My friend asked me if I made any New Year’s resolutions.
“I made only one resolution: to be nicer… to myself.”
She laughed. It was almost a spit-take!
“I thought you were going to say ‘be nicer to other people‘,” she said.
“Nope,” I said, “I’m good there. The trouble I have is being nice to myself.”
She wasn’t convinced.
I can’t say I blame her. I mean, I’m not perfect. Of course, I could always be nicer to other people. My husband for one. He is the kindest person until he barks about something, usually not having anything to do with me, and I get defensive and bark back because I take everything personally when I shouldn’t and there we are having a fight over something so stupid we can’t remember what it was the next day. We both need a reminder sometimes that we are on the same team.
Yes, I could be nicer to other people. The point is I don’t need to be reminded of that particular fault, that’s all. My ever-vigilant super-ego, Inner Parent, Jiminy Cricket-on-steroids, all wrapped in one does a fine job of stabbing me with guilt when I coulda, shoulda been less harsh to others.
The only resolution I need, this new year and beyond, is to practice more Self-Compassion.
Let’s be clear. I am not a fan of the New Year’s Resolution! As a rule, I find the annual ritual of listing personal priorities in the new year as just another way of punishing myself. As if I needed a new way to tell myself what I lack, what I’m not good at, what I’m not doing that I should be doing that could make me a better, healthier, more attractive person. Ugh! That torture I don’t need. I really don’t. So this is a big deal to admit I do need this one.
Can I learn to be sweeter to myself? To be quicker to tell myself, “Poor baby” when things go sideways, or “Well done” when I did a decent job? Will I ever automatically have the instinct to sit back and think, “Relax, old girl. You’ve done enough. It’s OK to take a day, or a week, to putter around the house, binge watch Schitt’s Creek for the fifth time, drink G & Ts and eat popcorn.” (That sounds good right now! What time is it?) Or what about actually sitting down to read a book just for fun! When will I ever feel good about myself first, whatever the hell I’m doing, and not guilty?
There’s a cartoon in the latest issue of the New Yorker that grabbed me. (Subscribing to the New Yorker can be another exercise in self-punishment. How many fabulous articles or short stories have gone unread? But there is always time for the cartoons!) This cartoon illustrated two women standing next to another woman asleep in her bed. Piled on top of the sleeping woman is a basket of laundry, a swaddled baby, a laptop with a screen showing unopened email, tax reports, a calendar with each day filled with god knows what, piles of papers, and a clock that has the creepy look of an old-timey bomb. One of the standing women says, “Instead of a weighted blanket, she sleeps under the suffocating weight of her responsibilities.”
Wow! I can relate. Aside from the baby, that’s my weighted blanket, too, right there! And I’m a totally self-identified privileged person! I know I’ve got it good. And yet I do this thing to myself where I feel suffocated by obligations instead of feeling damn lucky to have them.
Are we afraid that being kind to ourselves will make us lazy and conceited? I hear this a lot. It’s easy for me to counsel others, “Taking care and being kind to yourself is not self-centered. It’s essential.” Being kind to yourself fills us up with good stuff making it easier to be kind to others. Restricting our self-compassion flow to just a trickle because we “don’t deserve it” or it’s being saved for a “special occasion” is just nuts. The quality of what we bring to the table goes up by a lot when we come from a place of self-kindness and abundance.
“Be more Self-Compassionate” is the only New Years’s Resolution I need because it is the mother of all resolutions.
- I will exercise more. OK, let’s take it easy and not expect to run the marathon the first day out. Have fun with your exercise! Maybe that way you will still be exercising in March.
- I will lose weight. OK, again. Just don’t DIET for god’s sake. No need to deprive yourself of tasty foods. Try intuitive eating instead.
- I will be more organized. Great! But what measure are you using? Do you expect your home office to look like a surgical theater (not nice) or do you just want to know where your stuff is (nice)? Clutter can be cozy if that’s your jam.
You get the picture.
There are many reasons why being kind to ourselves is so hard. But getting to the why can take time. For now, it’s enough to know that we could use some help to build a stronger self-compassion muscle. Here are a few New Year’s Eve Resolutions that I suggest. What would you add?
- Tell the inner critic to give it a rest and shut the fuck up.
- Give yourself alone time to be quiet, meditate, at peace.
- Talk to yourself like you would your child or friend.
- Love yourself unconditionally; all flaws, imperfections, and weaknesses included.
- Soothe your body with treats that will be enjoyed by all five senses.
- Breathe deeply and mindfully.
- Do not compare yourself to others.
- When you wake up with worry in the middle of the night tell yourself it’s just a storm that will pass and it will.*
- Take a break from social media.
- Say no to any chronically energy-sucking people, places, and things.
- Say Yes to all those things that give you energy.
- When in pain, don’t shoo it away or numb it too quickly. Acknowledge it. Tolerating discomfort takes courage. Comforting yourself while you go through it is self-compassionate.
- When joy comes, don’t shoo it away too quickly either. Sometimes tolerating good feelings can be as scary as tolerating pain. Stay with it; let it stay with you. Let it bubble through you and over you. Let it fill you up. Hold it close. Tell yourself, “I am happy! Right now, in this moment, I’m happy.”
*Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself, by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.