Five Practices from "Try Softer"


Try Softer

By Audi Kolber

243 pages

I recently finished reading Try Softer by Aundi Kolber. Kolber’s book is a good introduction to learning why you act the way you do under stress and how to practice better strategies.

Aundi states her purpose in the introduction. While meeting with her therapist, she confessed that she was in a constant state of overwhelm. She felt as though she were failing at work, at home, and in relationships. Her therapist leaned forward and asked “What if - just for a change - instead of trying harder, you tried… softer?” (3) The premise of this book is that we can cope with minor anxieties more effectively if, instead of trying harder, we try softer. 

I found her suggested practices the most helpful part of the book. We all want to increase our Window of Tolerance; we all want to build resilience when stressed; we all want to stop overidentifying with problems; we all want to react better when under pressure. The practices below can start you out on a path to trying softer and becoming a more balanced, regulated person. 

(Note: Audi does not list the practices out in this order. I’m simply reconfiguring her words in a way that is helpful for me.)

Practice 1: Grounding (pgs.106-109 & 111)

Grounding is practice that works instantly to calm down when under pressure. When I feel as though I am about to react in anger, or tear up with emotions, I have found that taking a few seconds to ground myself works wonders. 

All you have to do is take note of your surroundings. In your mind, name something you can see, something you can feel, something you can smell, something you can hear, and if possible, something you can taste. This will instantly help you stay present and not lose it.

Practice 2: Breath Prayer (pg.88)

Taking longer, deeper breaths calms our nervous system and helps anchor our mind. And calling out to God for reassurance while you do it is even better! When I am overwhelmed, but not sure what to ask God, I will often practice a breath prayer.

Simply choose a word or short sentence as a prayer. Pray that, out loud or in your mind, while you slowly breathe. You can whisper a word, like “Yahweh” (the Hebrew name for God, translated “I Am”). Or inhale with “The Lord is my shepherd…” and exhale “... I shall not want.” Mystics in the Middle Ages did this daily with the Jesus prayer: (inhale) “Lord, be merciful to me…” (exhale) “...a sinner.” Do this several times until you are in a better place.

Practice 3: Mindfulness (pgs. 119-130)

Aundi defines mindfulness as “moment-by-moment awareness” (119). In order to practice mindfulness, pause and focus your attention on your body and feelings. Move your attention from one part of your body to the next, taking note of any discomfort or tension. You may also focus on external features, like stopping to notice a beautiful sunset, or feel a warm breeze. 

The key to mindfulness is observing yourself with nonjudgmental awareness. Aundi explains, “I have the ability to observe this sensation in my body without becoming overwhelmed by what I’m experiencing” (121).

Practice 4: Containment (pgs. 87-88, 182)

When you experience worry, there is usually no way to fix it. Yet by practicing containment, we can lessen the anxiety we feel and give ourselves breathing room to process and regulate.

You can try practicing containment by visualizing whatever you are worried about. Take that worry - in your imagination - and place it in a container. Aundi had one client who envisioned her worries burning in a fire; then she imagined herself spreading the ashes from an airplane. 

This practice hasn’t been entirely helpful for me. But perhaps it will help you disconnect from your anxiety and see yourself as autonomously detached from your problems.

Practice 5: Naming Feelings

I find it strange that sometimes I can experience nervousness, edginess, or anger in a given moment; yet not even realize it until later. This is because our bodies keep a memory of unpleasant situations. Whenever we are about to board that plane, or meet that person, or hit that stage - our bodies tense up. 

One way to overcome these tensions - or at least better cope with them - is to learn Emotional Granularity: “the ability to identify and articulate the words that most closely match our experience” (180-181).

The other day I was angry. So angry. All I could do was put on my shoes and go for a walk. As I walked I began to dialogue with God and with myself, asking “Why am I so angry right now? What is going on?” A word came to me that summed up my feelings: DEFEAT. I was feeling defeated. I felt like a failure, a disappointment, a fraud. And this lack of confidence and control forced my mind into mad-mode.

Your Next Step

If you tend to get overwhelmed easily or over-react to stress, these practices may help you become more mentally and emotionally regulated. Pick one or two of the practices above and try them for a few days. 

If this helps and you want to try more, I encourage you to see a licensed professional counselor or buy the book and read it carefully.