With the new year, comes lots of change. Maybe you made resolutions to change your eating or your health routine, and are potentially on track to make some positive adjustments in your life. But with the challenge of change can come self-criticism, doubt, and frustration. Our inner critic can be the loudest during times of transition, when the potential to fail is high and the work feels never-ending. To stay on track and not lose motivation, we need a strong sense of self-compassion. Basically, we need to be our own biggest cheerleader! Here are some ways to quiet down that little self-deprecator in our heads, and access more self-compassion.
1. Notice when you tend to criticize
Is it when you lose your temper, make a mistake, or embarrass yourself? Maybe it’s all of the above. Just noticing when this tends to happen is important; it’s the first step in unsticking yourself from the pattern of just allowing the criticism to happen. When you begin to notice the self-criticism happening, this awareness can open up the potential to stop and change the negative train of thought arising. The mental exchange would go a little like this:
“Dammit! I am so lazy! Why didn’t I just get up off my butt and go to the gym today? I’m never going to lose any weight at this rate.”
[pause and notice the criticism]
“Whoa. I was just really hard on myself.”
[the pause that comes after this is where you can choose to continue being self-critical or instead switch it to something more compassionate]
“Well, I was lazy today because I didn’t sleep much last night. And beating myself up isn’t going to change anything. I’ll go to the gym tomorrow morning and stay for a bit longer since I missed today.”
The pausing and redirection will take practice, but eventually you can train the reactions to perceived failures to be more self-compassionate, leading to more self-worth and less stress around what you feel you did “wrong.” You’re also more likely to reach your goals if you approach yourself more like a loving friend than an aggressive bully.
2. Stop comparing and start being grateful
One of the most common ways we self-criticize is around body image stuff. We are constantly calling ourselves too skinny, too fat, shaming our skin, hair, clothing, and everything in between. A lot of the time, we do this in conjunction to comparing ourselves with someone who does have the perfect hair, skin, or body. Comparing ourselves to others will always make you feel bad. It is a sure-fire way to make your life look unappealing, and it sucks the joy out of your own success. Someone will always have a better looking life, and the sooner we realize that this doesn’t affect the value of our own life, the better.
Stop looking outwards and turn towards the positive aspects of your own life — the harder you look, the more beautiful things you will find. You might not have a supermodel’s body, but are you in good health? Can you walk, talk, breathe, and think? If you can, you’ve already got a leg up on many people. Do you have people who love you and support you? It may not be a huge squad, but that doesn’t make these people any less important or valuable. Cherish that which you already have, and take stock of how lucky you are — even in little ways. Some of the loveliest moments in life is when we quietly enjoy the present, and look around at the tiny, beautiful things: a warm, clear day, a good book, a hug from a friend, a pet next to our feet. Soak this in rather than glide past it, and I promise the own beauty of your life will begin to shine brighter than ever.
3. Self-care is absolutely necessary
Life can become heavy and stressful, no matter how well you are handling things. Like seasons, our lives will naturally ebb and flow into good and bad phases. One way of making sure we are strong enough to make it through the tougher times is investing in self-care. When we begin to notice that we are run-down, stressed, and not acting like ourselves, that is usually a big ol’ red flag that we may need to slow down and ask ourselves what we need to feel better.
The answer can be as easy as “more sleep” (and I’m willing to bet that every single one of us could do with more of that!) But the more we pay attention, the clearer the answers will be. Sit quietly with yourself for a few minutes and ask yourself “what do I need right now?” Be patient — the answer may not be immediate. Even if it takes a little while, usually an answer will arise. Maybe you’re tired because you are working longer hours and don’t know how to set boundaries at work. Or it could be that you’ve been eating poorly because of how rushed you are, and this is affecting your energy levels and mood. Maybe your stress is so high, you’ve forgotten what it’s like to not be running around all day, and you have taken this as the norm. And maybe this wasn’t even clear until you actually stopped and thought about how crappy it’s making you feel. Taking time to check in through a chat with friends, some journaling, or even just quiet reflection before bed is ultimately what will give us the answer as to what we need to feel happier, calmer, and more fulfilled. Once you determine what’s wrong, you can begin to make changes to feel better. Things like eating better, cutting out toxic people, going to the doctor, not taking your work home, or finally scheduling that massage — the list of self-care options can go on forever! But you’ll never know what your personal remedy will be unless you stop and ask.
I once read an interesting metaphor on how we try to escape our “baggage.” It likened our emotional baggage to actual travel baggage, and how even though we forget it sometimes (purposely or not), it will always eventually be at the carousal waiting for us. In other words, claim your baggage, instead of running from it. Then accept it and do your best to work with it. Only this way, can you free yourself from the heaviness it brings.
Putting your self-worth in the hands of others can be like putting all of your eggs in a very shaky, very unstable basket. Instead, practice cultivating your own value through treating yourself with loving kindness and being your own best friend. This way, you always have a strong fountain of love to dip into when things get rocky, and you are always in charge of how full that pool will be.
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha