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[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]Sliding Scale: a scale of fees, taxes, wages, etc. that varies in accordance with some kind of standard. – The Free Dictionary [/mk_blockquote]
We all use sliding scales. For instance, my friend pays her full-time, full-grown nanny, a higher hourly rate to care for her children all day long than she pays my 16-year-old daughter to watch the same children for a couple of hours so she can go out to dinner. And this is absolutely appropriate. Her nanny is an adult. She not only feeds the boys and keeps them safe and happy all day long, but she drives them to school and anywhere else they need to go. My daughter, on the other hand, builds Lego towers and drives toy trucks with the boys until it’s time for bed.
It’s not just in money-related areas that we use sliding scales. My expectations for my three children vary wildly depending on the task at hand or even on the day itself. (As you can imagine, this sliding scale is a bit of a hot button in my house.) One struggles with chronic messiness, and, thus, my standards of what constitutes “clean” when inspecting that bedroom are somewhat lower than for the other two. One struggles with timeliness and I find I’m thrilled whenever something gets done even close to its due date while I (admittedly) expect promptness from the other two. I may even expect less helpfulness from one child than the others when he or she is having a particularly stressful week.
My sliding scales of expectations extend beyond the walls of my own home. I expect more tightly packed bags from some baggers at our local market than I do from others. I expect more solicitous service from the wait staff at higher end restaurants than I do at Chili’s. I expect the yoga pants that I anted up for at Lululemon to last a whole lot longer and wear a whole lot better than the ones I found on the clearance rack at the Gap outlet.
My scales slide in accordance with a few variables. Age and ability are absolutely important to consider. Value and my investment play a part in the way my standards shift as well. But most important is a factor that is a little more elusive. It falls under the umbrella of compassion. If I notice that the waiter at the fancy restaurant seems to be having a really rough night, I cut him some slack if his service is slow. Similarly, if one of my kids is having a horrible week, I ease up on them. Sometimes this means I ask more of the other two. Sometimes it means I pitch in to help in ways I wouldn’t normally – making a lunch, extra help with homework, or the gift of a blind eye to the explosion of clothes covering a floor.
There is one area, however, where my scales don’t slide very much –if at all. I’m pretty tough on myself. I am always comparing myself to some imaginary ideal that I would never expect of others. Depending on the day, I can beat myself up about the way I mother, the way I keep in touch with my extended family, the state of my home or my yard, the quality (and frequency) of the dinners I prepare, or the proficiency of my yoga practice. I rarely give myself a break on an extra-busy day. I rarely cut myself a little slack for being tired or stressed.
In other words, the scale I use to judge myself seems to be stuck. From what I hear from my clients and friends, I’m not the only one with this problem. For all of us, compassion is the missing “lubricant” that would allow the scales of our self-expectations to slide better.
Learning to have compassion for ourselves can take practice. But it is a skill well-worth that work. Self-kindness plays an enormous role in the way we feel at the end of each day. Whether we feel frustrated or successful, whether we feel content or wanting, whether we feel at peace or unsettled can often be tracked back to our expectations of ourselves.
The time you spend on your yoga mat offers dozens of opportunities to pull out your sliding scale. Just because you’re wobbly in balancing postures one morning doesn’t mean the practice was a waste of time. Trying to balance is the key to eventually regaining your balance. Even if you were too fatigued to finish the series you set out to practice, remember that you still reaped the rewards of mindful movement and breathing. If today wasn’t the day that you finally figured out the posture you are currently working on, don’t forget that every attempt is a step closer to your eventual success. Taking a bigger picture view of the practice allows you to focus on all that went well rather than the bits that didn’t.
This shift in perspective is a generous and compassionate gift that we readily give to others but are often loath to give ourselves. Your yoga practice is a great place to learn to do so. If you’re anything like me, when you do manage to activate the sliding feature on your scale of self-expectations, you’ll find you feel a lot better about yourself at the end of each day. Better yet, when I give myself a little extra breathing room, I find that I more regularly stretch myself to new heights I never thought I’d reach. I bet you will too.