It’s commonly believed that we need to be hard on ourselves in order to achieve our goals. We think that criticising or telling ourselves to “just suck it up buttercup” will help us to manage our anxieties and stay motivated. This is ever so prominent in the fitness industry with its “no pain, no gain” philosophy.
Yes, we need to push ourselves sometimes in order to grow. For example, encouraging ourselves to plough through anxious thoughts in order to achieve something that’s important to us can help us to see that our anxious thoughts are no more than just thoughts. But being mean and self-critical in that process is doing us more harm than good: and it certainly is not self-caring. This is because self-criticism fosters a fear of failure and self-punishment, which ultimately ups our anxieties in the long run. I know, you’re probably thinking “but what if I stop shouting at myself in my head and just stay in bed watching Love Island reruns and eat double stuffed Oreos all day?” First of all, Double Stuffed Oreos are a-mazing...And love Island....well...not so much #sorrynotsorry. But I digress. The reality is that when you’re caught up in a self-critical way of thinking, it’s hard to see the alternative as being positive — because you’ll be perceiving it through a critical lens. So...why not try self-compassion? Self-compassion is often confused with self-indulgence. Many people think it’s “fluffy” and ineffectual. Or worse, that it’s selfish and just cringe. But in reality it offers us resources and options that are focused on trying to alleviate our suffering - instead of creating more through self-punishment and criticism. Self-compassion gives us another perspective on our failures because when we aren’t consumed with negative thoughts about ourselves, there’s space and distance for us to gain perspective and see how we can learn from our inevitable mistakes and failures. Self-compassion involves treating yourself with kindness and respect, and approaching your mistakes with a non-judgemental and open mind. And I don’t know about you, but I would much rather walk away from my screw ups feeling like I have learned something that I can apply in the future, than spending my precious energy berating myself with insults that risk lowering my self-esteem and confidence. To return to challenging the “no pain no gain” philosophy commonly seen in the fitness industry, if I set myself the goal to go out for a run and then realise that I’m not feeling it or that my body is in fact too tired to do what I want it to do, I have two options: Option 1: I can tell myself I’m lazy and giving up, and force myself to go on —therefore risking injury or two days of inescapably sore legs that make it difficult to sit on the loo and throws a screw in to my plans to go dancing with my friends the following evening. Or Option 2: I can practice self-compassion, acknowledge that I’m feeling tired, and give myself permission to stop. This leaves me with the option of going home to rest or to catch up with some of my chores that have been building up. By choosing to rest, it means that I might potentially wake up the next day feeling energised and ready to run. Self-compassion in this instance also leaves me with enough mental space (that otherwise would have been filled with self-loathing) to reflect on my experience and come up with ways of checking in with my body prior to going for my next run. Through that process, I’m gaining knowledge about myself and my body, being mindful, and ensuring that I am engaging with running in ways that minimise injury and maximise my enjoyment. Because I don’t know about you, but I would WAY rather go for a run when I’m feeling energised enough to do so, without getting injured in the process or hating every step I take. Bear in mind this is just a simplified example, and like all human experience, it’s much more complicated than what I’ve just laid out for you. But I’ve done so on purpose to give you a clear enough example of what self-compassion looks like in action and how it can foster self-development and growth. So if you’re tired of the constant flow of self-criticism in your head, try engaging in some deep breathing to ground yourself, or meditate, and consciously try to practise self-compassion. If you have trouble with this, no need to worry, just try imagining what you would say or do in a similar situation for somebody that you love and respect, and then try applying it to yourself. And if you want to learn more about it first, check out Dr Kristin Neff and Brene Brown - both of which have done extensive research and have some easily accessible TED talks xx J xx