Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Self-Judgment or Self-Compassion?

Have you ever criticized or judged yourself? Maybe a meeting didn’t go well and you were angry with yourself for not preparing enough or not being able to express yourself the way you wanted to.  Or maybe you forgot to do something you really needed to get done and you told yourself: “I can’t believe I forgot again! That’s so stupid of me!”  

That critical voice used to run in my head all the time. I remember feeling shocked the first time I realized how many negative messages were running through my head and how hard I was on myself. I would never talk that way to a friend! So how come I was speaking to myself in such a mean way?

My inner critic actually had good intentions: She was trying to motivate me to get things done, not make mistakes and to do better. Unfortunately, in the process, she was also making me feel bad about myself.  She was not being very compassionate in the process.

Oftentimes we are afraid that if we are too compassionate with ourselves, we will lose our motivation and drive to accomplish things. Interestingly, a number of studies on self-compassion have found that people who have more self-compassion are less likely to procrastinate, more likely to re-engage with goals after facing setbacks, and more willing to receive and act on feedback.  It has even shown to lead to more success in dieting. Self-compassion is definitely more powerful than self-criticism!

Practicing to love myself has meant practicing self-compassion. So instead of berating myself for not doing something, I would tell myself that it is ok, that there is no need to be perfect, and that I can get started on it now instead.  =)

How do you practice self-compassion? You can begin by thinking of something that upset you today or this week. Instead of judging and criticizing yourself, simply write to yourself about this situation as if you were talking to your best friend.  Your best friend has your back, supports you, encourages you, consoles you, and celebrates with you. We are spending a lot of time with ourselves. Why not develop a relationship in which we are our own “best friend”?

For more about research on self-compassion, watch Stanford’s health psychologist Kelly Mcgonigal’s talk:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Love yourself for everyone else’s sake!

Last week, I met with my book club to discuss the book “Bed” by David Whitehouse. The story is about Mal, who refuses to leave his bed on his 25th birthday and continues to stay there for the next twenty years. Not seeing a purpose for himself and fearing a mundane existence, he decides to “give up” and just stay in bed. His family adjusts, and eventually everything revolves around Mal, with his brother sharing a room with him and his mother feeding and taking care of him. 

Our discussion led us to the question of how Mel’s Mom showed her love and whether it was truly love. She was so accepting of the situation, cooking for him, feeding him, taking care of him, which seems like a very loving act. At the same time, if you really love someone, would you let them just give up and stay in bed? Wouldn’t you stop enabling them and help them get back on their feet?  In a strange way, Mal’s mother had her own motivations for keeping him in bed. Mel gave his mother a purpose: helping him made her feel needed, which is something she craved. So was she in reality doing this for selfish reasons, not out of love?

I believe that if we don’t love ourselves, we cannot properly love others. Mal’s mother did not love herself enough to take care of herself and her needs (like finding a life purpose to pursue). So as a result, she “used” Mal as her life purpose, and in the process, wasn’t able to take the really loving action of helping him get back on his feet and engage in life again.

Sometimes, we think we are loving someone by accepting them just the way they are, by not speaking up when something bothers us, by catering to what they want and suppressing our own needs. But the fact is, by not taking action and speaking our truth, we are not loving ourselves and are not living fully. And our internal resentment only grows until it blows up one day. We need to take care of our own needs and find activities and pursuits that make our hearts soar. We need to set healthy boundaries. If we really love ourselves and are taking care of ourselves, we have so much more capacity to love and help others we care about. So love yourself first, for everyone else’s sake! =)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Feeling Inspired or Overwhelmed?

This past Saturday, I attended a chapter meeting of the National Speaker’s Association. As usual, there were very dynamic presenters who provided us with lots of very rich information on how to be a more successful speaker. During one of the breaks, I was talking to another attendee who remarked that these programs were great, but they were also a curse. On the one hand, seeing these amazing, successful speakers can be very motivating. You may walk away thinking: “Wow, this is what’s possible! Now I can go out and do that, too!”  On the other hand, you can walk away feeling overwhelmed and demoralized. “Oh my, see how great that speaker is. Look at their amazing Website. Look at all that they have to offer. I am so far away from that. How will I ever get there?”

I realized that I was going back and forth between both of these feelings. Rather than pushing away the overwhelm, I let myself feel it, so I could dig a little deeper to see what was behind it.  What I found was a feeling of “not being as good as” these stellar speakers who seem to have it all figured out. And when I thought about taking action on some of the steps presented, what emerged was a fear of failing, not being good enough, and making mistakes. Aha! These are definitely familiar fears to me – they may sound familiar to you, too.

As I was leaving the meeting, someone asked me whether I was going to go ahead and create a green screen at home to produce professional looking videos with varied backgrounds, as one of the speakers had suggested. I know by now that the best way for me to get out of overwhelm and fear is to take very small, but actionable steps. So I replied that the best first step for me would be to just start creating a short video with no effects – a one minute video. 

It’s ok to experience and feel overwhelm – we all do at some point or another. What’s not productive is staying there. So what I like to do to get out of it is to take action. Preferably, taking a very small, but doable step toward what I want to do. I now have my next step – what is yours?  =)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Surround Yourself With People Who Know Your Worth

A friend of mine sent me this quote yesterday: “Surround yourself with people who know your worth. You don't need too many people to be happy, just a few real ones who appreciate you for exactly who you are.”  (Lessons Learned in Life) And it’s so true. How often do we try to be a certain way to fit in, to be more outgoing or quieter, funnier or less vocal, more fashionable or cooler, more articulate or less emotional, more successful or less powerful, etc.? And for what? 

My Mom is Japanese, and while growing up there was always concern about what other people would say and how things would be perceived by others, even though I grew up in Germany. And it is true: In Japanese culture, where conformity is so important to being accepted by society, people will often notice, talk and maybe ostracize you if you are different. I remember going to elementary school in Japan during one summer and my classmates immediately informed me about the differences they noticed: “Why are you wearing a watch? You are not supposed to wear a watch in class. Why is your hair so long? It’s not supposed to be that long.” I learned and adapted. I stopped wearing a watch to school and my teacher informed everyone that it was ok for my hair to be that long because I was going back to Germany after the summer and students could have long hair over there.

Wearing or not wearing a watch may not be significant, but what if you had to change your personality to conform? What if your “friends” told you that you were too quiet or too loud? What if you felt you had to be more aggressive or less caring at work? Every time we are asked to change in a way that goes against our nature, we are not honoring ourselves and who we are. By making other people’s opinions more important, we suppress ourselves. We are telling ourselves that there is something wrong with us. We are not loving ourselves. 

So surround yourself with supporters instead. Seek out people who will accept and love you for who you are.  You don’t need  to please everyone. Not everyone needs to like you. Your true friends will. And if you want to grow and change for yourself, because you want to, then great!  But don’t do it for someone else. Accept yourself. Love yourself. And make sure the closest people around you do as well.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Stop Setting Goals – Create New Daily Habits instead

What??! Stop setting goals? That’s crazy! How am I ever going to get anything done or accomplished?  That’s what I thought, too, when I first saw Jeff Goins’ blog entry on Zen Habits.  After all, there have been plenty of books written about setting goals, there are goal setting workshops, and at work we are told to set SMART goals for the year ahead.  Is that all wrong?

Jeff argues that most good things like friendships and falling in love happen without a plan. He suggests setting daily sustainable habits instead that you enjoy and will help you make an impact on the world.

I have always believed in setting intentions. I still believe that’s a powerful thing, especially when phrased in a way as if it has already happened.  Goals often make you feel like you “have to” do something when you don’t really want to. An intention is more like a compass that will lead you in the right direction.

I know that new daily habits can be extremely powerful.  So what if I couple my intentions with new daily habits as I am beginning a new year?  One intention I set yesterday was to spend more time in nature this year, since it nourishes and revives me. I was originally planning to spend more weekends going hiking or walking on the beach. But what would my new daily habit be? Ok, I got one: I will spend at least 5 minutes going outside every morning. I can walk or meditate, as long as I am in contact with some aspect of nature.  What intention and new daily habit do you want to create?