“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
–Christopher Germer, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion
We live with a plethora of choices each day – what to eat, drink or wear, who to spend time with, when to rest or sleep, and which values we will embrace, commit to and live by. We strive to live a value driven life.
If you are like me, experiencing immediate pleasure is a delight, highly rewarding and for the most part, happy-making.
But being happy in the here-and-now may be more complicated when people fall for temptations, giving in to an immediate reward from indulging in a promise of short-term hedonistic pleasure that conflicts with personal values and goals. After all, we are works in progress, you and I – two steps forward and one step back. Self-transformation doesn’t happen overnight, whether you are deliberately aware or not, consciously participating or not.
Mostly we make choices out of habit and it takes a real commitment to live intentionally. We know that self-conscious emotions drive most of us toward avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure and these will influence the choices we make, the opinions we hold dear, the insights we gain from reflection, and the ideas we accept as worthy of believing.
But, what happens when you find yourself deviating from your values and caught up in the many temptations that sabotage your best intentions?
We all make mistakes, but should you beat yourself up or show or a little mercy?
Calming Your Inner Critic
When you’re struggling to make a change in your life, it’s tempting to see your mistakes as evidence that there’s something wrong with you. Like me, you might find that the inner critic’s voice becomes your own – and loudly.
Negative self-talk is self-defeating, dominated by pessimism, shame, guilt, fear, anxiety and isolation–hardly a resilient, happy, resourceful state to actualize your potential and go for your dreams. The habit of self-criticism and judgment usually is very subtle, outside of conscious awareness and lowers your self-confidence in your abilities. That undermines your potential for success.
Self-criticism does not work well when you view yourself as the problem. The reptilian brain kicks in and attacks – I can’t believe I gained those 5 pounds back… I should’ve aced that project – thus the self-critical self-talk. Provoking fear of failure, self-critics often don’t even try achieving their goals because the possibility of failure is unacceptable.
Even more problematic, self-critics have a hard time seeing themselves clearly and identifying needed areas of improvement because they instinctually know that self-punishment will ensue if they admit the truth, so we deny there’s a problem or blame someone else.
Further, when we try to motivate ourselves with criticism we stimulate a whole lot of cortisol and adrenaline, activating our flight-fight response – again, hardly the best way to inspire motivation toward self-improvement. That system, designed to protect us and keep us safe, becomes a liability when the threat is to our self-concept. Increased stress demotivates us and we try to self-soothe utilizing quick fixes to feel good.
How Compassion Motivates Positive Change
I’ve discovered that I usually can’t change my behavior by simply resolving to do something simply with my will.
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