This is a simple practice that’s helped me to refocus my thoughts to ones of gratitude and joy, instead of insufficiency and stress. It’s also helped me to see the goodness in the even the most mundane tasks. For example, a full sink of dirty dishes means our family has had a good meal and full bellies.

Action: Each night, think about at least one good thing from the day. Find tiny things to be thankful for throughout the day.

Enjoy the Journey

Life is a journey, not a destination—and if there’s one thing that this global pandemic has revealed, it is that life is a precious gift.

Sometimes it feels like there’s always one more thing left to do, to accomplish, or to achieve. And while there’s a lot of things I still want to do, each new day brings a fresh start.

There are a lot of things that bring joy to me each day: freshly brewed coffee, baby snuggles, FaceTime calls with family, virtual workouts, hugs, baking, reading stories, the gorgeous spring weather here in Charleston, chocolate…

We know that not every moment of the day is “joyful,” but including and appreciating these little things, helps me to enjoy each day.

Action: Do something that you enjoy or something that fills your cup.

Final Thoughts on Grace

“Give yourself grace…”

But know, that it takes practice. It’s natural to want to do things, to want to do them well and it feels good when we meet our high expectations.

However, you can lighten your load, you can let go of things out of your control, and you can firmly root yourself in what’s important. You can enjoy little moments, be kind to yourself, and practice gratitude. It’s in these small actions, you’ll find a little grace.

How do you give yourself grace each day?

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