This is a guest post, written by Sara Schairer, founder of Compassion It, a nonprofit and global social movement that inspires compassionate actions and attitudes. Take it away, Sara …
You started the year with great intentions and boundless energy; yet, as they say, old habits die hard. Your goals of exercising, eating more greens, going to bed earlier, and meditating each day seemed achievable a few weeks ago. However, today you may find yourself back at square one. And on top of that, you’re also beating yourself up for the lack of progress.
We often set unrealistic goals. In fact, research says that while nearly half of the United States population creates New Year’s resolutions, only nine percent actually said they felt successful in achieving their goals. If you’ve veered off your path, don’t fret. It’s not too late to right your ship and get back on track. There are two simple steps…
Step 1: Set a Realistic Goal
For starters, set a goal that’s attainable. If you’ve decided to improve your diet, go to the gym, meditate for 20 minutes a day, and learn a new instrument, you may be doomed. Try setting yourself up for success by focusing on just one goal. You can move on to the next one once you’ve formed your first healthy habit.
Step 2: Practice Self-Compassion When You Get Off Track
It may seem counterintuitive that self-compassion will help you achieve your goals. Perhaps you’re used to berating yourself each time you falter, believing that you will stick to your guns if you reprimand yourself. Do you ever say things like, “I’m so stupid. I can’t believe I did that, ” or, “C’mon, now. Don’t be such a moron”?
Research indicates that if you understand that messing up is part of being human (common humanity), offer yourself encouragement (self-kindness), and bring non-judgmental awareness and curiosity to your situation (mindfulness), you have a much better shot at bouncing back if you get off track.
And these three important components—recognition of common humanity, self-kindness, and mindfulness—are the three key pillars of self-compassion, according to self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, PhD. Self-compassion allows you to treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend when they slip up – with gentleness and forgiveness.
To start infusing self-compassion into your mindset, begin by paying attention to your inner voice. If it sounds more like a strict whistle-blowing high school gym teacher and less like a dear old friend, you may want to see if you can change that voice’s tone. When you begin to pay attention, you may find that you can be downright cruel to yourself—this is all too common. If you find this to be true, ask yourself: If you spoke to your friends in the same manner you speak to yourself, would you have any friends?
When I first asked myself this question, it was eye opening. I didn’t realize how cruel I was being to myself. From that point on, I have tried to offer myself the same sort of kindness and encouragement I would share with a friend, and I cannot express how much this self-compassion mindset shift has improved my life.
This brief meditation incorporates all three elements of self-compassion and can offer you the fuel you need to re-tackle those goals with grace, dignity, and understanding.
Begin by finding a comfortable position that allows you to be relaxed yet alert.
- Take a few deep and cleansing breaths. With each exhale, see if you can clear your mind of your to-do lists and whatever happened earlier today or this week.
- Settle your mind by focusing your attention on your breath. Keep your attention on your breath for a minute or two, and when you notice your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the breath.
- Take a moment to think about the intention you set for yourself in the New Year, and recognize that you may have fallen off track. Notice, without judgment, how that feels in your body. Do you notice any tension? If so, where?
- Now recognize that you are not alone. There are many others in this world who are not on track with their goals. Failing is part of being human, and it does not separate you from others. In fact, you can find comfort in the fact that you are just like anyone else—everyone can relate to slacking on a goal.
- Next, place your right hand over your heart and your left hand on top of your right. Take a few deep breaths, and imagine sending warmth and light to the areas of tension in your body. With each breath, notice how it feels to infuse a sense of tenderness into areas of tension and stress.
- In your mind, say, “I am human and got off track like many others. I intend to (say your intention here) starting today, and I will be gentle with myself if I fail. I know that I can always begin again.”
- Close by taking a few more breaths, paying attention to any positive shifts you may notice in your body and mind.
- Open your eyes, and pat yourself on the back for taking time to give yourself a break.
Remember that you will most likely stumble as you create new habits and work toward achieving your goals. In fact, you may fall flat on your face. When you do, let self-compassion pick you up, dust you off, and send you on your way with a renewed sense of motivation. As long as you keep getting back up, you’ll be inching closer and closer to your goals.
If you appreciated this self-compassion practice, consider becoming a COMPASSION IT ADVOCATE. The ADVOCATE program offers video lessons, guided meditations, heart-warming stories, and other tools to support your compassionate life. Join a group of people who are committed to making our world better through compassion, self-compassion, and mindfulness.