self compassion

A close friend of mine recently completed her first half-marathon and surprisingly, I think I’ve been the one to gain the most from her doing it.  I learnt a massive lesson about myself from her achievement.  That lesson was that it’s time I became friends with self-compassion.

I had agreed to run the half-marathon with my friend and support her through it as it was her first one.  Unfortunately, a couple of weeks before the run I got a tear in my calf so wasn’t able to do it.

The best I could do was be near the finish line, screaming and waving my hands like a fool so she would see me and know I was still there supporting her.  She looked exhausted but so proud of herself, as she should be.

It wasn’t her finishing the half-marathon that taught me my lesson.  Though, many people could take a thing or two out of her book when it comes to pushing through, persisting and finishing, even if your prep isn’t the best.

It was her behaviour following the run that gave me a wake-up call.  It was the way she spoke about her achievement.  Her pride in herself was so evident.  She posted it on her social media because she wanted to share her achievement with other people, and that’s exactly what she should have done.  Been proud of herself and what she achieved.

It made me realise I never do that.  When ever I finish an event like that, and to be honest when I do most things, I tend to go straight to what I should have done better.  While it pushes me to improve, it robs me of that sense of accomplishment and pride and it’s actually not very nice.

The reason this jumped out at me so much this time is I’ve been reading a lot about self-compassion lately.  Something I speak a lot about with clients – the importance of being kinder to themselves.  But, after the half-marathon, I realised it’s something I don’t do myself.

Just being aware of it this week has changed the way I talk to myself.  I had a self-imposed deadline that I missed this week.  My natural thoughts were to go to how behind I was, I need to work harder, etc. etc.  Then I stopped myself.  I took the time to recognise I have been working hard.  That what I’m doing is a massive learning curve and it might just take me a bit longer than I originally thought. Wow!!  Exactly the type of things I would say to a friend but have never said to myself in the past.

And the impact from changing my self-talk in that instance was huge.  Instead of getting stressed, demotivated and unable to focus, I felt focused, motivated and was able to complete what I wanted easily.  (read more here on how your thoughts impact your actions).

Why is self-compassion important in the pursuit of your goals?

Someone once said to me they were worried that if they were kind and compassionate when talking to themselves it would give them a way out.  If they were compassionate when they missed a deadline or didn’t perform as well as they wanted, wouldn’t that mean they risked the chance of giving up on their goal and becoming lazy because they were no longer pushing themselves?

The answer is no.  In fact, the opposite is true.  There is nothing more demotivating than being criticised and judged.  If someone came up to you and said “You are hopeless, I can’t believe how badly you did just then” or “You disgust me, I can’t believe you just ate that, you are a hopeless slob”, how would you feel?  Would you feel motivated?  Would you want to continue with your goal?  Probably not. It’s more likely that you would feel inadequate, insecure, undeserving and give up.

But, what if, if someone said to you “Don’t worry, you’ve got this. Sure, you missed this time but it’s just once.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Think of all the good work you’ve done so far and keep going, don’t let this one get you down”.   Isn’t that more motivating to keep going?

This is why, rather than letting yourself off the hook, self-compassion can help fuel your motivation to keep going.

So, take note of how you talk to yourself.  It’s so important to be aware of whether you are kind and supporting yourself in your pursuit of your goals or demotivating and judgemental.

How to be more self-compassionate:

If you are looking to be more self-compassionate, here are three components you can focus on (from Kristen Neff, note 1):

  1. Mindfulness – clear seeing and nonjudgmental acceptance of what’s occurring in the present moment. What this means is rather than getting lost in worrying thoughts about how something went in the past or how it might be in future, mindfulness means you become aware of the thoughts you have and the feelings they cause instead of getting caught up in the story line of those thoughts and feelings. It means you become aware if you are suffering and once you are aware of this, you can take the steps to be more kind towards yourself.  If you are not aware of your thoughts and feelings of pain, it’s too easy for them to swell, distort and even explode.
  2. Self-kindness – this is the simple act of being gentle and understanding with yourself, rather than critical and judgemental, like the example I shared earlier. A really simple question to ask yourself is “would I talk to my friend this way?” and if the answer is no, change what you are saying to yourself to be aligned with what you would say to a friend in the same situation.
  3. Common humanity – remembering that we are all human which means we all make mistakes, we all suffer and if you are experiencing something – feeling helpless, frustrated, disappointment, have made a mistake, etc. – you are not alone. You are not the only one who has messed up, ‘failed’, or felt this pain.

Having self-compassion means you stop judging, evaluating and criticising yourself.  You stop judging yourself as good or bad and accept yourself for who you are.  You treat yourself in the same way you would treat a good friend – as a kind, caring, compassionate and supportive friend.

So, thank you to my beautiful friend who gave me the wake-up call that I need to be more self-compassionate.  As a coach, it’s important that I practice what I preach, and this was definitely an area I was missing.  But I now have awareness of this, so I can practice it myself, as I continue to encourage my clients to do the same.

And, finally, I hope, that if like me you needed a bit of a wake-up call to be more compassionate to yourself, that this serves as your wake-up call.

Note 1: Self-compassion. The proven power of being kind and compassionate to yourself.  Kristin Neff, Ph.D

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