Have you ever noticed how often you have negative thoughts toward yourself? Does that voice inside your mind point out everything you do “wrong”? Do you find yourself doing things to “punish” yourself when you don’t meet your own expectations? Have you ever spoken negatively about yourself to others? I am willing to bet you have had, and probably still do have, experiences with all of those scenarios. We are human after all – we are not perfect no matter how much we strive to be. And not being perfect gives us ample opportunity to beat up on ourselves.
We are hardest on ourselves – deep down I think we all know that. For one thing, so much of it just seems to automatically happen inside our minds that we often don’t even notice we are being hard on ourselves. And secondly, we live in a society where everyone can see what we are up to and offer up instant feedback/judgment (thank you social media), which we then internalize and use to fuel the mental and emotional beatings we give to ourselves. This is certainly not healthy. We need to move away from this and learn how to cut ourselves a little bit of a break when we have our human (imperfect) moments.
I know…this is one of those things that is easier said than done, right? But it is absolutely doable! The keys to successfully breaking this habit revolve around loving yourself and being mindful of your own personal expectations.
It is fascinating to me how we are so quick to give love to the people around us, yet so seldom do we love ourselves. I came across a quote not long ago that illustrates a brilliant point (and I am paraphrasing here) – if we don’t love ourselves, then why would anyone else? Of all the people in the world we should love, we most certainly should start with ourselves, the person we have with us every moment of every day. Surely we are deserving of love…because if we aren’t, then who is? I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but I think it is important to point out that each one of us deserves to be loved by ourselves first and foremost, and that love of ourselves is a major step toward cutting ourselves a break when we have those inevitable slips, falls, failures or mistakes in life.
Successfully cutting yourself a break is also about our expectations, particularly those surrounding goals and routines. We should be mindful of what we set our expectations up to be. We need to keep our goals and routines realistic and flexible. And when we fail (which we will because we are all human and that’s how this works) we just have to start to take small steps to get back on track. Expectations are great in and of themselves. It is our attachment to those expectations that continually causes us problems. By definition, an expectation is the anticipation of something happening. It is not a guarantee. Our attachment to an expectation (in other words our expectation that the expectation happen exactly as we expect it to) is the root of so much emotional conflict in our lives. Learning to keep our expectations realistic, being flexible with the actual outcomes of our expectations and finding ways to lessen our attachment to our expectations will go a very long way toward allowing us to be gentle and loving toward ourselves when life doesn’t go exactly as we had planned.
Let me give you a perfect example of this from my own, very recent experience. I have spent the better part of a year refining a daily routine that I am very proud of and which has netted me a lot of very positive results in my life. And while I don’t get to everything in my daily routine every day, I do expect that I get to everything in that routine multiple times in a given week. But then I went on vacation for a week in September, came home for about 8 days and went away for another 5 days. (Incidentally, I tried to do some aspects of my routine while I was away, but as we all know when you are away from home those routines we have established just aren’t as easy to keep up with. And I was fine with not keeping up with them when I was away…I gave myself permission to be lax in my normal routines.) But by the time I came home from my second trip in that 3 week period, my routine was wrecked! It was like I was starting all over again. My sleep patterns were all out of whack, my yoga and meditation practices were off, I was scrambling to get caught up on things at work and at home such that time normally spent planning for the week, meal prepping, and doing most of the things in my normal routines fell by the way side. It was frustrating to say the least. And I caught myself thinking/saying some not so kind things to myself because I expected to come back from all that time away and just pick up with my routines where I left off with them. Epic fail! But I am not giving up on myself. As soon as I realized what I was doing to myself I was able to see pretty quickly how those behaviors were not serving me. They were not going to get me back on track. The only way I was going to get back to where I wanted to be with my daily routines was to work, one small step at a time, toward that goal. And truth be told, almost a month later I am still working on reestablishing my routine in its entirety, but I am doing so with love and flexibility and making excellent progress.
Life is a cycle – it is constantly evolving and changing, therefore so will you. You will always be working on yourself. You will have moments of success and moments of disappointment or failure – that is what life is about and there is nothing you can do to change that. You can only control how you respond to those things. So the next time you are being hard on yourself, remember the power and importance of cutting yourself a break. You are human and you will make mistakes…the sooner you accept that the happier you will be.