In the day or two after New Year’s Eve, you likely process a mix of feelings: euphoria and hope for a new year, resolve to change those ‘bad habits’ that held you back last year -- and often, a fresh perspective on who you are and where you see yourself going.
You probably set some goals. But not your friendly neighborhood diner type of goals. No, you set Michelin-star, creme-brulee-boasting, so-fancy-they-serve-the-salad-with-the-baby-fork restaurant type of goals.
You want to work on that six pack every day of the week, write a bestselling novel, give up being the ‘always late’ coworker, save 80% of the money you're making and call that long-distance friend every day to check in.
We all set lofty goals for ourselves with each new year. Our ambition is one of the many things that makes us so amazing as humans. There’s just one part of the whole New Year’s resolutions formula that tends to go awry: Our goals often aren’t sustainable.
Change is hard overnight, and when we set unrealistic, binary milestones for ourselves and subsequently struggle to reach them in a short timeframe, we crash and burn. In fact, USA Today reported that by mid-February, eighty percent of resolutions fail. The good news? There’s an antidote that is 100% within our control: setting goals with self-compassion.
In it’s simplest terms, self-compassion means being kind to ourselves when we feel inadequate or slip up. It's been proven to lead to greater emotional wellbeing and is linked to less depression, anxiety and stress. Psychologist and researcher Dr. Kristen Neff defines self-compassion in three abilities: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Here’s how you can use self-compassion when making your resolutions:
...is about flipping the script and reserving judgement on ourselves (studies have shown that we are three times more likely to feel compassion for a total stranger).
If we are struggling to meet a goal, there are probably valid reasons. Recognize that you’re going to do the best you can, and when you have off days—empathize with where you’re coming from.
...is about realizing that we all are imperfect beings.
Recognizing that you’re not alone and that you will doubtlessly hit roadblocks along the way, can empower you to rely on community and support for others in moments of self-criticism. There is a 100% chance that someone else has felt exactly the way you do, whether you’re crushing it or struggling.
“Self-compassion helps bridge the gap between who we feel we are and who we really are.”
...is about cultivating an awareness. We can’t be kind to ourselves or rely on the power in shared humanity if we don’t recognize when we’re being particularly hard ourselves.
As Dr. Anna Rowley, psychologist and millennial wellbeing expert, says, “We can separate ourselves from our negative thinking or feelings of inadequacy. Your boss chews you out for a report she doesn’t like. You have a choice—dwell on what a failure you are or practice mindfulness and acknowledge the feedback and do better next time. By separating ourselves from the emotion—anger, frustration, or self pity—we are available to problem solve.”
Did you know? We are 3 times more likely to feel compassion for a total stranger than for ourselves.
Unfortunately there is a common misconception, that being compassionate with ourselves means that we’re going to take it easy, give ourselves a pass to never improve or become set in our ways. But the reality is that when we focus on empathizing with ourselves and meeting ourselves where we are, we can set goals that build on our strengths and realistically help us improve.
“Self-compassion helps bridge the gap between who we feel we are and who we really are,” says Dr. Rowley. “Resolutions are hard to change because we are trying to alter aspects of ourself we aren’t happy with or behaviors we may have ‘lived’ for a long, long time. Many of us set unrealistic or unreasonable goals.
For example, ‘I will go to the gym 4 times this week’ might be a tough resolution to keep if you have never been to a gym before or you are embarrassed walking into a room full of strangers grunting and heaving. Self-compassion is about reducing the risk of feeling like a failure if you don’t nail your immediate goal.
It also helps us set more realistic compassionate goals. Rather than join a gym, I’ll go for a walk or next time I shop, I’ll look for a healthier choice of foods. Self-compassion can help us make smarter choices and offer a helping hand when we mess up…and we will mess up.”
So this year, as you continue to grow, evolve and work on yourself, remember to set goals that allow you to be kind to yourself, too.
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The original version of this article appeared on Shine.
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