Maybe you want to reply to emails in a more timely manner, eat less sugar, spend more quality time with family, spend less time surfing the internet, exercise more regularly, listen more effectively to others…
Whatever it is that you want to get better at, it requires practice. Knowing what to practice and knowing whether your practice is working requires some honest self-evaluation. This is where things can get tricky.
You know the internal voice — it is the one that points out how you have fallen short (once again), and how you need to be better tomorrow. It can sound somewhat encouraging, while simultaneously reminding you that who you are right now is not good enough.
The self-improvement voice tells you that the person you want to be is always waiting for you on some imaginary horizon — a horizon that never seems to get any closer.
This is the voice that won’t let you forget that there is something wrong with you, and that you need to fix it to have the life and love you seek.
Self-improvement without self-compassion can easily become self-bullying.
I have no problem with taking an honest assessment of what is working and what is not working. I am a believer in making concrete plans to improve skills through consistent attention and practice. In fact, I believe (and there is science to support) that this is one of the foundations to a good life. A sense of purpose and growth is good for all aspects of wellbeing.
Growth does not require that we beat ourselves up. Being harshly critical and unkind to oneself is not the key to improve the quality of your life or performance.
Many people shy away from the idea of self-compassion for fear of “going soft.” This is based in misunderstanding. Self-compassion is not the same as self-indulgence. Being kind to yourself does not mean that you do whatever you feel like and then give yourself a pass on the consequences. We are capable of kindly holding ourselves accountable for keeping our commitments and taking full responsibility when we don’t.
In fact, when we are self-compassionate, we are more likely to accept responsibility without defensiveness, hold ourselves accountable without excuses, and bounce back more quickly from disappointment.
How do you practice compassionate self-evaluation?
Here’s a general outline of the practice:
- Next to your to-do list, keep a list of the things you would like to minimize and maximize in your life.
- At the end of each day, before you look at the list, take a moment to sit quietly and connect with the feeling of kindness you have for someone you really want to support.
- Looking at the list through a lens of kindness, and an interest in growth rather than self-judgment, you can honestly evaluate using whatever scale you choose. I use a 1-10 scale.
- Over time you can see trends. If there does not appear to be progress, you can ask yourself honest questions such as “Do I really want to change this?” or “Is there something getting in my way that I am not acknowledging?”
Without self-compassion, it is easy to get focused on what is wrong with us as a person. This is a red herring that lead to a cycle of self-bashing that takes attention and energy away from healthy growth.
With honest, self-compassionate evaluation, we can focus more on our strategies and pivot if our current approach isn’t working.
This is not a silver bullet — it is part of a good life practice that builds profound skills over time. To be sure, there are sexier, quick fixes out there that promise instant, lasting results.
In my work with clients, I have found that that there are few things as effective as paying attention, meeting what you find with acceptance, cultivating compassion whenever possible, connecting with a sense of purpose, and taking full responsibility for your choices.
Because we are human, we get caught up in the distractions and demands of life, and we fall back into some old, ineffective habits. When this happens, we can simply begin our good life practice all over again — with kindness.
Using modern research and enduring wisdom, Dave offers individuals and teams the tools they need to find calm, clarity, and connection in a stressed and anxious world. He offers individual coaching as well as keynote speaking, in-services, retreats, seminars, and ongoing consultation. If you are seeking greater well-being, stronger relationships, more effective communication, or a healthier culture, contact him at email@example.com