I’m on vacation this week, but I wanted to reshare an updated version of a previous post with you. I hope you find it encouraging if you find that sometimes your emotions don’t quite behave the way you’d like - even when you’re trying to start a whole new year off on the “right” foot. I’ll be back with a new post next week.
Happy New Year!
I feel as if I should be writing about how to set your intentions or goals or something to that effect, as that is what most of the writers I follow are doing, but the problem is that I haven’t really set them, so it would be a bit inauthentic to act as if I’m on top of the whole new year routine.
So, if you wanted to pause and think about what you want out of 2019 and you haven’t done it yet, I’m right there with you! And I want to remind you that we haven’t lost our chance just because it’s past January 1.
I, for one, plan to pause and look back at 2018 and sit with my hopes and intentions for 2019 in bits and pieces over the month of January. Maybe you, like me, don’t feel able to find a big chunk of time to do it, but you could schedule a half hour here or there. That’s fine. That’s good. Just do that. Or do nothing, if that feels more appealing.
You can still build a great life this year, with or without January goals/intentions/resolutions.Or you could try a new take on the whole resolution thing.
Instead of asking what you want to do, or what goal you want to reach, ask yourself, “How do I want to FEEL in 2019?”
Interestingly two years ago part of my answer was “delighted” and it’s one of my answers for this year too - along with “free.” I do feel delighted a bit more often than I did two years ago, but it’s still not as much a part of my constant state of being as I’d like. So I keep returning to it.
The thing is I’m pretty good at BIG THINGS. Major crisis? I can handle it. In fact, I’m more likely to notice little delights and joys when I am in the midst of some kind of big challenge. It the day-to-day stuff that gets me - and somehow blinds me to what can and is delightful in this amazing world.
Two years ago around this time it was bad weather in Southern California when my oldest son was here for a short visit that caused me to LOSE MY MIND. I screamed at my husband and at California itself. “California is sooooo mean! It’s not fair!” I said! I pouted. I stomped. I cried. I acted as if I was about two-and-a-half-years-old. It is this kind of emotion and behavior that caused me to think of myself as a ridiculous emotional basket-case for many years.
The emotional challenge I experience in the face of small everyday disappointments is not new for me (though the frequency has decreased.) What IS new for me is my reaction to my meltdowns (a.k.a. my complete failure to be who I want to be and who I believe I should be in these moments) and to other kinds of failures: missed deadlines, blown budgets, embarrassing outfits, etc.
I want to share with you what’s changed for me because I believe it is a foundational piece of the path towards building a life you love—and loving other people too. What is different for me now is that I very, very rarely beat myself up for my failures, mistakes and imperfections.
Beating myself up was a way of life for me for a couple of decades—whether it was about being an “emotional basket-case,” or getting a B when I wanted an A, or any of the other myriad ways I didn’t meet my own expectations, or other people’s expectations of me.
I thought this kind of self-lecturing was the way to make change happen, the way to make myself become a better person. It’s not.
I am actually better today at paying bills, and finding file folders, and meeting deadlines than I was several years ago, but it’s not because I got more disciplined, or worked harder, or found my Scottish stiff-upper-lip in the back of a cabinet somewhere. Nope. I found me some self-compassion.
I have a hunch that you, dear reader, may need to find a bit of self-compassion too.
Why? Because maybe, just maybe there are occasional times when you don’t meet your own—might I take a guess that they are terribly high? —standards for yourself.
And maybe, just maybe, you try SO HARD— to be the person who never yells, who always loves, who is organized and responsible, who always does excellent work, always gives her best, who never lets those amazing kids (or co-workers, or parents, or professors) down. But then you do. You do let them down, and yourself to.
Tell me, when you don’t live up to your expectations for yourself, do you do what I used to do?
Do you say—out loud or silently—something like, “What is wrong with me?” or “I am so stupid/undisciplined/irrational/irresponsible…” Or “I’m such an idiot/jerk/horrible person/terrible teacher/sell-out…”
And do you start trying harder? Do you decide that you will get up earlier, meditate more, get more organized, say more affirmations, eat better, plan better, learn how to control your temper, go to church more, create a new filing system, etc. etc. etc.?
If that sounds like you, I’d like to suggest an alternative approach, the path of self-compassion—with a bit of curiosity thrown in on the side.
Self-compassion and curiosity won’t make all the pain go away, but they will help you to avoid adding to the pain you’re already experiencing by saying mean and horrible things to yourself.
A start at self-compassion and curiosity might look like this.
The next time you screw up somehow, or just wish you were stronger, smarter, saner, more organized, had a better body, or whatever it is on that particular day, first, say to yourself what the best, kindest version of you would say to a child in your situation. In my case, when I heard myself say, or think, “I’m so stupid! What’s wrong with me?” I’d correct myself with, “You made a mistake; people make mistakes, it’s okay and, by the way, you will not be alone and rejected forever.” I carried some version of this statement around on a notecard for a while to pull out as needed… which was often! You might try that too – create your own personal compassion mantra.
Second, pause and look a bit closer at the situation for clues about what it might tell you about yourself and what you need, or about what’s really happening for you. After the big feelings have passed and you’ve felt them, then ask yourself, “What do I want to do next?”
For example, in my “bad weather in California” situation self-compassion and curiosity helped me to avoid telling myself the old story that I am a crazy, insane, irrational emotional basket-case and really ungrateful and horrible because “My goodness who complains about the weather in Southern California? There are people living in places where it SNOWS, for goodness sake! And some people don’t even have enough food to eat, or shelter, or clothes. What is wrong with you, you ungrateful ______?” which would likely have increased my depression and my bitchy-ness both.
Instead, I just let it be. I just noticed, as if I were watching a film. “Oh, this is a bit of an overreaction, I wonder what that’s about?”
One thing I discovered when I paused and sat with my emotions and got curious instead of passing judgement is that I felt a deep sense of loss about my oldest son’s rapid journey into independent adulthood, which was made more rapid because we moved to place that is not his home. His leaving me is a change that should happen and it’s good, but it’s also a loss. And losses need to be grieved; so I grieved it.
That’s all you can do with losses. Cry and eventually let go.
In my case, after I let go of my son and some of the hopes I’d had for my new home, I was able to make a new choice in the direction of delight.
I consciously decided to choose a story for 2017 that was more useful than, “California hates me.” I decided to start looking for evidence that this it could be a good place for me. This was an important step, because we humans like to be proven right. So, if we chose to believe something is terrible, we’ll probably find good evidence, but we won’t feel very happy.
I still felt sad and disappointed for a while. But my ability to move forward in ways that allowed me to experience more joy and delight started with my compassion for the ugly version of me and some curiosity about what was really going on.
Perhaps you don’t believe that you could stop beating yourself up AND still be the good, responsible, caring person that you want to be. But I encourage you to experiment.
I’ve been experimenting with viewing my failures and mistakes as good information, rather than as measurements of my worth, for years now. So far, data is piling up in favor of the new approach - more joy, less stress - and I’m getting better and loving the people around me too.
How do you want to feel in 2019? I’d love to hear about it in the comments - or shoot me an email at email@example.com
Here’s to thriving - and an amazing 2019.