During this first month of 2015, I have failed at keeping some of the positive habits I intended for this year, like waking up early for meditation every morning.
When I fail at something, my automatic reaction is self-criticism. I know that I’m not alone on this negative behavioral pattern, because most people I work with in therapy struggle with this same thing. It is as if somewhere along the way we learned that self-criticism would motivate us to do better going forward.
But self-criticism doesn’t motivate us. Research shows that self-criticism is associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression and lower levels of motivation and future improvement. People who criticize themselves tend to take less risks due to fear of failure.
A better alternative is self-compassion - treating yourself in a kind and supportive way, just the way you would treat a friend. Dr. Kristen Neff, who dedicates her career to the study of self-compassion, clarifies that self-compassion doesn’t mean going easy on yourself, it means nurturing yourself to assure that you can access the emotional resources needed to pick yourself up and try again.
Research shows that self-compassion is associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression, with higher levels of motivation for improvement. People who practice self-compassion are more likely to set a new goal after they fail.
When you practice self-compassion, you give yourself kind words that help you feel motivated to stay strong and try again.
I have failed at waking up early every morning for meditation this month. I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m going to meet my inner-critic with a nice dose of self-compassion and stay motivated to establish this habit and make 2015 a great year.
Have you failed at keeping some new year intention or resolution?
If so, practice self-compassion: pause, take some deeps breaths, acknowledge any self-criticism, offer yourself some reassuring words and remind yourself that failing is part of the human experience, what matters is how we respond.
May you stay motivated in the process of cultivating positive habits!