The first day of every month I take out my chalk and in my child-like handwriting I excitedly jot down my monthly intentions. On a second chalkboard below these aspirations I write down a statement to guide me as I live out my intentions.
For the month of October I wrote: Practice self compassion and be gentle with yourself.
Is Hate Motivating?
I used to think that hating myself would be motivational. If I hated my body enough I would finally quit eating powdered donuts and join a bootcamp. If I hated my nail biting habit I could stop nibbling away my manicure. If I hated my job, naturally I would go get a new one. It turns out hate = motivation was a false equation. Hate = shame, was more accurate. Shame is not a motivator, it’s a deterrent.
Self-care and self-love.
I recently returned from a two week trip. Before I left, I was consistently waking up at 5:30 am for meditation, frequenting the gym before work, signing up for post-work sports, journaling, and hitting my pillow at a reasonable time. Fast-forward to two weeks of drinking Chang beer on a Thailand beach, out until sunrise, and eating Pad Thai and 7/11 snacks at every corner. My body endured 17 hour plane rides, food poisoning, and ocean-induced rashes. Needless to say, I wanted to get back to feeling like me.
October intentions were all about taking care of my basic needs. Eating real food, cleansing my mind with daily meditation, moving my body, sleeping on schedule, and cutting down phone time. It turns out, basic needs aren’t so basic when put into practice. I was rolling out of bed late. I was ordering sugary lattes and skipping mindfulness. I was staying up late to binge watch a series I’ve already seen. Soon I felt self-hatred seeping through the cracks.
Then I saw it. Like a message from the future me, the script on the wall read, Practice self compassion and be gentle with yourself. I recognized that my pattern of self destructive behaviour was my natural reaction to transitioning from vacation-mode to work-mode. Once I accepted that this adjustment would be difficult and engaged in self-compassion, I breathed a sigh of relief. The next morning I felt energized at 5:30 am.
Self-compassion vs. self-esteem.
I never really understood self-esteem. Our culture consistently told me to chase it, grow it, or create it. Where does it come from? Apparently experts now agree that the self-esteem movement gave rise to the “generation me” or “narcissism movement”. Self-esteem became being better than someone or the best at something.
Self-compassion is your friend in the successes and failures of your life. It doesn’t position you on a hierarchy of worth, it simply walks with you. It’s an equalizer. When we feel like we messed up or we’re not good enough, self-esteem would tell us “no you didn’t, you’re too good for that”, self-compassion would tell us, “you messed up, but that’s okay.” Self-compassion is understanding and respectful but real with us.
The peaks and troughs of life.
If only it were as simple as writing down goals, making the right decisions every step of the way, and coming out with sparkling eyes, glowing skin, and a list of accomplishments. We are souls with infinite potential and yet we are on earth living a human experience. The human experience involves temptations, mistakes, and failures.
An important lesson I’ve learned is that the natural flow of life isn’t linear and it certainly isn’t always an ascension. We succeed, we fall, we make soul corrections, and then we make the same mistakes, we re-write the same goals day after day and even year after year. We get a little bit better every day, even if our challenges don’t get easier.
We are human and we are flawed and the best we can do is surround our intentions and ourselves with loving-kindness and compassion. This is truly the rich soil for personal growth.