We’re natural time travelers. Most of the time, we’re either living in the past or worrying about the future, which makes it hard to focus and get things done!
Being able to dive into the past or imagine what lies ahead is a useful tool for learning and strategizing. However, when you’re too focused on what happened in the past or what will happen in the future you miss out on what is right in front of you – the present.
Being trapped in mental scenarios about the future or getting sucked into the past makes it hard to work on who you want to become. Mindfulness and self-compassion invite us to cultivate deeper awareness about our path to self-actualization. Taking a stance of mindfulness and compassion invite us to drop the judgment about our past actions and lose the fear filter or “what if’s” about the future.
The Suffering caused by Self Criticism
Each of us has an ideal self. The discrepancy between your ideal self and your perception of your actual self is what creates suffering. Your ideal self has values and principles he or she would like to remain loyal to. In fact these values and principles are probably what give you your greatest sense of purpose and meaning. But if you feel you have fallen short, then the chances of becoming demotivated are very high. Sadly, in response to this suffering of “not making the grade” we often target criticism at ourselves.
Have some sympathy for your inner critic: She / He is also trying to free you from suffering – just not so wisely
When you fail at something or break a promise or resolution to yourself, it hurts. Your self-critic sees this and steps in to try and protect you from more pain. In response to the hurt, disappointment and failure the self-critic goes into threat-defense mode. The self-critic wants one thing and one thing only: restoration of feeling okay about the self. In threat-defense mode, the self-critic has tunnel vision and cannot see that the method of trying to restore okay-ness is actually exacerbating the problem by creating more harm and decreasing motivation.
In recent research, scientists took a group of people with various goals, from weight-loss to career moves, and tracked their self-opinions during this time. Regardless of the type of goal, they found that in all cases, those who were highly self-critical were slower to progress closer to their target compared to those with more self-compassion. The research demonstrated that being accountable is not the same as being critical. We can be accountable to our values and goals without being negative towards ourselves.
Mindfulness and compassion can help remind you about the positive aspirations you have for yourself
Your inner critic is part of you, so you cannot reject or silence her/him. But you can get out of the cycle of self-critical rumination that is motivation’s worst enemy.
Start with Mindfulness for settling the mind:
In a quiet moment, sitting or lying down, with gaze soft, eyes open or closed...
take some time to focus and tune into your breath flowing in and out just as it is without changing anything and notice your body sensations, just as they are.
Re-orient to your personal values and life principles that give you a sense of purpose and meaning.
Recognize the pain and demotivation of any self-critical tone you have had with yourself.
See if you can bring a sense of compassion and caring to the pain caused by that self-critic.
Recognize that self-criticism, regardless of the circumstances, is a universal misguided “trick of the brain” that we all suffer from at one time or another.
Give yourself credit for wanting to be true to your values and aspire to your ideal self.
Problem solving and “figuring things out” is a wonderful capacity that the human mind has. Mindfulness and compassion help us recognize the difference between being trapped on the treadmill of rumination instead of constructively re-orienting ourselves to our most treasured values. If you find that most of your “figuring’ and analyzing about difficult situations is focused on “the problem of you”, then it is a good sign that your ‘figuring’ is no longer constructive. You may be trapped in the illusion that self-criticism will somehow make you more accountable. It is common to believe that pointing to faults in yourself will get you closer to being your ideal perfect self. But mindful, caring reconnection to your more positive values, and holding your experience in loving kindness is what ultimately restores motivation to aspire to your ideal self.
If you want to keep learning about how mindfulness and compassion can help you in everyday life, consider registering for the 8 week program starting February 27th at The Mindfulness Clinic in Toronto Ontario. Or sign up for my quarterly emails, or follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.