My goodness! What a difference this made!
I used to think that the harder I was on myself, the more likely I was to succeed. As much as I hated the mental beatings, they felt like a necessary evil. How was I ever going to get anywhere if I went easy on myself?
I had no idea that all I was doing was creating the illusion of control. I never felt better and rarely did better as a result. All I did was stress myself out and since stress is the enemy of willpower and mental strength it’s fair to say I was actually making the situation worse. I had to find a way to reduce stress and gain genuine control.
I found the key in “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal PH.D. It is absolutely packed with useful and fascinating information but one of the most surprising things McGonigal mentioned was that experiments on willpower had shown self-compassion to be a better strategy than mental beatings and negative self-talk.
How to develop self-compassion in relation to goals
- Forgive yourself – The point is to aim forwards. There is little value in looking backwards except to gather information about how to do better next time.
- Get curious – failure leaves clues and so does success. The ability to read the clues is key. The more attention we pay to the patterns in our lives, the better equipped we are to change the unproductive ones and use the productive ones.
- Learn stress reduction techniques – choosing self-compassion is more difficult to do when you’re stressed – and mental beatings cause more stress, which keeps you in the cycle for longer.
I found journal writing really helpful for learning the art of self-compassion. I also found that calling it “self-compassion” made it more difficult for me to adopt the approach because I kept thinking of it as “going easy on myself”. I relabelled it as “problem-solving and pattern finding” because that was the ultimate goal – and those words appeal to my preferred analytical way of thinking. By anchoring myself to the future point and never wavering from the belief that I would get there, I was able to use the journal to work out what was helping and what was holding me back.
The mental beatings haven’t gone away but learning to balance them with self-compassion and a forward-looking approach, I’m making progress far more easily. I feel better about myself and that helps me do better – in more areas than I would have expected.
I am more compassionate towards others, which has improved the quality of all my relationships. The habit of negative self-talk is easing so I’m gradually taking on more challenging things and testing my abilities in new ways and I’m way more resilient than I ever was in the past which makes me less defensive, less fearful and way more likely to grow as a person.
I’m even learning to practice self-compassion about my inability to consistently practice self-compassion!