Why self-compassion matters when you’re striving for a better life

So many of us take self-compassion for granted when it is a key ingredient to creating positive change and improving our lives.

Photo by Fuu J

Smart and caring women can be very hard on themselves. I don’t think I’ve worked with a client to whom I haven’t asked one of the following questions:

“Don’t you think you’re being rather harsh?”

“How might you be more gentle to yourself?”

“Would you ever say what you told yourself to your child or a friend?”

To many, it seems counterintuitive that being gentle is more effective at promoting change. Instead, people believe that the path to improvement is setting high standards and making corrections when they fall short.

This formula is ingrained in us and seems so natural, we don’t even recognize that we’re doing it.

Why we are our harshest critics

From my observations, there are two main reasons why women, in particular, are extra hard on themselves and both are related to perfectionism.

First, the hallmark of perfectionism is unreasonable standards. Trying to be perfect is impossible. Yet, society expects that of women in many ways, and early on striving for perfection has served us well. Many of us have been “good girls,” good students, daughters, sisters, and friends. And, that’s helped us to be good workers, bosses, and mothers.

The problem is that we’ve become so accustomed to setting high expectations for ourselves we don’t even realize it. We don’t see how we set ourselves up for failure from the start.

Second, perfectionistic thinking leads us to think in terms of all or nothing. So, women often tell themselves things like:

“If I’m not working hard, I’m slacking off.”

“If I make a mistake, I’m a failure.”

“Ugh, not again… story of my life.”

Why self-compassion matters

Meanwhile, when we are self-compassionate, we are able to do four key things that lead to positive change.

First, we can forgive ourselves when we make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. We are human. And, when we embrace this, we can learn from them not just feel bad about them.

Second, we can give ourselves permission to take baby steps. Setting unreasonable standards or even high expectations is not the key ingredient to positive change. Rather, taking tiny manageable actions is far more effective in creating good habits or working towards any goal.

Third, we can allow ourselves to do things we enjoy. And, the more we do things we enjoy, the more we can discover what gives us flow–what makes us lose track of time or feel stronger. And, authentic happiness doesn’t just land in our laps. It is a skill we need to practice.

Finally, self-compassion matters because it gives us permission to celebrate our accomplishments big or small. And, when we associate positive emotions with our small wins, it motivates us to continue and do more. This is because it helps us see ourselves in a more positive light. We can start seeing ourselves as someone who can make positive changes or follow through. (For more on this, listen to BJ Fogg on The Knowledge Project, one of my favorite podcasts.)

Your turn

Often, we are not able to see how much we hurt ourselves, it helps to talk to a friend or someone you trust.

If you’re interested in some guidance on updating your thought processes as you attempt to make a change in your life, consider coaching.

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