Many times in our day to day lives we face things that are hard to do. And when we’re in that position it’s really understandable that the way we talk to ourselves (and others) is similar to those voices we heard when we were growing up – even when those voices were less than kind. As James Baldwin said in A Dialogue with Nikki Giovanni, “It’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself.”

So when faced with challenging situations, many of us goad ourselves into action with the harsh or manipulative voices we’ve embodied.  


An iconic image from my childhood – formal Christmas dinner with  
my great grandmother, the family matriarch, the year I was born  
For many reasons, I love having conversations with my now adult kids. One of these is they can often recall more vividly than I experiences we had together when they were younger. That “irritatingly reasonable” line in the title of this Musing was a quote my eldest reminded me of recently. He was about 18, and we were sitting at table during an extended family celebration dinner – one that was much less formal than the one I was born into pictured above! The conversation was about parents who ‘guilt’ their children into doing things. In his inimitable way, Daniel turned to me and said “You don’t do that Mum. But one of the things that really pisses me off about you is that you’re so irritatingly reasonable I can’t argue with you even when I want to!”


Whether we’ve grown up with being ‘guilted’, driven by a sense of duty, harshly forced, or shamed by the ‘just do it’ culture that surrounds us, not many were raised with nurturing or even “irritatingly reasonable” modelling as a way of approaching the things before us that are hard or uncomfortable. More and more of us are beginning to notice this, and engage in both actively dismantling these old patterns, and actively creating more attuned and just systems. And my sense is this most effectively starts with the way we treat ourselves.


But practically, what does being “irritatingly reasonable” look like?!


Although perhaps not in those words, this has been a questions I’ve found my clients asking recently, and, as is always the case when this happens, I’ve been exploring more deeply myself. I’ve identified 3 Steps – these are the same whether the person doing the ‘hard thing’ is you, or someone else. And I’ve followed these 3 Steps with a couple real life examples. You can also download a pdf of these steps here:
  1. Notice and affirm the upset – acknowledge this situation sucks, or is a pain, or whatever the words the upset person is using … there’s no minimization here! Whether or not this is true for an external observer, whatever it is you/the other upset person are feeling is valid, and this MUST be acknowledged before there’s any hope of truly moving on to Step 2
  2. Expand the frame of reference to discover the big “Yes” – if we’re going to expend our life force energy in doing something that’s hard, we’ve got to find some compelling reason to do so … something that’s deeply true to the core of who we are. No should or ought to will do. Without this, the upset parts of us will rightly continue to be upset! This is where the “irritatingly reasonable” part comes in … when we name our big “Yes”, even though there may be many other things we’d enjoy doing more, all parts of us are clear that doing the task at hand IS in integrity with who we are, and so will be more willing to step back from fighting against us.
  3. Baby steps, acknowledgement and rewards – remember, whatever your/their current chronological age, this is a new pattern you’re developing here/or inviting the other person into, and the old pattern has likely been in place from the time you/they were quite young! So the upset may be not far from the surface, and the need for feelings to be heard, honoured and compassionately understood, and efforts to be warmly appreciated and appropriately rewarded are all important parts of establishing this new way of being in relationship doing hard things. And depending on how big the hard thing feels, how frequently it needs to be done, and/or how long it takes to do it, these 3 Steps may need to be repeated – as often as necessary – especially when we’re first beginning to nurture a more empathetic and compassionate listening presence with ourselves.

This was definitely the case in the first of the examples I said I’d share. This was many years ago when I was just beginning to develop this kind of empathetic listening presence with myself. This was a shift from my driving myself as a result of an enormous sense of responsibility and many internalized shoulds.


One Fall, I’d bought a bunch of bulbs to plant in the rock garden outside our front door. It had seemed like a lovely idea, but I hadn’t realized how hard it was going to be – the soil was clay-like, and there were lots of tree roots just under the surface. I quickly realized this was going to take much more effort that I’d imagined, and there were parts of me already tired from all the other things that had been on my agenda earlier in the day.

So Step 1 – noticing and affirming the parts of me that were upset was crucial! “Yes this is SO hard, much harder than we’d thought! And you’re tired, it’s true.” The inner conversation went on until it was clear those parts felt heard before I moved on to Step 2 – discovering the big “Yes” in this for me. The task at hand was planting the bulbs, but the deeper desire the wise part of me recognized was creating beauty. Granted it wouldn’t be visible until Spring, but every part of me loved the idea of the splashes of colour that would magically appear after, the snow melted – and not just once, this would continue for years! I kept reminding myself of this image as the digging and planting continued. And I did that right alongside the Step 3 moves. Those “woohoo, another done!”, and eventually a combination of “OK, so I know you’re really tired, and the idea of 20 more bulbs feels like way too much. So how about we make a deal – let’s do 3 more for sure, and if you really can’t do any more, then we’ll stop for today and come back to this tomorrow. And whenever we get them all planted, there’ll be a special treat!” I can’t now actually remember what the treat was, but it was an important piece of the process – that along with more cheers for each 3 that were completed, and special markings for those few holes that were easy to dig! Every Step fed into the external success – all the bulbs were planted that day. They also nurtured the internal sense of success – the “I did it!”, right alongside the deepening of the relationship with myself.


The other example is from the experience of someone who loves life, and for whom enjoyment and fun are high values. So understandably, they find motivating themselves to engage the boring or routine things in life challenging. We’ve has this conversation on several different occasions, so the 3 Step process isn’t new to them. But the most recent iteration involved a number of routine tasks related to their work – things they’re responsible for, that when these tasks aren’t completed others are impacted. Despite their best efforts they’d been unable to find fun or enjoyable ways to complete them, and so several emotions were surfacing for attention. It was in listening and attending to these (Step 1) that gave us clues as to Step 2. In addition to fun, a couple other big “Yesses” emerged – an inner commitment to excellence (a need to do a good job – this had overtones of winning!), as well as a true-heartedness that wanted to be dependable – didn’t want to let others down. Though they’ll need (Step 3) to partner over time with those fun-loving parts in order to really establish this new pattern, as soon as we named these big “Yesses”, we could feel a settling of the inner rebellion that had been in play.


There’s something very powerful about connecting with the deep values that are ours. Though there may well be many things we might still rather do when faced with these hard things, engaging them from a place that bring us into alignment with our true selves is the most satisfying and least effortful way to accomplish them. Pragmatically, the more we step away from those conditioned shoulds, and instead live from these truly authentic and intentional choices, the greater ease, and sense of accomplishment we’ll experience.


I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s powerful invitation in her poem The Summer Day Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The soul living inside each of us is far too precious to treat with anything less than great respect, right alongside an honouring of our humanity as we learn to do this more each day. If this exploration has piqued your interest please be in touch, I’d love to explore these ideas and practices with you.

Nurturing juicy co-creative partnerships
…with ourselves, others & life!