The practice of self-compassion as a tool for reaching your goals
I refer to battle with illness a few years ago as the beginning of a spiritual awakening. What would be for most people a challenge to overcome, began for me a journey inviting me to look deeper into the root causes of illness. I came from a family of “sick people.” What I mean is that the people in my family didn’t know how to deal with their emotions, and turned towards addictions and physical illness as coping mechanisms to help them manage their stress. I wanted to know why, despite all my best efforts—daily exercise, proper nutrition, yoga, positive thinking—Lyme disease kept coming back into my body, and why my immune system was not strong enough to deal with it effectively, despite the regimen of antibiotics I was taking.
This question led me on a path towards healing that made me look at the energetic and emotional roots of illness, and showed me the way towards healing. Self-rejection, self-hate, self-criticism, and negative judgment towards self, all create deep disturbances in the mind-body system which affect everything: our health and vitality, our emotional resiliency, our mental clarity, etc. These disturbances ultimately point the way towards a spiritual disconnect.
My self-healing path began with yoga over twenty years ago, and continued with personal coaching six years later, which then translated into starting a business. After a few years of building that business, I chose to leave it and look for another job because of my constant inner conversation about “never being enough,” and not getting “good results.” I could never measure up to my own standards, and that constant inner pressure took the wind out of my sail. When I look back, I could see that I was actually doing pretty well, given the little experience I had in business.
While reading Kristen Neff’s book entitled Self-Compassion, I had a “laugh out loud” moment. Both her, and Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, point in the direction of shame and self-criticism as main causes of issues related to health, failure in relationships and career, and ultimately as a main hindrance to feeling fully alive and reaching our goals. The brain doesn’t make the difference between an outside threat or an internal criticism. It creates the same “fight or flight” reaction in the body, which raises the cortisol level in the body. This makes us gain weight, increases our blood pressure, and reduces our capacity to use our pre-frontal cortex (or our thinking brain). The “fight or flight” response is a survival mechanism to be used in times of need, when there is an imminent danger, not as a daily motivation system.
Contrary to what some of us have been made to believe, fear is not a sustainable method to motivate us towards success. If you maintain that same level of stress over time, your immune system depletes, your emotional resiliency decreases, and overall, your ability to adapt, overcome challenges, and reach your goals is taxed.
On the other hand, self-compassion increases the oxytocin level (the feel good hormone) in the blood, which calms your nervous system, helps you feel centered, relaxed, clear-minded, and confident. It also boosts your immune system, increases your resiliency in dealing with problems, and ultimately helps stay the course when the going gets tough.
No matter how many methods, techniques, or tools we have at our disposal to help us reach our goals—getting fit and losing weight, looking for a more satisfying job, growing a business—if we are constantly berating ourselves, we are shooting ourselves in the foot, and will not get the results we want.
One of my main take-aways from these two books is this: a daily dose of self-compassion will help you achieve your goals, because it will help you establish your value and worthiness based on who you are, not just on the results. It will help you build the physical, emotional, and mental resilience needed to carry through in difficult times. If your results are temporarily not to your liking, you may be disappointed, but your self-worth will not be on the line. You will still feel worthy of love and belonging…which, of course, you are!