Sometimes we can be our own toughest critic. But we can also learn to be our biggest champion.
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash
What comes to mind when you think of self-compassion? Or maybe the better question is, how often do you think of the term self-compassion? Coming from a self-proclaimed “perfectionist in recovery”, I can admit that it is not always my first thought when I am having a tough day. It’s not that I mean to be hard on myself, but if I am being honest “tough love” does seem to be the default. “Power through.” “Keep pushing.” “Try harder.” And while there are times where this tenacity has served me well, what if there is another approach?
So Where Are You Going With This?
Let me offer up some context here. I’ve been doing some pretty heavy inner work lately. I’ve been learning more about conditioned pattern responses of the mind, and how with neuroplasticity we can rewire our minds to respond in ways that feel healthier and more conducive to how we want to live. To cut to the chase – somewhere along the way I became an incessant worrier. And as I continue to focus on what “healthy lifestyle” means to me – changing my relationship with “worry” has become my new target of focus. Don’t get me wrong, somewhere under all that worry is the good intention to make a plan, stick to my commitments, and meet personal goals. However what I have come to recognize is that there are times when all that worry does NOT serve me well. “What if this conversation doesn’t go as planned?” “What if this person can’t or won’t see things from my perspective?” Somewhere along the way there are times that excessive worry can lend itself to a need to control outcomes. To grip onto a predetermined expectation. In a complex world of equally complex humans, there are times that this type of worry is just not helpful. Trying to control outcomes, trying to control how others will respond, trying to insist upon one predetermined path is not only unrealistic, it creates a really rigid and inflexible environment of constant friction. And I’m just referring to the internal environment, let alone the impact to relationships with others, or the ability to adapt to change.
OK, Got it. So where does self-compassion fit in?
Ok, so now that I have determined there is this old behavior that I want to work on. I’m working through some meditations and some self reflection in order to build a new approach. I begin leaning into faith, exploring what optimism means to me. Optimism is, for me, the alternative response to worry. It encourages me to trust that things always have a way of working out, even if they don’t go according to MY plan. But here’s the issue. Our minds do not suddenly just stop operating a certain way because we want them to. There is resistance. The mind will want to stick with familiar patterns, routines, and conditioning. This is why habits are so powerful.
A struggle ensues. Though it is not with the outside world. It is within. Monday feels like an amazing day, and then suddenly some small amount of uncertainty or some unexpected trigger leaves my mind spinning. Grasping to cope in the way that it is most familiar with, and here comes worry all over again. Well try doing that over the course of a few weeks or months and it can be pretty exhausting – fighting old habits, while trying to build the new. These responses were built over years of time, and reinforced over and over again. It takes time to create a new, more automated response (ie defaulting to optimism vs worry). This particular approach to inner work is new to me, so I don’t have it all figured out. But this is where self-compassion kicks in. “I don’t have it all figured out, and that is OK. I know I am doing my best. Although I may have found myself relying on my old way of responding this time, I know I am doing my best to develop new habits. AND I can see progress”
We all have something in our life we are working on, be it some inner work to change how we respond to a demanding and unpredictable world, or some personal or professional goals. Sometimes it feels like we are taking 10 steps forward, and sometimes it feels like we have taken a couple steps back. Either way, we can all use self-compassion.
So what do we do about it?
Self-compassion becomes the practice of loving and accepting yourself – your whole self. Even the parts that you are working on healing. Even the parts that have not yet signed up for the healing. These rough edges have served you in the past, and in many ways these rough edges are showing up every day still trying to do their job. They mean well. But what would it look like to take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Really become connected with the two eyes staring back at you, and say “I see you, and I love you. All of you.” What would it look like to acknowledge that some days will be better than others? I believe that some of the most ambitious people can also be some of the most harsh on themselves. It’s great to have high expectations. Reaching challenging goals, or achieving huge transformation is incredible. But how we talk to ourselves, and how we treat ourselves along that journey is just as important.
Here are a few practices that I have found that help me offer just a bit more self-compassion on those tough days.
Sending you nothing but love.