by Sara Schairer: Are you setting goals for 2019?
Maybe you’re trying to lead a healthier life by eating a more plant-based diet, prioritizing sleep, or drinking less alcohol. Perhaps you have a goal of spending less time on your smartphone and more time playing board games with your loved ones. Or maybe you have a business-related goal, and you hope to reach a certain sales number or finish a big project you’ve started.
Whatever goal you set for yourself this year, there’s a good chance you’ll be energized to pursue it when the New Year rolls around. You might wake up early and meditate or hit the gym for the first few weeks of January. But when you get blindsided by the nasty cold that’s going around, your forward motion might turn into inertia.
That’s why self-compassion should be your top resolution this year. Without it, it will be much more difficult to bounce back and pursue your goals after you’ve been inevitably sidelined for one reason or another.
What Is Self-Compassion?
According to Kristin Neff, PhD, three main elements make up self-compassion:
Bring nonjudgmental awareness to your own experience—or, in this case, your own suffering. If you’re like most people, too often you focus on others around you and don’t take time to check in with yourself. By simply taking a breath and taking inventory of your emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations, you can bring awareness to your own suffering.
The nonjudgmental piece is key here. Don’t say to yourself, “How could I possibly be feeling this tense and stressed?” Just notice, with curiosity, “Huh, I feel tight in my chest area. I keep worrying about how I messed up.”
2. Common Humanity
You’re heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: We are all in this together.
You might think you’re the only one who had a moment of weakness that derailed your New Year’s resolution. You might think you’re the only one stressed about feeling purposeful in your work. You might think you’re the only one who got sucked into your smartphone screen and came up for air two hours later.
The good news is that you’re not the only one. The stress, failure, or heartache you’re facing does not separate you from others. Instead, it makes you part of this vast human team. Knowing this can bring you comfort, because you won’t feel as isolated when you struggle.
If you can treat yourself the way you treat your friends, you’re nailing this one. If not, self-kindness is something you might want to practice. Begin to notice the way you speak to yourself. If you notice that your inner voice diminishes you, try to stop it in its tracks and speak to yourself with kindness.
Why Do You Need Self-Compassion?
The amount of research on self-compassion continues to grow, and the results continue to impress. Self-compassion links to greater overall well-being, improved relationships, decreased depression, and increased motivation.
How Can You Cultivate Self-Compassion?
Unfortunately, society hasn’t done a great job teaching this skill. The “no pain, no gain” mantra gets a lot more airtime than the “befriend yourself” mantra. Because of that, you probably have to work diligently at developing self-compassion.
1. Self-Compassion Break
One of my favorite ways to practice self-compassion is through the Self-Compassion Break practice developed by Kristin Neff, PhD, and Chris Germer, PhD. It is used in their eight-week course, Mindful Self-Compassion.
Follow these steps to take a self-compassion break:
- Begin by bringing to mind something that is creating suffering or stress for you, and bring awareness to the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that arise.
- Say to yourself, “This is a moment of suffering.” (This is the mindfulness piece.)
- Say to yourself, “I am not alone. Others feel this way, too.” (This is common humanity.)
- Now place your hands over your heart or take another position that feels soothing.
- With your hands over your heart, say to yourself, “May I be kind to myself.” (This is self-kindness.)
You can amend the phrases to use language that feels right for you.
2. Visual Cue
Sometimes a simple reminder to be kind to yourself can help you weather your mistakes and pitfalls. Similar to tying a string around your finger, you can use a visual cue to help remind you to show yourself kindness. The visual can take various forms, from an encouraging phrase you post at your desk, a sticker you place on the back of your phone, a piece of jewelry, or a word you wear on your wrist.
I created the Self-Compassion It wristband to remind people to bring kindness and encouragement to themselves. When you decide to show yourself kindness or change your inner voice from criticism to encouragement, you can flip the reversible wristband from one side to the other.
3. Write a Letter to Yourself
Take time to write a letter to yourself as if you’re writing it to a good friend of yours. What would you say to your friend if they were going through a similar experience? You can focus each paragraph on a different element of self-compassion by first bringing awareness to your suffering, then recognizing that you’re not alone (common humanity), and finally offering up some words of encouragement
Write the letter in the second-person point of view, using the word “you,” instead of “I.” This will help you see yourself as a separate person, which may make it easier to relate to yourself as a dear friend.
If you have goals in mind for 2019, you can rely on self-compassion to help you achieve them. When you mess up, which you undoubtedly will, you won’t beat yourself up about it. You’ll acknowledge your mistake, give yourself a pep talk, and take the steps you need to get back on track. You’ll realize that your humanity keeps you from being perfect, and your mistakes make you just like everyone else.