Anyone who knows me knows I read. A lot. Over the years I have learned to put books into certain categories: interesting but not terribly useful, inspirational but not terribly practical, heavy on suggestions or highly directive books almost demanding I follow the recommended approaches. I’ve read books that reinforce something I already knew, poorly written books that make a few good points, books that don’t have much if any impact at all and then the profoundly rich and meaningful books with brand new information or those that compliment other things I know that give me new perspectives.
I can almost tell within minutes under which category a book will fall and that determines how much time I spend with a book: a quick, cursory overview that gives me the basics, a jump-around approach based on what seems relevant to me, or a much more focused, deeper dive into what is contained as I more thoroughly read it. When I get out the highlighter, it means it is a serious read deserving of my full attention.
Several people have recommended Try Softer by Aundi Kolber to me so today I finally started it.
I haven’t gotten far but the author has won me over with her introduction describing herself as a therapist who loves her job but was in a constant state of overwhelm due to not feeling like she was doing enough for her clients. This made her go one more step – to believing she is simply not good enough.
Her wise supervisor pointed out how much she really is doing and asked her, “What would happen if you allowed yourself to release your grip on this situation?” She says his suggestion made her pulse race. “’But how will anyone be okay if I don’t care all the time? her inner critic all but screamed. ‘If I’m not saving them, how will they survive?’”
This made me think of how many of us, especially in these months of being and feeling overwhelmed, believe we have to constantly be in charge, to try harder to make sure we are adequately caring for those around us. The author of the book says that she was forced to face the fact that trying harder just wasn’t working for her anymore.
“The strategies I have been using my entire life—hustling, overworking, …. constantly shifting to accommodate the dysfunction that surrounded me—they had kept me alive, yes, but now they were taking their toll. I felt less in control, not more; worse, not better; weary, not wise.” She noted that pushing herself turns out to not be the answer.
The author’s supervisor advocated for her changing the way she was caring as opposed to telling her to stop caring. “What I mean is… What if—just for change—instead of trying harder, you tried… softer?”
The author sends an important message to her readers and I think one that we can all learn from: “Dear reader, there are truly times when the best, healthiest, most productive thing we can do is to not try harder, but rather to try softer: to compassionately listen to our needs so we can move through pain— and ultimately life—with more gentleness and resilience.”
Especially in these very challenging times, we would all benefit by embracing this concept of trying softer. Self-care and self-compassion are essential for reducing stress and promoting well-being. The irony is when thinking of trying softer we are better able to care not only for ourselves but are freer to care in healthier ways for others.
I’m pretty sure that if the first four pages of this book grabbed me like this, the rest of it will continue to inspire.
Invitation for Reflection
- To what extent do you see yourself in the camp of the “try harder” believers?
- Does the suggestion that we all work on trying softer make sense?
- What could be some of your roadblocks to trying softer? What are some specific ways you might work to overcome them?