This isn’t going to be an article that suggests you embrace your faults, acknowledge them, and move on.
Because you and I know that shit doesn’t work.
I use to embrace my faults, acknowledge them, move on, and guess what – that shit didn’t work.
I’d still beat and berate myself for screwing something up and not being strong enough to get past it.
If I asked you if compassion for others is a good quality to have you’d most likely agree with me… right? If not, stop reading. This article is not for you.
And if I asked you (I guess I am asking you) if you would want others to show you a little compassion when you’re struggling you’d most likely say yes… right?
So then why the heck do we have such a difficult time showing ourselves compassion?
I know I’ve emotionally beaten myself up for screwing up a diet, missing workouts, failing a test, messing up a work project, failing in a relationship, being single, my past, my future, and those moments I feel like doing absolutely nothing – being as lazy as I can be – watching Master of None on Netflix. Not that this just happened or anything.
We beat ourselves up, try to force feed ourselves motivation, and call upon willpower so that we will work harder, and be more disciplined. However, researchers Juliana Breinis and Serena Chen at the University of Berkeley have shown that doing so may have the reverse effect.
- Self-Compassion Condition: Participants were asked to write to themselves for three minutes from the perspective of a compassionate and understanding friend.
- Personal Positive Qualities: Participants were asked to right about their own positive qualities.
- Enjoyable Leisure Activities: Participants wrote about a particular hobby they enjoyed.
The last two conditions were to help differentiate self-compassion from positive self-talk and positive mood in general.
Juliana and Serena found that those who were helped to be more self-compassionate about their mistakes reported more motivation to apologize for the mistakes and more committed to not repeating the behavior again than those in the control conditions. Self-compassion was found as a method for strengthening personal accountability.
“If we can acknowledge our failures and misdeeds with kindness—”I really messed up when I got so mad at her, but I was stressed, and I guess all people overreact sometimes”—rather than judgment—”I can’t believe I said that; I’m such a horrible, mean person”—it’s much safer to see ourselves clearly. When we can see beyond the distorting lens of harsh self-judgment, we get in touch with other parts of ourselves, the parts that care and want everyone, including ourselves, to be as healthy and happy as possible. This provides the encouragement and support needed to do our best and try again.” – Kristin Neff, Greater Good
WHAT EXACTLY IS SELF-COMPASSION?
According to leading self-compassion research and author of a mighty fine book Dr. Kristin Neff defines self-compassion like this:
Self kindness: Treating yourself with some decency.
Common humanity: Understanding that you’re a part of a greater whole, that you’re not a weirdo, and that other people have the same problems as you do.
Mindfulness: Being non-judgmental, accepting your faults and limitations (yes, part of living a life without limits is the process of discovering your personal limitations), getting in-touch with your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
Not that I’m using a personal example or anything – but a real life example might go a little something like this.
Mindfulness – I’ve been trying to put on muscle for 2 weeks and nothing! I’ve followed my “diet” perfectly and have trained like a beast. This isn’t working, I just can’t put on muscle, why do I even bother?
Self kindness – According to your habit trackers (talking to myself here) you never missed a workout and you did follow your muscle-building nutrition habits to 90% consistency. Great job! Maybe this week you can try to get a bit better. More consistent with the habits, add a bit more weight to your lifts, or maybe make one small change that you think will help you put on a little more muscle.
THE BEST FRIEND METHOD TO BE MORE SELF-COMPASSIONATE
What would you do if your best friend called you day after day just to complain about you? Soon enough you’d probably no longer be friends with them, maybe want to fight them, or may complain about them to them as a way to even the score.
So why do it to yourself?
One way to solve this problem is by using what I like to call “The Best Friend Method.”
HOW IT WORKS
When you’re having a tough time, disappointed in yourself, beating yourself up, or are telling yourself things like, I have no willpower, I’m just not good enough, I don’t have the discipline, I’m not smart, strong, sexy, confident, insert your own “not enough” right here __________.
You’ll stop, breathe, and ask yourself what would I tell my best friend right now?
If you’d like to let some of your crazy out you can actually pretend that they’re standing in front of you and have a real conversation with your real but in this case imagery best friend. I’m serious, there’s a tree in my backyard named Dan after one of my best friends back in Virginia. The two of us (me and the tree) have discussed all sorts of things together. From me beating myself up about not sticking to a diet, missing workouts, to relationships, school, and work related stuff.
The goal is not to evaluate yourself positively or negatively but to do so honestly and rationally. It’s easier to do this using the best friend method because a lot of personal emotion is taken out of it. Think about it for a second. We’ve all had a friend that has come to us about a relationship issue. They’re crying, going back and forth about what to do, it’s because so much of them is invested – so much emotion. Mean while, in your head, you’re thinking what’s the problem. They’re a dick. Move on. You rational. Them, not so much.
TO SUM IT UP
Pick a fault or something you constantly crush yourself about. Talk to yourself like a supportive friend, coach, or mentor. As mentioned before I like to actually go outside, talk to a tree named Dan and have a verbal conversation so I can hear what I’m saying. I pretend he’s the one that’s beating himself up and I speak to him (or the tree) with compassion.
Try practicing this once per week for the next few weeks. I use to set aside 10 to 15 minutes on a Saturday or Sunday to talk to “Dan” about his week and if there was anything he was struggling with. Do this and I guarantee you’ll see a dramatic improvement in how you treat yourself and others.
SELF-COMPASSION FOR THE WIN
Just like everyone else on this planet you are flawed, imperfect, and fuck up sometimes. You wouldn’t expect perfection from anyone else so why expect it out of yourself.
I’m not saying to let everything slide. I’m simply suggesting to become aware of your suffering and pain but to not get caught up in it. Instead of reacting to things in your life you’ll now begin to actively participate.
If you can’t let go of past failures you’ll continue to react based on them in the future. This is why self-compassion is so important. You’re not giving yourself a get out of jail free card. You’re just not letting your mistakes define you as a person.
I’m confident that the Best Friend Method I have outlined above will help you to do so.
PS: Do you practice self-compassion? If so, what are some strategies you use?
Photo credit: Tord Sollie