Compassion and the Power of Why

Guess what I was doing just this past Sunday?  Beating myself up for not getting as much done as I planned during the first week of the year.

Yup, not even seven days in and already all I could see was what hadn’t been checked off of the lists in my bullet journal, what new habits I had already failed to start to make.

Yup, I already saw myself as failing with only six days of “evidence” (and some of those were actually successful). All I could see, all I chose to look at, was what hadn’t been done.   

And then something a little different happened – I caught myself. I noticed my thoughts. I noticed the sadness and anxiety I was creating within myself and I stopped. I remembered what I wrote about last week and how my blog theme this month was on self c.a.r.e. Writing about this subject, and having a goal around making myself a priority, is clearly pushing me out of my comfort zone and the negative self talk was my brain trying to keep me safe.

Isn’t it rotten that keeping us safe sometimes seems to mean keeping us scared?

Clearly I needed the C in my acronym. So what does it mean to have self compassion?  

As Kristin Neff, author of Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, says on her website (http://www.self-compassion.org ): with self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend. So once I caught myself thinking negative thoughts, that’s what I started to do.

In my morning pages (Artists Way – Julia Cameron – Highly recommend!) I began to write caring comments and asked myself some supportive questions, speaking to myself on the page the way I would to my sons if they came to me in the throes of being hard on themselves – Why did you make the choices you did? If you put those things in your bullet journal, then they must have been important so what stopped you from doing them?

Answers poured out of me most of which were about being scared and feeling overwhelmed by the fact that the goals were big and the journey long.  The inner conversation went something like this “It’s just so far away. Sometimes I think, what’s the harm in just putting it off one more day? And what If I never get there? I’ve never reached this goal before. What makes me think it’s going to be different now.”

And a comforting voice in my head responded, “Yes, all of that is true, and I know it’s scary. You knew it would be all of these things when you set these goals, but you also know how important these are to you. And no, being important doesn’t always make it easier, but it should help to remind you of why you wrote the goals in the first place. If they weren’t special, if they didn’t matter to you, you would have quit on this a long time ago.”

Why you wrote the goals.

There it was. The key to the shift.

So many places talk about the power of knowing your why. Have you heard the expression “The bigger the why, the easier the how”? I know it’s true, but I’m starting to understand it on a deeper level this time around (isn’t that how it always goes). There will always be things that distract me, pull me away from what I’m doing and suddenly after making progress, I’m taking two steps back because on the one hand we have the change/goal I want and on the other the fear of what this change will mean (no matter how good it is). But with a strong “why” I get back on track faster.

I’ve started to think of these goals as a long road trip. I travel to New Jersey several times a year to see family. It’s a five hour, 260 mile trip each way. Why do I go? Because my family is important to me, and I love spending time with them. Do I drive 100 miles out of my way to get there? No, because that choice doesn’t support my goal. Do I sometimes stop at thrift stores on the way to support my son’s vintage clothing business? Absolutely. Supporting him is important to me, but again, we don’t go to places that aren’t on the way and we make allowances for what these stops mean (we might leave Massachusetts earlier, eat lunch quicker , watch the time we spend in each store). There are times when the trip is smooth and there’s no traffic and other times when it seems the GPS is going backward and no matter how many miles we cover our arrival time gets later and later. Doesn’t stop me from going or planning future trips. I have a powerful why.

I remember why I set these goals. Why they are important to me – regardless of how long the trip is. I didn’t say “I only want this if I can get it by…” There will be side trips, traffic, and times when it seems I’m making no progress. There will even be times when I make a foolish choice and am off course for a bit. The why will keep me going and self-compassion is what will help me get back to that why.

So how can I practice self-compassion? How will I?

I am working to notice when I’m feeling down – usually that’s an indication of thinking negatively. From there I plan to treat myself with the love and care I offer so easily to my sons, husband and friends when they are struggling. And I will give myself the permission I need and deserve to go through this process and every messy, imperfect mile along the way.

How’s your c.a.r.e. going?

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