The success in her recovery probably has to do with the fact that she actually does the exercises twice every day as instructed. “What else is there to do when you’re retired and in a pandemic,” my mom jokes. I also happen to know that she is good with creating structures.
Structures can be beneficial for helping us establish healthy habits and practices (brushing our teeth, daily stretching, regular naptime). I certainly see it in teenagers who have been doing school from home for the past two months. There’s a bit of floundering that happens without the routine of getting up and out in the mornings.
Creating structures and routines for ourselves or our families can also become overwhelming or unhealthy if we have unrealistic expectations or if we become rigid in our approach. I know I can be overly controlling in the kitchen if I’m not careful. I like things put away; I like my kids to eat healthily; I like the dishes done.
When my kids were little, this felt pretty easy because I was in charge in the kitchen. I decided when and what and how much for snacks. Dishes went in the sink or dishwasher, food was put away when we were done with it.
It feels a little trickier with teens who are eager for autonomy and are learning about making their own choices in a new way. I’ve challenged myself to loosen up a little. I don’t chase down the owner of every glass left out on the counter, I bite my tongue (mostly) when my fifteen year old is foraging yet again for a bowl of dry cereal. I tolerate food leaving the kitchen (if it’s on a plate or in a bowl).
It feels like one key is finding the line where structure can be helpful but hasn’t tipped into controlling or rigid behaviors.
Last month I had geared up for doing a daily movement practice. I wanted to create a morning structure for myself that included some yoga and stretching. For two weeks, I found myself turning off my alarm and rolling over. No movement, no stretching. I even had set up some accountability for myself by making it a project connected to a women’s group I was facilitating. No luck.
I wondered out loud to that group of women, “I have to decide if I’m going to hold my feet to the fire or if I’m going to be gentle with myself and let it go.”
On the inside, I had the power-through gymnast of my tween years urging me to dial down. I also had the mom of three little ones from my exhausted thirties with a different idea.
Ultimately it came down to asking myself: What draws me to this practice? What am I wanting to get from it?
I realized that my goal had more to do with grounding and flexibility than it did with reaching some pinnacle (abs of steel, for instance). I also realized that the greater growth edge would be for me to show up with compassion and cut myself some slack.
So that’s what I did. I held it as an invitation rather than a “should”. And wouldn’t you know, that after another week or so, I found some ways to make it work. I don’t get out of bed early - since that seemed to be the real deal killer. Instead, I’m fitting it in later in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon or evening.
I have created a structure that allows for some flexibility. And it’s working. I’m three weeks in to a daily yoga practice.
More than anything, I’m appreciating the gift I gave myself - compassion and acceptance - which allowed me the space I needed to discover what would work best in this particular moment.
What's your relationship with structure? Where could structure support you in your life right now? Where might you be holding on too tightly?
Jessica Curtis is a professional life coach who helps people cultivate intention and live from a place of meaning and authenticity. If you think you could benefit from working with Jessica or want to invite her to work with your group, reach out to start a conversation.