As I listened to Geneen Roth talk about her new book, This Messy Magnificent Life, I was reminded of a simple, but powerful message: It all boils down to self-kindness.
Now, what exactly is meant by it all?
The things most of us want in life, such as courage, resilience, self-confidence, and strong, authentic connections can be built or strengthened through self-kindness.
Even though I’ve learned and re-learned this approach at virtually all the retreats I’ve attended in the last ten years, it’s astonishing how easily I forget.
It’s not that I forget entirely, it’s just that what tends to happen is, self-kindness gets pushed to the backburner by its’ close cousin, self-improvement.
On the outside, they may sound like the same things, but on the inside, they feel wholly different.
Let’s use a classic conundrum like self-doubt to see how self-improvement and self-kindness differ in their relationship to self-doubt.
When self-improvement meets self-doubt, the internal exchange sounds something like: “Grrrrrr…. you again. I thought I’d already dealt with you. What is this about now!? There must be something wrong (with me). Maybe once I do X, Y, or Z, I finally won’t have to deal with you anymore.”
The previous example assumes that you’re aware of the self-doubt, but in some (okay, maybe many) cases, you’re not aware that you feel doubtful. You just know that something is off. Regardless of if you’re aware, here again, self-improvement demands that you fix how you feel, and often subjects you to rely on coping strategies that work temporarily, at best. To name a few that I’m fairly versed at: snacking, working, and being on my devices.
Then there’s self-kindness’ approach to self-doubt. The first thing it does is turn toward whatever feeling is present — be it an icky feeling in your gut, collapsed chest, or thoughts such as, “This will never get better.” Then it says, “Hello self-doubt. I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I care about you. You are part of the human experience.”
Do you hear the difference?
Self-improvement puts you on a never-ending quest to fix parts of yourself that you don’t like. And so, you wait and wait and wait to find a certain “perfect” strategy that will one day repair you and make you whole. The question is, “Will you (we) be waiting your entire life to consider yourself good enough?”
Self-kindness recognizes that no matter which self-improvement strategies you engage in (exercise, meditation, leadership classes) or how much you achieve (published books, career accolades, etc.), you will still be imperfect.
Sorry to burst your bubble – and I TOTALLY feel your pain. 😉
Self-kindness also knows that you are more than your flaws and imperfections. In fact, it sees your wholeness and radiance in the very midst of struggle.
Some people think that self-kindness is lazy and unproductive. As in, shouldn’t we do something more actionable to feel better!! The answer is sometimes.
But you should note that self-kindness is not the same as doing nothing. You are courageously standing with yourself in the face of something tough, and that, my friend, is doing a WHOLE lot of something that no one else can do for you. (That doesn’t mean other people can’t help you feel better. BOTH support and inner strength are key ingredients to resilience).
Also, if and when another action is required, such as talking to someone about a mistake one of you made, you can still do that! In fact, one of the benefits of self-kindness is that it defuses stress, and it allows you to act with intention, clarity, and wisdom.
The other beautiful thing about self-kindness is that it ripples into your relationships. By learning how to be OK with your own flaws and idiosyncrasies, you learn how to be OK with others. And I’m not sure there’s a better gift you can offer the people you love than to fully let them be who they are.
To all my parents out there, this doesn’t mean you let your kids do anything they want. It simply means you allow your children to be the mistake-prone beings they are within healthy boundaries (set by you!).