Right now we're in that funny place "between the years" - recovering from heavy meals, holiday get togethers, and getting ready for the new year. New Year's Resolutions are starting to pop up in conversations. These resolutions can take on a variety of shapes. Increasing health and fitness, along with decreasing unhealthy habits, is probably one of the most common New Year's resolutions (did you know there's a public run in New York City's Central Park at the stroke of midnight of 1/1/12?). Others resolve to improve their relationships, change their world view, volunteer and give back, set new priorities, work less and play more, or play less and work more. I'd like to propose another option - increasing self-compassion.
Too often do we beat ourselves up about mistakes we make or failing to achieve a goal. While this may be an attempt at self-discipline, it often unfortunately backfires by creating more pressure, stress, anxiety, or even depression. Most of us would agree that it's easier to feel sympathy and compassion for others than for ourselves. How about starting to turn a little of that inward - accepting that we make mistakes, and being warm and understanding towards ourselves. When we start looking at our imperfections and life's difficulties with self-compassion, we recognize that we can be gentle with ourselves and approach our position in life with sympathy and kindness. This can ultimately lead to greater emotional balance.
Kristin Neff, a prominent researcher on self-compassion, defines self-compassion as a two-fold concept. First, self-compassion entails noticing that we are suffering at a given moment. Let's say you beat yourself up about your failure to complete a task on time. Instead of playing over and over in your head that you did something wrong, try to recognize that you are having a hard time with this. Second, self-compassion means that you feel warmth and care towards yourself, along with a desire to soothe your pain. So instead of judging yourself harshly for your failure to complete a task, try extending understanding and kindness towards yourself when you fail or make mistakes.
Now you may find yourself wondering how this approach will help you accomplish your goals. You may even find yourself arguing that unless you discipline or judge or criticize yourself, you will "never" get where you need to be. I encourage you to ponder how self-compassion may actually help you become happy and healthy. By accepting that like others, you too are a human being who is less than perfect and makes mistakes, you can start to let go of unrealistic hurdles you place in your own way. Life does not always happen according to our expectations. That's okay. That's what makes us part of this place called Earth, of this wonderful and diverse humanity. Every single being on this earth has encountered frustration, loss, made mistakes. We are all part of this. Accepting this instead of fighting against it can make things so much easier for ourselves and those around us.
Some resources to learn more about and increase self-compassion:
- Visit Kristin Neff's website.
- A great book is The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by C.K. Germer
- Talking to a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can be a great help.