Loving Yourself into ActionDec 31, 2022 08:00PM ● By Leah Martinson
Many take a moment or two at the end of the year to reflect and even set some goals for the new year. Gym trends show a large increase in activity and attendance for the first few months of the year and then tend to taper off. There are the best of intentions when setting New Year’s resolutions as we feel motivated, committed and believe that this time it will stick.
It’s perplexing when there is a struggle to stick to goals and it can trigger feelings of failure and a tendency to be hard on oneself. There is a common assumption that allowing the bully in our head to unleash will somehow kick us into shape and push us into action.
Through the beautiful and insightful work of Kristin Neff and others in the field of Mindful Self-Compassion, it is understood that the opposite is true. Instead of beating ourselves up for something we did or did not do, engaging in self-compassion wires us for resilience and allows us to move through difficult times with more ease and grace.
Self-compassion is the ability to treat yourself with the same level of kindness and compassion you would extend to someone you care about. It is the ability to offer yourself grace and love when you're struggling or feeling insecure. The research shows that having self-compassion has a significant positive impact on how we navigate difficult times.
Many of us are fearful of being compassionate toward ourselves. We might tell ourselves that if we are gentle with ourselves, it will make us lazy, weak or selfish. The research shows the opposite. In fact, having self-compassion is great for our health, brings us strength, builds resilience and makes us more compassionate toward others.
Some of our resistance to self-compassion comes from the harsh messaging we receive from work culture, society and family of origin around value and worthiness. There is also a physiological component to our inner critic. Anytime there is a stressor, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, triggering the fight-or-flight response. Even when the stress comes from a thought such as a perceived failure or mistake, we feel threatened and this will trigger it.
Being in this stress response results in attacking ourselves with self-deprecating thoughts. We may think if we are really harsh with ourselves, this will protect us from making another mistake. Instead, this harshness weakens us and causes an endless negative feedback loop. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the human experience. When mistakes and failures are perpetually followed by a barrage of self-criticisms, this leads to feelings of inadequacy and even depression.
Having a relentless inner critic is a common human experience. So, let’s all take a deep breath and smile with compassion for each other in this shared experience. No need to beat ourselves up for having ever been harsh on oneself. Instead, let us put our energy into celebrating what the research shows us—self-compassion is powerful, and with some practice, can be fairly simple.
When planning to set New Year’s resolutions, be sure to include practicing more self-compassion.
Here are some tips from Neff:
When difficult experiences or emotions arise, rather than avoiding, resisting or distracting yourself, turn toward the difficult emotions and try to relate to them with tenderness, kindness, grace and mindfulness.
Allow yourself to give space to what you are feeling and meet it with love and curiosity.
Acknowledge this experience as a part of being human and that you are not alone.
Respond with the same level of care and attentiveness you may respond to a dear friend when they are sharing about a difficult experience.
Extending compassion to oneself will not necessarily immediately eliminate the difficult emotions, but it will allow us to move through them with more ease. Certainly, we could all benefit from more ease in life.
Leah Martinson is a board-certified health and wellness coach, licensed massage therapist, reiki practitioner and owner of Visionairium, in Minneapolis. One of her greatest joys in her practice is guiding people through the process of falling in love with themselves and watching their dreams unfold from a place of compassionate allowing. For more information, visit Visionairium.com.
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