What Has a Hold of You?

Moving to Florida, I’ve had to learn about many different species of plants, animals and insects that inhabit our environment. My latest adventure was with a plant known as mother-in-law tongue. I found the name humorous when I heard it, and after spending a good part of a day trying to eradicate the plant and its roots from my garden, I had much more time to think about its moniker.

You’ve likely seen this plant in a container; at your doctor’s or dentist’s office, or you may even have one of them in your home. It’s a lovely, green, spikey plant; it grows easily without much care required and it is very good for indoor environments as a natural air purifier.

My neighbor had one that outgrew its space, so she decided to plant it in her side yard garden. Over the years, this plant has taken over. Not to be confined by a property line, it had burrowed its way into the patch of land that separates our homes.

I shared that I was planning to remove these plants with my husband, and he suggested that with as much rain as we are having, it may be easy to pull them out when the ground is saturated. Brilliant idea.

The morning I decided to take on said task, I stepped outside armed with garden gloves and what I believed to be a large bag. The ground was very wet, and I was hopeful that I could make quick work of the removal. I tugged on the first plant, which quickly snapped off in my hand at the surface of the ground. I dug around at the base of the plant, trying to extract it from the muck. Not happening. It was not going to budge. I trudged into the garage for a shovel. Perhaps this was not going to be as easy as I had envisioned.

As I began extracting each plant, I recognized the depth to which the root structure had grown. This was one stubborn plant. At about the fifth root, it was clear that this plant had permeated the entire subterrain of my garden.

At times I would be able to find the end of the root, yet more often the root would break. The part that remained would allow a new path to grow. Pushing the dirt aside, I often found the roots wrapped around rocks or other roots, holding to the space it had forged. The name of the plant came to mind, ‘mother-in-law’ tongue. I had to look up the story of that name. Not surprisingly, the reference stated that the leaf’s sharp spike represents “the sharp tongue of women, and mothers-in-law in particular.” There must be enough people that accept this description as true, since they named a plant for it.

As I continued to attack my new nemesis, I extended the metaphor. These roots are much like old stories and thoughts that can permeate the nooks and crannies of our minds. We carry with us negative or self-limiting beliefs, formed from any number of sources, not just the sharp tongues of a mother-in-law. These thoughts calcify over time and much like these roots had grown and tied themselves around other roots and rocks, they get locked in place, intertwined with our true self and can become our reality. How often do we surrender our own judgment of ourselves, and allow someone else’s negative perspective to take hold?

We often become so accustomed to these thoughts that we don’t recognize that we have a conscious choice to change them. Words that we repeat, that we may hear in another person’s voice, or that become our own voice over time. We may think we have let something go and a trigger can take us right back to the moment, hearing the voice saying the words that hurt, feeling the emotions that we attempted to bury that accompany the story. We allow those thoughts, or ‘plants,’ to grow like weeds in our mental garden. But just like a garden, if we tend it, we can keep the words that do not serve us at bay.

We are shaped by our thoughts…we become what we think.” ~Buddha

Cultivating self-awareness to recognize both self-limiting and empowering thoughts and beliefs is an important practice of a healthy, functioning adult. Challenging limiting thoughts with evidence that disputes or disproves them can reduce the power they hold over us. Alternatively, when there is truth that accompanies the thoughts that plague us, ignoring them will not make them go away. The underlying dissatisfaction will fester and grow, much like the roots from my neighbor’s garden.
The first step is to identify the thoughts that don’t serve us. Once identified, paying attention to recognize when the thought pops into our heads, and to observe the thought and its corresponding emotional reaction without judgment. Being as direct as “Well, there you are again,” and having an empowering thought to replace it is an effective practice.

We have the power to change our thoughts and doing so will change our experience.
The conversations we have with ourselves are the most important and impactful ones for our well-being. Our internal dialogue, whether it is our own voice, or someone else’s, whether it is supportive and kind or harsh and punitive, impacts you and everyone around you. And to revisit the metaphor, digging down to the roots is sometimes the only way to expose what has a hold on you.

What thoughts have you allowed to be planted in your garden? Is it time to pull some weeds?


written by: Dawn Rowley

BenchStrength Coaching, LLC is a leadership development and coaching firm that helps companies build better leaders in their talent pipelines.