As you welcome the new year, you may have resolved to accomplish a specific goal or improve or change a behavior. Unfortunately, many of us find that despite our best intentions, we often have little success in attaining or maintaining our set goals. The pattern is familiar – we ring in the new year with renewed motivation and determination for a fresh start, only to find ourselves feeling discouraged and guilty a few months down the road because we fell short of attaining our goals. While it’s natural to be self-critical, research has shown that self-judgment negatively correlates with goal motivation and goal progress, thus removing us farther from our resolutions. In contrast, studies show that people with high self-compassion are more motivated to correct their errors and are more likely to confront their weaknesses and make positive changes.
What is self-compassion?
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate rather than ignoring our pain or beating ourselves up with self-criticism. Dr. Neff has identified three main components of self-compassion:
- Self-kindness (showing kindness rather than criticism towards oneself under challenging times)
- Common humanity (recognizing imperfection and suffering as a shared human experience)
- Mindfulness (observing one’s thoughts and emotions without judgment and without attempts to ignore or exaggerate our experience).
Here are some practical ways to practice self-compassion:
Think about what you would say to a friend who is having a difficult time. Most of us can offer compassion to others, yet we find it difficult or unnatural to show kindness to ourselves. Alternatively, think about what a compassionate, kind friend would say to you and channel their compassion into your self-talk. Try saying to yourself, “this is hard. I am learning a new skill, and it takes time to form a new habit”. Or, “change takes time and is not linear. Setbacks are a natural part of progress”.
Keep a self-compassion journal. Journaling correlates with improvement in mental health and goal achievement. Set aside a few minutes each day to write about a challenging experience you had. First, record your feelings and thoughts and refrain from judgment (“I feel like a bad parent because I was overly critical of my child”). Then, write down how your experience connects to the human experience (“Parenting is a hard job, and all parents make mistakes”). Finally, write kind, compassionate words to yourself (“I am doing my best, and I will make mistakes from time to time. I am getting better at recognizing triggers, and I will take steps to repair and reconnect with my child”).
Engage in acts of self-care. By engaging in self-care activities, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing mindfulness, you are validating that treating yourself with compassion and kindness is essential. Make it a habit to engage in acts of self-care daily. Try setting aside a specific time each day, and be kind to yourself if you skip it!
Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to be in the moment and observe our experience in a non-judgmental way and without reacting to it. It fosters an acceptance of our experience “as is” and reduces resistance. You can shift your focus to the here and now by paying attention to your breath or by engaging in grounding exercises, such as becoming mindful of your body’s surroundings. Spending time in nature holds many opportunities for conscious observation, mindful awareness, and appreciation.
Tips to help your child practice self-compassion:
Model self-compassion. Children learn what they see, so they find opportunities to demonstrate self-compassion. You may say aloud, “oh, I made a mistake with the recipe ingredients, and the cake has sunk. Oh well, we all make mistakes sometimes, and I’ll try to be more mindful next time”. Or at the dinner table, “I feel disappointed because I wasn’t on my A-game at work today. I know that everyone feels this way sometimes, and I can try to do things differently tomorrow”.
Foster a Growth Mindset. People who have a growth mindset believe in their ability to improve their skills with effort and practice. Help your child realistically assess their strengths and weaknesses and identify areas for growth and improvement. You can ask them to respond to setbacks in encouraging and discouraging ways.
Help your child externalize their inner critic. We all have an inner critic in us. Giving it a name or drawing what our inner critic may look like allows your child to separate themselves from it and gain control over it. Encourage your child to talk back to their inner critic and say, “I may struggle in math, but there are different types of smarts. I’m a hard worker, and I can ask for help”.
-Posted by Yasmin Meyers