Separate Achievement from Love—Practicing the Art of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion means being nice to yourself, particularly when you are going through tough times. We are often too critical of ourselves when we are unable to achieve our goals. It’s uncomfortable yet undeniable. We have grown up with an ingrained belief that we are worthy of rewards only if we achieve something.
Psychologist Kristin Neff calls this “contingent self-esteem.” She points out that we have made our self-esteem contingent to external factors like beauty, fitness, IQ, talents, wealth, or creative achievements. Underlying this remains a constant need to feel better than others in order to feel good about ourselves.
Do not confuse self-compassion with self-pity. Self-pity is when you completely absolve yourself of all responsibility and blame your circumstances, and self-criticism is when you rest complete blame upon yourself. Self-compassion is the gentle balance you achieve when train yourself to see your failings in the most realistic manner.
Develop self-compassion by practicing these three mental qualities:
Self-kindness: Treat yourself the way you would like to be treated by those around you: with affection and respect.
Common humanity: Understand that suffering and failure are not abnormal but a worldwide phenomenon occurring everyday. Don’t feel isolated in being imperfect and flawed. Failure is not unique.
Mindfulness: Check yourself when you identify too much with the self-critic inside you. Be mindful of the psychological damage your self-critic is causing by festering negativity inside you.
We set out to achieve a goal. When we fail, we feel hurt and angry at ourselves. This is when our panic-ridden self-critic emerges and emotionally flagellates us. Too much self-criticism leads to stress and anxiety. Our mind perceives this stress as a reaction to an imminent threat and signals our brain to release cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol then forms a strategy to attack this threat, which, much to our dismay, is ourselves.
As intuitive as we may be in our daily lives, it is hard for us to perceive our lack of self-compassion, simply because it all happens inside our minds.
We need to separate love from achievement. We are worthy of love and care even before we set a goal and even if we fail to achieve that goal. If we don’t, how do we ever convince ourselves to be worthy of even achieving any goal?
Here’s a helpful exercise:
1. Evaluate self-criticism.
Notice your self-talk when you’re dealing with a difficulty. Write it down in your diary. Then, repeat it out loud to yourself.
What do you find? Is your self-talk harsh or cringeworthy? Is it worth saying to a friend?
2. Be your best friend.
School of Life encourages you to speak to yourself like you would speak to your best friend. If you can’t do this at first, think about it like this: What would they tell you when you confide in them?
Example: In 2013, I screwed up a secondment to London when I misplaced my passport at the last moment. Since I am an organized person, I took this rather gravely. This is the entry I made in my personal blog:
“I am an idiot woman. Mum is so right about me. How will I work my way up to Senior Associate if I carry on like this? I am seriously worried about myself.”
And this is what a close friend of mine emailed me:
“We’re bound to do stupid things every once in a while. Don’t kill yourself over it. Your boss loves your work. You will get another chance. So, let it go, babe.”
Our friends like us how we are. They are generous and understanding when we fail.
You know how to do it. You are already a loving parent, a welcoming aunt, a caring friend, a kind boss, or simply a warm person. You just need to remember to direct this compassion toward yourself as well.
Key Takeaways That You Can Pin Up
Love yourself regardless of achievement.
In my last message tomorrow, I’ll speak about what naturally flows from being kind to ourselves, to being kind to others.
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