When I started my blog in September of 2013, my intention was to post weekly. I was filled with rosy-cheeked vision and exuberance, inspired to shared hope with anyone who would read my words. Since I had a full-time job and other responsibilities, that lasted a couple of months. Instead of beating myself up, as is my tendency when I don’t meet my own expectations, I decided to set a more practical goal; monthly. I would post something on my blog every month. I felt satisfied with this more realistic objective and my enthusiasm remained high. That lasted about a year. As life got more demanding, I found less and less time to write. Over the years, I have had little pockets of productivity, where I’ve posted for several months in a row, and then I’d get busy and the task of writing a post would stay on my to-do list for months on end, never reaching done status.
Have you ever had a vision, a goal, or a project that you set out to accomplish with an incredible amount of fervor, bursting out of the starting gate with passion and resolve, only to watch your perfect vision fade as fast as Halley’s Comet?
Welcome to the club. The perfectly imperfect human club.
As we all do at the end of another year, I’ve been reflecting on how I spent my energy this year. What were the highlights, the successes, the regrets, and the missed opportunities? This is where understanding the difference between reflecting and perfecting comes in. The inner critic loves to seize the moment and steal our hope by telling us how imperfect we are; how miserably we’ve failed; how we’re not good enough; how we’ve made a mistake we can never recover from. We all have an inner critic. Some are louder than others.
When I realized that I did not pen a single post for my blog in 2022, my inner critic was standing up and full on screaming my inadequacy as a writer. Although I make my living as a therapist, I’ve known since I was in the 3rd grade that I wanted to be a writer. I love to write. I believe the right words can encourage, empower, inspire, motivate, heal, guide, and even transform a life. I view words, sentences, and language in general as tools of artistry, probably much like painters view the brush, the color, and the canvas. Creativity is one of my top values. I’ve noticed that when I don’t make time to be creative, I start to get a bit depressed. I like to create meaning with words; to inspire hope with language. It brings me great joy to write.
Missed opportunities and mistakes can become lessons, if we choose to learn something from them. I’ve been studying and practicing self-compassion for years, so when my inner critic got loud, I immediately silenced it with some self-compassion.
Hope whispers, be kind to yourself.
What better way to end one year and begin another than with being kind to yourself? Kindness matters. Self-kindness included. Self-compassion is nothing more than the act of giving yourself the same kindness, the same grace, the same empathy you would extend to someone else. Just as being insensitive, unkind, and unforgiving to another has no mental health benefit whatsoever, (or physical or spiritual benefits either) the same is true for the way we treat ourselves. I have worked in mental health for 16 years, and in my experience, most people do not give themselves the same compassion they give others.
Why is it so difficult to be kind to ourselves?
Generally speaking, our own lack of self-compassion comes from messages we received in our early childhood by our caregivers. The way that they responded to you if you made a mistake or failed to meet expectations, is the way that you likely respond to yourself now. If they expressed a lot of disappointment or even anger, you likely become disappointed in or angry with yourself as an adult when you fall short. Self-compassion typically has to be developed and practiced in adulthood. And like any skill you learn, the more you practice, the better you will be. So even if self-compassion wasn’t modeled well to you in your formative years, you can teach yourself. Starting now.
If you’re looking back at 2022 and feeling self-critical, thinking about all of the things you didn’t do, try shifting your focus to think about all of the things that you did do. Your energy had to go somewhere! I may not have done any blogging, (except this single post I’m sliding in to 2022) but when I think about it, I accomplished a lot of other things – I held a critical role in the opening and operation of a de novo eating disorder treatment center this year; I developed and delivered presentations at two professional conferences; I passed an intense 8-week therapy dog certification course with my fur baby and now have a certified therapy dog; I took a dream vacation to Spain with my husband and our best friends to celebrate milestone wedding anniversaries; I hosted lots of family and friends in our home throughout the year; and I continue to help care for an aging parent. These are just a few of the things that kept me busy this year.
No wonder I didn’t get any blogging done – I was busy accomplishing other goals that were important to me. At the same time, I am able to acknowledge that I really missed writing. So, I am setting an intention to make more space in my schedule in 2023 to write.
As you do your own year-in-review, think about what you did, not what you didn’t do in 2022. Reflect. Release any guilt or shame over what you didn’t do. Repeat as necessary.
Self-compassion makes room for self-awareness and self-assessment. It creates space for growth and grace. It empowers us to move forward. Reflecting on how you spend your time creates space for understanding. Releasing any guilt or shame you are holding over what didn’t happen is critical to your mental wellness. Holding on to self-critical, shame-based thoughts will only keep you stuck. Release them.
Just as treating others with warmth and kindness is a choice, so is treating yourself the same way. Self-compassion paves the way for more hope in your life that things can be different, be better. You can be different, be better. Progress – not perfection – is the goal.
In what areas do you need to be kinder to yourself? In what ways will you choose to move forward in the coming year? Can you make a commitment to yourself to silence your inner critic and start 2023 by practicing some self-compassion?