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Cutting Yourself Some Slack

This is a picture of students attending Respect-acular! - an assembly program I performed that taught kids about respect. Kids had a blast learning about the golden rule – treating others the way you want to be treated.

However, there is one problem with the golden rule. We often don’t treat ourselves the way we would like others to treat us.

It starts with YOU

Wouldn’t you love to have more life satisfaction, social connectedness, emotional intelligence, and happiness? Wouldn’t it be great to have less anxiety, depression, shame and fear of failure?

You can! The key is to practice self-compassion.

Self-compassion is a construct from Buddhist thought, which teaches us to hold ourselves as a caring mother would her only child – with a boundless heart of loving kindness.

Psychologist Kristin Neff studies and teaches “self-compassion.” She describes it as showing yourself kindness by being gentle, supportive, and understanding. “Rather than harshly judging oneself for personal shortcomings, the self is offered warmth and unconditional acceptance.”

But it does not come naturally.

Bam! Pow! Ouch!

We beat ourselves up. We all have “What was I thinking?” moments – embarrassing mistakes, bad decisions, and errors in judgment that cause us to cringe in hindsight. Our natural tendency is to focus on those negative events and internally criticize ourselves.

Self-compassion involves forgiving ourselves for our screw-ups, including not just our actions but our feelings, thoughts, and impulses that we often feel guilty about. It is not self-pity, but the opposite of self-hatred and self-flagellation.

Guilt is not necessarily a bad thing and I am not advocating releasing ourselves from personal responsibility. We do need to recognize our mistakes and it’s okay to regret making them. But doing dumb or regretful things is often due to lizard brain impulses that we have failed to recognize and confront. And while we should strive to make as few mistakes as possible, we should view them as opportunities for growth and learning instead of falling into self-criticism.

Get to it!

Here are some deliberate steps you can take now to practice self-compassion:

RECOGNIZE that making bad decisions does not make you a bad person or indicate defects in your character.

EXAMINE the behavior or decision you are beating yourself up for and consider the cause.

- Did you act impulsively and selfishly?

- Was your intent good but it just didn’t turn out the way you intended?

- Was the information you acted on invalid?

- Were environmental or circumstantial influences negatively involved?

- Was it just bad luck – primarily due to unfortunate random elements?

IMPROVE by determining if there are changes you can make to your decision-making process to avoid making that same kind of mistake in the future. Decide what you can do to implement those changes.

PRACTICE self-compassion. Dr. Neff has a number of exercises and guided meditations to help put yourself in a self-compassionate mindset. Click here to explore.

So when you fail, screw-up, or just do something stupid, don’t get mad! Give yourself a break. Then resolve to learn why you did it and take steps to help yourself do better next time.

Think well, be well, and be kind to yourself.

- Steve Haffner


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