Why We Need to Have Self-Compassion

Photo by Atlas Green

“You, my friend, are an asshole of epic stature.”

That’s exactly what I would think if I heard another human bark at someone else the remarks I say to myself when I make a mistake.

Months ago when I reflected on how cruel I was to myself I was shocked, and dismal. “Whoa. Did I really just say that?” I wondered after berating myself for a silly, insignificant mistake.

I’m my own worst critic and until recently I thought this was productive. Hell, I thought intense self-criticism was a badge of honor. This mindset has proven to be a misconception with consequences. Towards the end of a recent conversation with the wonderful Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon on The Nia Shanks Show, her closing statement hit me like a punch to the face; a good punch to the face.

“People need to have more self-compassion,” the good doctor stated.

Beating ourselves up for tiny mistakes, and even failures, is not a solution. We incorrectly think judging ourselves harshly and expecting perfection is productive. But it’s not. Upon examination and reflection of my personal lack of self-compassion, I’ve learned this valuable lesson.

Can you relate: When you scold yourself for every mistake, you’re left feeling as if you’re never good enough; you can never do anything right. Like you’re always falling short. Then you respond with more criticism.

You can’t be the best version of yourself if you’re constantly tearing yourself down.

The simple, but not necessarily easy, solution: Stop being overly critical. Don’t expect, or demand, nothing less than perfection. Have more compassion for yourself.

Maybe you made a mistake at work.

Maybe you overindulged at a party and blew your diet.

Maybe you’ve gained weight.

Maybe you calculated some figures wrong when crunching numbers.

Maybe you missed an entire week of workouts.

Maybe you made a pot of coffee but forgot to put the carafe in the unit and a pool of caffeine-loaded liquid goodness bled across your kitchen floor (yes, I’ve done this — twice).

Regardless of the situation the answer is the same: Respond with compassion. After all, it’s naive to think we could go our entire lives without messing up. And attempting to avoid failure may keep you “safe” but it certainly won’t allow you to live a life with purpose, passion, and joy.

Related Article: How to Stop Letting Fear Hold You Back (Even if You Don’t Realize It Is)

Self-Compassion: It Must Be Practiced

The next time you mess up, don’t reprimand yourself. Learn whatever lesson you can from the experience (there’s always something to glean from a mistake) and use that new knowledge to become a better version of yourself.

Life is not a road we travel that’s perfectly smooth and void of blemishes. This road has potholes, road kill, gnarly speed bumps, and requires an occasional U turn or aggressive, evasive maneuver. When we approach, or unexpectedly stumble upon, these obstacles we must understand it’s part of the journey.

You’re human. You’re going to make mistakes. I’m going to make (more!) mistakes. It happens. And it’s OK.

“You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

I don’t know who said that first, but it’s beautiful. If your go-to reaction when you make a mistake is to scold yourself and demand better “or else!”, then commit to taking the path of self-compassion.

One area where self-compassion needs to be applied with a hefty dose: health and fitness. Most people care about their health (to some degree), but regardless of what you do to improve it, please remember that how you eat and move your body should make you feel good about yourself, build you up, reduce your stress, and make your life better. Exercise is not punishment for eating and you don’t have to earn your food. Never chastise yourself for making less than optimal food choices or missing a workout.

Whether we’re referring to how you eat, how you respond to a mistake you made at work, what you say to yourself when you burn dinner to an unrecognizable crisp, a first-time parenting failure …

Only when we respond with compassion can we truly become the best version of ourselves. Only then can we make choices that propel us forward, armed with new knowledge from our blunders so that we can do better next time.

The next time you slip or fail miserably, respond with self-compassion. And, please, let’s extend this courtesy to others as well.

Begin by being hyper aware of what you say to yourself over the next few days. If you catch yourself being overly critical, stop immediately and change the conversation. Stop demanding perfection, and respond in a way that doesn’t make you, too, an asshole of epic stature.

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