Do you make New Year’s resolutions each year and find it hard to persevere? Do you beat yourself up when you fail? This year I have a few resolutions. At the top of my list is being kind to myself.
This being kind to myself is fairly new thing for me.
For a long time I've been a big fan of driving myself with fear and self-criticism. I would speak to myself in a way that I'd never consider taking to a friend, or let's face it, even someone I found quite difficult. This constant self-flagellation worked to a point. I finished my degree and I got a good job. Yet, no matter how well I did, I always felt as though I'd never done quite enough, that I needed to work even harder. Worse still, I felt as though I was never good enough! If only I was smarter, more beautiful, more interesting, more—something. This lack of self-worth trickled into my personal relationships. I couldn't draw boundaries with friends and I went out with people who weren't very caring or considerate.
My life changed when I came across a quote by psychologist and happiness coach, Robert Holden (http://www.robertholden.org/about-robert.aspx), it said, 'No amount of self-improvement can make up for a lack of self-acceptance'. For me this was such a simple yet radical idea. I'd always tried so hard to be better, but I'd never even considered being kind and accepting of myself as I was! At first I wasn't fully convinced. I was worried that it was self-indulgent, that I might loose motivation. I'm a researcher, so of course I went and read the research! And there's plenty of it. Dr Kristin Neff, Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas (http://www.self-compassion.org/), says that driving ourselves with self-criticism not only raises stress hormones and contributes to depression; it can also reduce our ability to learn from constructive feedback. More, that we can become so afraid of people seeing the 'real' us – the bits we don't like - that we hide our failures behind a false mask that only serves to make us feel even more fearful and isolated. The good news is there is another way! Researchers as Berkley University -http://psp.sagepub.com/content/38/9/1133.abstract found that if people treated themselves with kindness, or as they call it, self-compassion, not only did they feel better about themselves, they were also MORE motivated to achieve their goals!
Being kind to myself has changed my life. I perform better at work. If my research doesn't go well, I continue to feel good about myself and I look for solutions. I'm happy to get feedback from my work-colleagues. My personal life is better too. My friendships and relationships are healthier. I'm more open and authentic and I draw better boundaries. And here's the most surprising thing of all. Being kind to myself has made me a MUCH kinder person. I'm more understanding, more forgiving. I'm a much better friend and I'm a much better parent. Since practicing self-kindness is the key to my own happiness and success I'm keeping it at the top of my New Year's resolution list. Second, is running twice a week. What's on your list? Are you hard on yourself when you don't achieve your goals?
Jo River is an explorer, writer and speaker, who teaches and researches in health and social science at the University of Sydney, Australia.