Humor me and follow along with your imagination…
It’s the day of a race your best friend had asked you come watch her run because you two are very close and she would love for you to be there. You know she has been training for this race for months now; in fact, it always comes up as a topic of discussion every time you both talk on the phone. You don’t get to see her much, so you know she will be surprised once she notices you in the bleachers. Before the race, you are anxious for her, because you know how important this race has been to her over the past several weeks. You make sure to get a front row seat in the bleachers so you can see her as soon as she crosses the finish line.
The starting shot fires and you see her sprint as fast as she can toward the finish. You stand up, looking on, hoping that all of her training pays off, and it seems like she is doing well, but then her effort starts to wane; she starts to slow down. Eventually she is passed by not one, but three of her opponents, then the race ends. She ends up coming in fourth.
You’re still standing, looking on hoping to catch your friends attention, but instead you see that she is lost in her own disappointment. Her head is down, her hands are on her hips until she eventually takes a knee. She begins to cry. Seeing that she is pain, you leave the bleachers to stand by her side…
Okay, lets stop the scene here.
In this situation, if you were the friend watching from the bleachers, what would you do?
I think many of us would offer an empathetic shoulder–a lot of us have been down before, and sometimes we just need someone to give us a lift and let us know that things are okay. “They’ll be other races, so lets get back to training, and we’ll get the next one.” Right?
Now let’s take a look at how we treat ourselves when we don’t succeed in the way that we had planned to. When we didn’t make it to the gym, or we ate that piece of cake, or we didn’t lose that pound before the week’s end. Where’s our empathy here? Why would we rather kick ourselves when we are down, then to offer the sage advice of, “don’t worry about this one, we will get the next one.”? The truth is, we are our biggest critics, and that’s getting us nowhere fast.
You’re Doing This (probably) and It’s Killing Your Progress
Think back to the times when you got down on yourself or you felt shameful about not following through on an action that you had planned to. Did you feel better after? I’m willing bet that you didn’t. In fact, you probably fell further into your disappointment, and in doing so you sought to find ways to make yourself feel better in that moment–which usually ends up being the vice or action you were trying to avoid. It’s a vicious cycle. We fail to do what we planned to do, we shame ourselves for doing so and in an effort to feel better we take part in the vice or action that had damned us in the first place–which sends us further into a downward spiral. There has to be a better way.
Opting for Understanding over Self Hate
The reason why shaming ourselves into action never works is because it offers further evidence to our psyche that we are less than what we are. We tend to use it to reinforce our negative perceptions of ourselves. “You weren’t able to do that because you’re weak,” or “you can’t follow through on anything, because you’re incapable.”–these are the kind of conversations that follow when we choose shame and guilt over forgiveness and understanding.
Self compassion, on the other hand, has a unique ability that allows us to accept responsibility; and when we accept responsibility for our missteps, then that means we are also responsible for our achievements–and that idea gives us a level of control that can be very powerful.
Moving from a position of guilt to a position of self compassion can foster a mindset that allows us to learn from our mistakes. We become creators of opportunities, rather than victims of circumstance.
It can sometimes escape us, the truth that is–failure, mistakes and missteps are part of the human condition. It is part of how we experience our environment and relationships, and can offer us unique insights into who we are, and what we are capable of. So next time you find yourself headed into that never-ending void of guilt and hopelessness, take a minute to take step back, and act like you give a shit about yourself–be that friend in the bleachers and help yourself back up.