In the late hours of January 1st, 2022 I came across a quote that gripped me. I re-read it several times and then sent it out to my tribe. The quote is from Ellen Goodman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, and it reads:
“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives...not looking for flaws, but for potential.”
If you are anything like me, come January 1st, you scan the rooms of your life, but you do so with a lens of self-criticism. Self-criticism is focused on pointing at what is wrong and typically what needs to be eliminated. What soon follows are mental images of where you are dropping the ball, laziness, self-indulgence, and hyperfixation with weaknesses. It is no surprise that a feeling of heaviness often sets in. When your goals are rooted in a perspective that something is wrong with you, it is a tough spot to launch into the hope and light of improvement.
In my work as a therapist, I have observed a pattern of connection between self-criticism and harsh self-scrutiny, perfectionism, depression, anxiety, and guilt. These are really difficult emotional experiences to build on and move from. In fact, many people who lean towards self-criticism tend to get stuck in patterns of procrastination and rumination. This is not a sustainable way of pursuing a goal and it doesn’t feel good to relate to yourself in this way.
Many of us are creating goals from a stance of self-criticism. It is no surprise that the majority of individuals who set a resolution, struggle in their ability to remain resolute towards that goal.
In this New Year, resist the temptation to become consumed by what is not “good-enough” and leave the inner critic behind. Instead embrace a self-compassionate approach to creating and pursuing change. Step into the many rooms of your life. Then carefully and gently scan around searching for potential instead of flaws.
If you are interested in bringing self-compassion into the crafting of your New Year resolutions, you might consider the following suggestions.
Start with asking yourself compassionate, change-focused questions that are focused on potential not flaws.
“Where does my potential lie this year?”
“What personal initiative would feel meaningful to me?”
“What am I curious about that I might explore in 2022?”
“What might be good for me to try this year?”
Reflect on the last year and be honest with yourself about challenges. As you do so, offer yourself tremendous kindness, understanding, and encouragement. Then consider areas for growth.
“ Last year was really hard. In what ways did I suffer this last year? What helped me to get through that? How might I work towards alleviating some of that suffering in this new year?
“What are some important lessons I learned in the last year? What lessons did I learn, but have yet to implement? How can I slowly implement some of these lessons into my daily life?
Anticipate hardships and have a plan for how you will tend to yourself with compassion, not criticism, when they occur.
Challenges will creep into the new year and will impact your pursuit of resolutions. Making space for failure and prioritizing being good to yourself when it happens give you more staying power. Tending and caring for yourself in the midst of those hardships is one way to offer compassion to yourself.
For example, if your goal is to reduce your sugar intake, you might benefit from anticipating a sweet tooth takeover. Your plan might be to: 1.) slow down, 2.) take a breath, 3.) place your hand over your heart, 4.) let yourself feel the difficult feelings that come with temporarily shifting from your goal (e.g., frustration or disappointment), 5.) remember this is a new goal and it is not yet a habit and that most people have sweet tooth takeovers as well, and 6.) offer yourself compassion and recommit to doing better for the next hour or two.
Another important way of navigating hardship while tending to yourself is to re-evaluate your goal. You could ask yourself, “ Is this goal, in the way it was initially designed, working for me? Is there another approach or direction that might work better for me?” There is no need to be harsh with yourself when you veer from the direction you desire. In fact, when you do you are more likely to give in and throw in the towel.
When we leave harsh judgement behind and extend compassion in the development and maintenance of a goal, we create a safer environment for ourselves. The result of this is that we can actually be more honest with ourselves on where change might be needed. We take more ownership and responsibility over our actions and their impact. We are also more likely to stay the course and pursue change over time.
To learn more about bringing self-compassion into your life and your relationship towards personal development, I would highly recommend Dr. Kristen Neff. Dr. Neff is a pioneer and expert in the area of self-compassion.
I would love to hear from you on ways you can bring self-compassion to your pursuit of change in the New Year. Feel free to drop a comment and share. If you are someone who is looking for a bit more guidance in this process, feel free to contact me at Drdesiretaylor@gmail.com.