Erin Loechner’s daughter, Bee, is in charge of feeding the dogs. It was about 5 p.m., and the dogs were ready for their food. But Bee was lost in her art project. Loechner (very badly) wanted to start giving Bee a lecture about the importance of responsibility, follow-through and keeping commitments.
Instead, as she writes in her brilliant piece on her beautiful blog, Design for Mankind, she said to her: “I see Bernie’s ready for dinner.”
“The paintbrush went down, and five minutes later, the dogs were fed and she was back to her creation, adding jellyfish to the ocean floor.”
Loechner picked up this small yet significant suggestion from her friend’s mom: Say what you see.
Which is a quick, powerful reminder for how we can approach others (instead of leaping to conclusions and getting upset). As Loechner writes, “… ‘Say what you see’ is applicable in nearly any scenario – in offering (and receiving) feedback, in sharing compliments, in encouraging another.”
It’s also a great reminder for how we can approach ourselves—observing our thoughts, feelings and behaviors without judging, criticizing, blaming, shaming ourselves.
I see that I’m upset. I see that I’m frustrated. I see that I’m hurting. I see that I’ve been turning to wine every weekend to relax. I see that I’ve been working long hours without a break. I see that recently I’ve been overeating more. I see that I’m having trouble sleeping. I see that lately I’ve been getting angrier and angrier with myself. I see that my inner critic keeps saying, “You don’t deserve self-care.” I see that the thought “I’m worthless” keeps arising.
Taking notice (without judgment) is the first step in taking compassionate, tend care of ourselves. Judgment clouds our vision. It serves as an obstruction, a giant wall. And in order to understand ourselves better, in order to understand what we need, in order to give ourselves what we need, we must have clear sight.
We must be able to see what’s going on, without the barriers of self-criticism. I can’t believe I’m drinking, again. What’s wrong with me?! Great. I’m a slow poke who can’t get her work done in a reasonable time. What else is new? I have zero willpower around food. It’s disgusting! I’m disgusting!*
Once we make the observation, we can get curious. We can explore where our feelings or actions are coming from. We can take the perspective of a scientist or reporter, who’s studying and researching, and dig deeper. We can start solving the issue. We can reach out for help.
We also can use “say what you see” to help us cultivate presence and gratitude. We can use it to ground ourselves when we feel stressed out or stuck. I see that the sky is lavender and pink this evening. I see shimmering stars. I see that my daughter is smiling and giggling as she plays with her cup of water. I see so many shades of purple in that single flower. I see my mom hugging my son. I see my legs letting me run. I see my hands letting me journal about something that’s important to me.
When you simply say what you see, you serve as a witness to your experience, which is to say you honor it. Which is to say you honor yourself.
* Actually, this has nothing to do with willpower, and you are not disgusting, or a loser or ______. You might be using food to cope with pain, which many, many people do, or you might be overeating because of boredom or exhaustion or any number of reasons. Working with a therapist can help you uncover why you’re overeating (and feeling out of control with food, if you are), and learn to practice supportive coping strategies. You also can read about sitting with your pain in this piece.