Being Kind to Yourself

I’ve been thinking about self-compassion lately, and was reminded of this post I wrote in 2017 about this topic. As I re-read it, I realized that (once again!) I have failed to follow my own advice. I’m still beating myself up for mistakes and being critical of most of my efforts. So I’m sharing this post again to help me remember (and help you too, if you need it) to treat myself more kindly.

I recently took Session 1 of Write into Light, an amazing teleclass by Martha Beck (a new session starts in May 2019; check it out here). In the second call, she was outlining a writing exercise where we visualize our home and pick our least favorite spot, then see what it has to tell us. She did the exercise herself as she was describing it; she picked her master bedroom closet because it was filled with stuff she didn’t know what to do with. She described it as cluttered and disorganized, then asked what its message was for her. In the pause before she conveyed the message, I was anticipating something like “you have too much useless junk in your life and you need to clear it out”—something that would point out a problem and how she should fix it. But what she actually said flabbergasted me. She said, in the softest, kindest voice: “Oh, go easy on yourself, please. Let the clutter be today … Everybody’s got clutter, sweetheart. Let it go.”

I sat there with my mouth open, astonished. A message of pure compassion? It was the exact opposite of what I expected. We’re always told clutter is bad and we should clear it, and yet here was this world-famous life coach saying it was OK—because she was speaking from love. And love never criticizes. Real love is unconditional; you are loved no matter what. No. Matter. What.

How often do we truly experience that? How often are we able to truly give that? It’s extraordinarily hard to practice—but it’s essential that we learn how. We can’t possibly experience any kind of lasting happiness or joy if we don’t give ourselves a break. And we can’t offer others unconditional love if we don’t give it to ourselves first.

At the root of unconditional love is compassion. Understand, and forgive, like Martha Beck’s closet. “It’s OK, sweetheart. Everyone has clutter.” Not, “You are so lazy, why haven’t you cleaned me up already? What a loser. You can’t even keep this tiny space straight; how will you ever be a success?” No. Acceptance and love. Try alternating those statements to yourself—first the kind one, then the negative one. Isn’t it incredible how different they make you feel? An imaginary statement from a room can make you feel loved or ashamed. If you are gentle and compassionate with yourself, it completely changes everything. It feels like sinking into a bubble bath of peace. Imagine being as kind to yourself as you’d be to your dearest friend. When our best friend screws up, we’re always quick to tell her it’s OK. But when we screw up, oh boy! Bring on the banshees!

Most of us have that voice in our head that criticizes almost everything we do and constantly judges situations. Often, it’s not even our own voice, but one we absorbed from a parent or teacher. We don’t even notice most of the time, but it’s always carping at us. Never satisfied, always complaining. Start listening; it goes on and on. How can we expect to feel good with that constant barrage of criticism?

I recently began re-reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron (an excellent book which I highly recommend), and one of the first activities is to write a positive statement about yourself several times (like “I am genuinely talented”) and then note all the criticisms and objections that surface in your head. She calls those blurts, and she recommends writing them down, then reframing them as positive affirmations. This was so difficult for me. I felt silly saying nice things about myself, but I had felt totally normal saying mean things! That is messed up. But I think that’s how most of us are. Cameron points out that this inner critic is precisely why so many people don’t pursue their dreams. They self-sabotage before they even start. It is essential to quiet that inner judge if we want to accomplish anything, and I think it’s necessary in order to find true joy.

It’s important to realize that the critic inside you is not you. It is a separate voice that you can politely—or not so politely—tell to shut up. You can even give it a name, like Mr. Judgypants or Bossy Bee, to help you take it a little less seriously. When Bossy Bee starts bitching, say, “Hey, Bossy Bee. I know you want to help, but I’ve got this. Goodbye now.” (Or “Buzz off,” lol.)

When you screw up, instead of letting Bossy Bee berate you, consider what love would say. I don’t know, maybe give love a name too. Lucy Lovebug? Love understands, love accepts, love encourages. Lucy Lovebug would say, “It’s OK sweetheart; I’m here for you no matter what.” Treat yourself like you would a wounded child. Because that’s what we all are inside, really. Even those with “good” childhoods picked up some scars along the way. We need comfort and cuddling, not criticism and cruelty. We need forgiveness and kisses and treats.

A simple way to get into that mindset is lovingkindess meditation. Close your eyes and silently say, “May I be well. May I be loved.  May I be free from all suffering. (Or, May I be filled with peace.)” Repeat three times (or as much as you need). That’s it! If you’re like me, even doing this will make you uncomfortable at first; but try doing it every day, maybe first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Over time, it will help you be more gentle and loving with yourself—and others.

We are not perfect. No one is. I repeat—no one is perfect, no matter how they seem from the outside. Everybody messes up. That’s part of being human. And when we mess up, compassion feels a lot better than anger, and helps us recover better too.

The next time you make a mistake, laugh. Feel solidarity with the billions of other people who are probably making a mistake at that exact same moment. No judgment, no self-flagellation. Look for the positive:  Well, I wrecked the car, but no one got hurt. If I hadn’t gotten lost, I would never have met my new best friend. Sometimes what looks like a disaster turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Give yourself a break. I will be right there with you, trying to remember to choose kindness.

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The Big 7 Ways to Boost Happiness (Quickly and for Free!)

I just got these 7 tips on how to boost your happiness in Sonia Sommer’s “Wellness Wednesday” email and had to share them with you! Here’s what she says:

I used to struggle with depression and anxiety. For years. If this is you, I know how it feels mate. I thought I'd stay like that for my whole life.

But I didn't.

These days, I jump out of bed feeling joy. Even when life serves up the shit sandwich, emotions pass through very quickly and I go right back to my new baseline of genuine happiness.

You're supposed to feel happy most of the time too. That's why I've been throwing joy spaghetti on your walls lately, so that something will stick.

It's actually natural to feel joyful. Stress and anxiety are an unnatural state.

Joy tip #4 the Big 7

My fantastic colleague Brian Johnson sent me this and I have to share it with you because it's a beaut summary of many of the methods I used to create my happiness baseline. 

This comes from a compilation of research by Neil Pasricha, author of "The Happiness Equation."

If you do any of these seven things for two straight weeks, you will feel happier.

Three Walks + The 20-Minute Replay + Random Acts of Kindness + A Complete Unplug + Hit Flow + 2-Minute Meditations + Five Gratitudes

Let’s take a super quick look at our Big 7 ways to boost our happiness and remember that science says the Happiness Equation STARTS with happiness.

It’s Happiness —> Great work —> Success NOT Great Work —> Success —> Happiness.

1. Three Walks. Exercise is as effective as Zoloft in reducing depression. Even just three brisk walks can do the trick! Remember that *not* exercising is like taking a depressant and get out there and MOVE YOUR BODY.

2. The 20-Minute Replay. Writing for 20 minutes about a positive experience is a GREAT way to boost your happiness. Scientists call it savoring. Groove the good stuff!

3. Random Acts of Kindness. Did you know that THE fastest, most reliable way to boost your mood is to do something nice for someone else? Yep. Find ways to do something nice!
 
4. A Complete Unplug. We’ve gotta make waves. Fully on. Fully off. Repeat. Are you training your RECOVERY as much as your “on” phases? Remember that it’s not that we work too hard but that we don’t recover enough. 
 
5. Hit Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells us that the optimal state of human experience is found when we are engaged in activities that stretch us such that the challenges match our skills. Too much challenge = anxiety. Too little = boredom. The right match? FLOW. Find it!
 
6. 2-Minute Meditations. Meditation is huge. I meditate every single day because it's changed my whole life. You don’t need to be a levitating monk in the Himalayas to experience significant benefits. Even just a couple minutes a day keeps the gremlins away.
 
7. Five Gratitudes. As Neil says, “If you can be happy with the simple things, then it will be simple to be happy.” Find things to be grateful for and focus on them often. What are YOU grateful for today?

Thanks Brian. That's awesome!

I'm loving the 20 minute replay. It's like mainlining joy !

Which ones are you going to try today ?

xox, Sonia

Aren’t those tips amazing? If you’d like more info on Sonia Sommer and what she offers, check out her website at www.soniasommer.com.

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Resolution #3: Choose Love

The more I read about happiness, the more I see how closely related it is to love. When we come from a place of unconditional love, we can make ourselves and others happy, because really, that’s all each of us wants: to be truly and completely loved. It’s hard to think of a situation where “choosing love” would not make me—and anyone else involved—happier.

Love in action takes the form of kindness and compassion. Love accepts. Love supports. As the Bible verse says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

In daily life, I can choose love by asking myself, “What is the most loving response or action?” For example, if I’m in an argument that’s unimportant, I can decide I’d rather be happy than right. I can show myself (and the other person) love by choosing to end the conflict rather than prolong it. Or, if I’m tired but pushing myself to keep working, I can be kind to myself by taking a break.

An area where I’ll really need to pay attention is judging. I can be extremely self-critical. Beating myself up when I fall short is most definitely not kind. Instead of getting upset when I make a mistake, I can show myself compassion and understanding. And since I often hold others to the same high (read: unreasonable) standards that I hold myself, I can do this for them as well—making all of us a LOT happier!

It’s not always easy to show someone else compassion, especially if they’re angry. But I remember that when my son was little and got upset, I felt instant compassion. I could identify with that feeling of frustration—of not being able to communicate clearly, or get what I wanted, or do what I felt like. I was able to connect with him, see behind the behavior to the cause, and soothe him. And really, aren’t we all still little kids inside? When you get upset, how old do you feel? I feel like I’m about three or four. If I can picture that small child inside another, I can access a sense of compassion for their pain, and react from there rather than meeting anger with anger.

And imagine being able to do this for ourselves! Usually when I get upset, I then get mad at myself for being upset! I’m both the small child and the angry parent. Ugh!!! Even typing that makes me feel awful. What if I could instead be the compassionate, kind, loving parent to myself next time? Wouldn’t that be something? I wrote a post about loving yourself in February (see below), and I’ve been slowly improving at it. But when I’m upset, my good intentions tend to fly out the window. I plan to refocus on this—and be compassionate with myself when I forget, of course! J

Love Yourself (originally posted 2/18)

Wednesday was Valentine’s Day, which encourages us to show our love for our romantic partner. Where is the holiday that encourages us to show our love for ourselves?

Truly, this is so important that we should be reminded every day, not just one day a year. We can’t fully love others if we don’t fully love ourselves. And yet we often treat ourselves terribly. Our needs are always last on the list. “Oh, I don’t have time to _______, I have to work/take care of my children/clean the house/go to the store/cook dinner/do laundry, etc. etc.”

However, as many of us have found out, if we focus solely on taking care of others and neglect ourselves for too long, it will eventually have a negative impact. We get sick, or are constantly tired or irritable (or are sick, tired, AND irritable). Often when this happens, our instinct is to push through, because we are needed. We’re not making it up—we do have tons of obligations and people who depend on us—bosses, coworkers, children, spouses, parents, friends. But our first obligation should be to ourselves. I know it sounds radical. But it’s true.

It’s important to note that we’re worthy of love, just as we are. We don’t have to be constantly productive to prove our worth. We are each born a magnificent soul, deserving of unconditional love. When we give ourselves that love—not demanding anything in return, not trying to “be better,” just appreciating ourselves as is—it makes a huge difference in our lives.

I’ll admit, showing myself unconditional love is something I struggle with daily. I’m a perfectionist and highly self-critical, and as I’ve discussed before, I have the urge to always be doing something to “earn my keep.” But running around like a hamster on a wheel all the time doesn’t feel good. No matter how hard I work, I never cross everything off the list (gah, how I hate that fact!). I never reach that mark of “enough.”

I always feel like I come up short when I tie my value to what I’m accomplishing. If I can wrap my head around the idea that I’m inherently worthy—that I was born enough, and don’t have anything to prove—that feels SO much better. I feel open rather than constricted. Relaxed instead of clenched. Happy instead of apprehensive.

There’s a common saying: When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. The converse is absolutely true: when I’m happy, I can spread that happiness. I’m more likely to be kind and patient with those I love—and even with strangers. So, when you tend to your own happiness, you’re really doing others a service.

What if we all devoted time every day just to showing ourselves some love? Paying attention to our needs and our wants; taking a moment to sit and listen to our inner voice, who often gets drowned out in the cacophony of modern life. I’m not talking about hours each day—just as much time as you can comfortably fit into your schedule. Maybe five minutes, sitting outside while you watch the clouds float by, or fifteen minutes of meditation or yoga or reading—whatever lights you up and makes you feel whole.

Today, take a moment to show yourself some love. Do something you enjoy, or give yourself a treat that that makes you feel amazing. Book that massage! Steal away and read that book! Savor the chocolate! Do it just because—because you are a miraculous, incredible, gorgeous soul who deserves all the love in the world. XXXOOO!

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Unexpected Joy

Today I’m sharing a link to this week’s post by Keri Wilt at FHB and Me, who I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when I shared a guest post I had written for her blog (see that post here). I was really struck by her topic this week—unexpected joy—and  her theory that not only is joy more exquisite when it’s a surprise, but we can create unexpected joy ourselves by giving it to others (such as with random acts of kindness or silliness).

I love this idea, and am now imagining ways in which I can spread some happiness around in my corner of the world. Just the thought of it brings me joy. Read what Keri has to say and see if it inspires you as well: “Unexpected Joy: Make It Happen.”

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