Like a lot of people, I usually start the new year with the intention to better myself in some way — lose weight, exercise more, eat better, read Dante in the original language*, etc. This year I’m taking a different approach.
My new year’s resolution is to practice self-compassion. Kristin Neff has been studying (and promoting) self-compassion for several years. Her TED talk is a good place to start if you want to learn more about it. In a nutshell, self-compassion is about offering kindness to yourself– the same kindness that you would extend to someone you love. If someone you love made a mistake, would you say “That was a really dumb thing to do! How could you be so careless?” Nope. You’d say, “I see that you made a mistake but that’s okay. You’ll do better next time.” So the next time you make a mistake, instead of saying mean things to yourself, treat yourself kindly.
Here’s how Neff outlines the practice. When you notice that you are suffering, stop and say to yourself:
- This is a moment of suffering.
- Suffering is a part of life
- May I be kind to myself in this moment.
- May I give myself the compassion I need.
When I’ve explained this to others, I have been asked, “If I don’t speak harshly to myself, how will I motivate myself to do a better job next time?” According to Neff, beating yourself up will not make you better. It’s not necessary to hit yourself over the head for your mistakes. In fact, it is counter-productive.
Here’s how this relates to creativity: forgive yourself for not writing as much as you planned to. For not finishing the story. For not getting to your journal for a week. Forgive and move on. There’s zero chance that you can go back in time and re-do your past. So instead of feeling like crap for not writing yesterday and sitting around thinking about what a loser you are, recognize the suffering and then get out your pen (or your laptop) and start. Do this over and over again.
I have a reminder to practice self-compassion on my ribbon board that hangs on the wall behind my desk. I find it’s helpful to have a visual reminder of what I’m trying to do.
*Not an actual new year’s resolution. But the rest of them were.