Be Kind To Yourself And Your Body: Wisdom from Tiffany Cleveland

For some reason, the beginning of the New Year feels like the perfect time to start something new.  I’m not sure if fitness center marketing started that or if it really feels like an organic time to Get. On. Track. 

The old habit: 

  • Start a workout program with full vigor.
  • Watch it fizzle into a twice a week half-hearted treadmill jaunt.
  • Watch that turn into equal parts “I’m too tired” and self-shame.
  • Give it another go in a few month ‘cause New Year, New Me

Setting Goals That Matter

I’m talking about prioritizing changing the shape of your attitude before your abdomen. I know, the term “self-love” is really thrown around a lot.  It sounds like a big task but it is really important and it takes practice and discipline–just like getting that booty you’ve always wanted.  But it can help change your life, not just your body.

The Things We Tell Ourselves

I think the part that I always struggled with is: How do I love myself when I’m just so imperfect? How do I believe that I’m perfect AND have so many goals to be better? 

The truth is that you ARE perfect right now. You are a miracle!  And like a miracle of perfection you have the inner push to be better every day. So, be your own today’s version of perfect and it’s okay to push for tomorrow’s version of perfect sans the self-shame of not being perfect. Clear as mud?  

The New Habit List

This new habit list is a starting point.  Take what resonates with you and leave what doesn’t. I do recommend trying them a few days in a row before completely disregarding them.  

Change is almost as uncomfortable as the day after lunges. You can make them fit your agenda, beliefs, and timelines. I just ask that you stay curious and make sure they feel good to your soul.

  1. When you wake up and go into the bathroom, look into the mirror.  Look into your eyes and smile at your reflection.   

A few things can happen here.  There is a good chance you’ll say, “This is stupid”. I ask that you stare a little longer. This isn’t easy for everyone, so have patience. You might get emotional.  

Looking into your eyes might feel a lot like looking into your pain points, your sleeplessness, your insecurities. Notice the thought and let it go. Smile again. 

No matter how you feel about what you see, this IS you. This is where you get to start your new journey today. Have gratitude that you’re standing and you have another opportunity to start a mini-adventure.

  1. Do your bathroom business to include any self-care that lifts your mood.
  1. Before you leave, put your hands on your hips, pick your chin up and close your eyes. Take a few deep-cleansing breaths. 

On every inhale, count to five and imagine breathing in fresh, clear, clean air. 

On every exhale, count to seven and imagine breathing out any thought or worry you’ve ever had. 

  1. Keep your eyes closed.  Now imagine how it feels to be who you want to be. 

If your goal is to be a healthy person, embody that feeling. What does it mean to you? What does it mean for you? How would you feel in your clothes? How would you feel in front of strangers or at the gym? 

With your eyes closed, put that costume on and walk like a boss. Own your body and your attitude and everything that comes with it. Know that you are that healthy person and take that with you throughout the day.

  1. Make decisions as that healthy person.  

During the day we make hundreds, even thousands of decisions.  When you come to a valid choice point, ask yourself “Which one of these would a healthy person choose?” The answer is usually clear, if it’s not then it might not be relative at all.

  1. Use discretion and not judgment. 

If you choose the cake over the oatmeal for breakfast, say it out loud: “I am choosing to have cake for breakfast instead of oatmeal.” 

You have the opportunity to be honest with yourself without shaming your choice. This is a concept that I did not grow up understanding, and it is one that brought a huge shift in my perspective. But clearly, sometimes cake for breakfast is a must.

  1. Be patient with yourself.  

If you have any trials with anxiety or insecurities, this work may be almost as exhausting as the first day back to the gym.  Keep going. You got this. 

Final Thoughts

Try this method for a few weeks.  Notice the ease that comes with smiling at you.  Notice how other people respond to you. 

When negative thoughts pop in, let them. They are just thoughts; notice them and let them go. 


Author Bio

Tiffany Cleveland is a light and encouragement to all who know her. She dabbles in all the things she loves: volunteering at the Food Bank, writing, mountain biking, and Youtubing. She describes herself as “just a girl who understands that unconditional love is a slow dance of choice and a practice of repetitive choice”.

Tiffany grew up in a small town in eastern PA and blossomed into her “ever-changing self” in North Carolina, Italy, Japan, and the desert that speaks to her soul: Tucson, Arizona.

When she is not busy serving as a Master Sergeant in the Air Force, Tiffany embraces experiences that take her out of her comfort zone, deep conversations over decaf espresso, and sitting in stillness to hear the inaudible nudges from above.  She has a passion for learning, and she loves brave, incredibly compassionate people doing wildly good things in this world.

How To Navigate Singleness

“We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt

When I was growing up, I was a cute little blonde with blue eyes and curly hair and dimples. I had a cheery personality and everyone liked me–I had no problem making friends–but I was invisible to the boys. As I got older and into my dating years, I felt really self-conscious when I didn’t have a date. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t anyone ask me out? 

Being invisible became a real problem for my self-esteem. I compared myself to other girls and automatically assumed everyone else was better than me. I hated myself because I wasn’t the girl every guy wanted to get with. I hated other women because they were the girls every guy wanted to get with. In judging others, I perpetuated a lie that I was not good enough to be loved exactly as I am for who I am without any changes. The more I believed the lie, the more I trapped myself in hatred of myself and other women. The more trapped I was, the farther I fell from ever really seeing the truth. I WAS worthy of love…a truly awe-inspiring love story.

A Truly Awe-Inspiring Love Story

I’ve had a rough journey when it comes to love. I’ve been putting my heart out there and trying to trust guys for years, but every relationship or attempt at one leaves me burned.

I told myself that when I got to a certain goal or deadline, I would get back out there and try again. That moment came and went, though, and I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t sure I would ever trust again. Maybe I’ll just stay single, I thought. I started thinking about building a family through adoption, and I started making plans for a house of my own. Maybe a truly awe-inspiring love story is just not in the cards for me.

Take Time To Love Yourself

Being single can be the most miserable place to be–especially if you are relationship-oriented like me. The challenge, in this time is to keep telling myself it’s all going to be okay even when I don’t really know it is.

I try to fill my time with things for myself that I hadn’t been able to pursue before. For example, I was able to focus and finish my Master’s degree after a breakup. I have also spent the alone time to focus on ignored health needs and learn new skills.

It’s important to do healthy things that make your heart feel better too. Now is the time to read a mystery instead of a romance, watch The Crown on Netflix, finish a project, go somewhere new, and spend more time with quality friends.

“Personal development is the belief that you are worth the effort, time and energy needed to develop yourself.”

―Denis Waitley

Final Thoughts

I am not an expert on relationships. I am still figuring this out for myself too. But I know this much: you don’t have to be a perfect person to be loved, and just because your love life is a mess now, doesn’t mean it will be that way forever.

Give yourself some room to focus on you and get healthy.

Love will come when it is right and when your heart is healed and ready for it. When it does, be smarter from your past mistakes; don’t hold on to bad fish for years hoping they will get their lives together and stop stinking.

Dare to believe you are worth a love that will go the distance for you, and you just might be one of the lucky ones that finds it.

The Importance of Investing Time In Yourself

Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it is the wellspring of life.

Proverbs 4:23

I remember the fear of the crash, the falls, and the subsequent visits like it was yesterday. While I did not have an injury that required surgery, I discovered I had degenerative disc disease. My whole life had to change to learn how to manage it better.

For a season, my life cycled around physical therapy, work, and home. I was afraid to drive for a while because other cars felt like a threat. Slowly my walking improved and my scars became less visible. I learned to listen to my body and invest in myself.

Invest Time In Yourself

Investing in yourself is one of the most important parts of emotional and mental health, but everything about life tries to keep you from doing it. Self-investment involves spending time with people, places, and activities that feed joy and positivity into your life. It also involves alone time doing things you enjoy and reading the Bible. These are the activities that fill our hearts and empower us to press on through this life. It takes conscious effort to invest in yourself.

Some people go through life taking all they can get along the way. Others spend their lives serving and forget even what it looks like to have fun. Sometimes takers need to be humbled to serve, and sometimes servers need to learn how to take. If you don’t take the time to self-care, you won’t be able to be there physically for others.

What can you do today to pour value into yourself?

Would an extra-long soak in the bath or painting your nails or wearing that new dress to work make you feel beautiful? How about a trip to the beach or a drive to the mountains?

Guarding your heart is not just about being careful about who you love or what you expose yourself to, it is also about giving your heart love in the language that speaks to it–your own personal love language.

Take some time to invest in yourself today.

Christmas Time Blues, Doubts, And A Hard Lesson In Valuing Your Health

This Christmas is not setting itself up to be one of my best ones, and it’s not because of what I’m about to tell you. It’s because so far this Christmas season, I have bought all my presents but not wrapped a one. I never found an ugly Christmas sweater to wear to the party, so I was completely left out of the photos. I’ve missed almost every Christmas song on the radio, been too busy-or sick-to decorate, and lost out on all my Christmas parties (even the ones I planned myself). It’s warmer than Autumn, most days this December, it’s not feeling like Christmas at all.

Christmas starts to feel like Christmas to me when the first cup of cider is poured in November, and the craft bazaars start popping up everywhere for early shoppers. This is my favorite time of year, and it excites me almost as much as Christmas morning, because this is the time I get to support local artists and buy gifts for the ones that I love. When we gather and give thanks at Thanksgiving, it just preps my heart more for the appreciation and love to come. The bright lights, the displays, and the holiday specials all feel magical to me. Christmas music and movies on constant play while I’m swimming in hot chocolate and gift wrap is…well…divine. Without all this cheer, all I hear is, “I’ll have a blue…Christmas.”

A Serious Wake Up Call

In the middle of my bustling, busy life, I got a serious wake-up call. I walked out the door, ten days before Christmas, excited to finally be going to a Christmas party, and my leg gave way beneath me. I fall on the steps and cried out for help. Help comes running, and I got back up only to feel my legs crumble again inside the house. I rested a moment, and looked at the clock; I was missing the party.

The shades of blue deepened in my heart. Again I tried to get up and leave. This time I made it to my car and fell completely on the cold, hard ground. I could feel the cold but nothing more, and I got scared. This falling business could be serious. I pulled myself up with a cane and my car wheel, but couldn’t hold it. My right leg was complete jello. All the strength of my left side was not enough to pick up Humpty Dumpty again. This time my cry for help would require a team of EMS workers to lift me.

With the arms of EMS gripped around me, I thought of my students. So many of them have expressed a desire to be EMS someday. I held on to the man closest to me–a volunteer first responder, a neighbor whose name I still don’t know. I let him be my legs that would get me to the stretcher and the ambulance and the hospital while I text work and my students what to do while their teacher missed class.

All Too Familiar

Six months before this moment, I was doing the same thing only much more damaged and covered in blood. I was hit by a van and spun down the highway three times. My brand new car was totalled. My face was cut and permanently scarred. My back was severely shaken out of alignment. Yet, I survived.

I remember thinking, in those few seconds of white as I spun down the road, “God, is this going to be it? This can’t be it. I’ve got so much left to do in the world.”

Then I thought about the tractor-trailer. Where was it? It had been right behind me before I was hit. I closed my eyes and braced for a second impact. “Oh God, Oh Jesus, please help me!”

I knew I would most likely not survive that blow. As my car spun out, I thought about my loved ones and how it would hurt them. I thought of all the things I left unsaid. I thought about my job, my goals, and my dreams. I wasn’t ready for the end.

Then suddenly, the car stopped. I opened my car door and tried to get out as quickly as possible. If I was still in the road, I didn’t want to be hit again. But I was not in the road. Somehow, I had been spun around enough to put me facing oncoming traffic but resting safely on the side grass a few feet beside the road sign.

This was God’s answer: Not yet.

Temptation To Doubt God

Landing back in the hospital, my thoughts spiraled.

“Are you sure, God? If I have a purpose not yet done in this world, why bring me more pain and suffering? How can that further your cause?”

I questioned God, but I didn’t get angry. I didn’t understand the purpose in the pain, but I remembered that we were never promised a struggle-free life.

In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world. –John 16:33 NIV

Four hours later lying immobile in the hospital bed, a CT scan revealed that I had a herniated disc in my lumbar spine. I left with heavy drugs, possible surgery, and weeks of required time off work. When it was all said and done, my body reset itself, and I learned a hard lesson in paying attention to my health.

But in the moment…all I had was the hope that God really was in control.

I wrote this poem:

Now my Christmas may be less active and bright.

I may be seeing your lights from a distance tonight.

I will be sending you gifts of hope and cheer,

while you celebrate with all who are near.

As you open your gifts, there’s one gift I hope we can share:

It’s the gift of the Christ child on Calvary’s snare.

What meant to kill and steal him from the Earth,

Gave to us our second birth.

Merry Christmas!