By Vega Subramaniam
It’s mid-February. Would you look at that.
Mid-February, and already I’m not exercising every week (or ever). I haven’t finished my crochet project. To be sure, I did register for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (priorities, people!), but I haven’t been printing and solving crossword puzzles on paper in preparation.
February is a curious month. It sits there, between January’s New Year and March’s springtime, pretending to be innocuous.
Don’t be fooled: February is not innocuous. It bears the weight of all of our shattered dreams. It is the month of reckoning.
In most years, late December through January has a predictable arc. It’s cold, dark, and snowy. BUT, the days are getting longer, praise all that is good and holy. There’s the afterglow of the just-passed holidays. There’s long-term vision and alignment with purpose and passion—and the optimism that a shiny new year offers. There’s a willingness to face habit-change challenge with renewed resolve because THIS year will be DIFFERENT.
THEN. Then, there’s the impending recognition, by about this time of year, that THIS year will NOT be different.
So this is the point in the year when I take a close look at myself. My petty personal setbacks. My resolution abandonment. My craving to nestle under the covers hibernating rather than face more cold and snow. (Mala tells me I need to wake up to the reality that I am a bear, and it’s not the cold and snow I need to face, but rather the fact that as a bear, I must do as bears do.) (I don’t even know what that means.)
By this time, you might, like me, be drowning in articles that share depressing data about how few of us actually achieve our New Year’s resolutions, and then advise us on how to keep plugging away anyway.
Good news, friends! Here’s another one! What can I say, I aim to please.
Bear (see what I did there?) with me, though! I am anxious to share (other people’s) wise words about self-compassion, and what that has to do with goal-achievement.
I hear a lot from people who feel urgency/anxiety/desperation to figure something out to make a change—like, if they just found the right tool or platform—Asana? Bullet Journal? Evernote?—then they could stay on track. Or, they give up on themselves in disgust and despair. It’s so overwhelming and demoralizing.
If you find yourself resonating with that description, then it might be that you’re looking in the wrong place—that the key to establishing productive new habits is not out there waiting for you to discover it once and for all. Rather, the key to establishing productive new habits is: being kind to yourself.
There is a non-zero chance that when you read that, you rolled your eyes. It’s possible that one or more of the following messages crossed your mind: “Oh, please. It’s not that simple.” “That’s worse than useless to me.” “If I’m kind to myself, I’ll never get anything done. The only reason I do anything is because I feel bad about myself.” “I don’t need kindness, for the love of god. What I need is a kick in the pants.” “Kindness is for the weak and foolish. I’m above that. Just tell me what tool I should use.”
It’s possible that you already have access to relevant tools and platforms. That, while experimenting with said tools and platforms will help, it’s not the heart of the problem.
At the beginning of this year (which, as I have already helpfully noted above, is now a month and a half ago), I did in fact make a commitment to myself to practice kindness, over and over again, each time my inner critic tried to beat me up. I reminded myself that self-compassion is a practice, which is to say, it’s something I keep doing, and which by continually doing I can improve on, and which by definition does not have an end point.
So there’s that. That’s a practice I’ve successfully kept up. And I have to say, as a result of that practice, I have also kept numerous balls in the air that could easily have fallen, kept various projects afloat that I frankly thought would drown, kept plugging away at—oh my god, have I mentioned that I am now partnering with Mala on tracking our finances?! That might possibly be the crowning achievement of my last
month year decade lifetime. Honest: self-kindness works.
Mala urges me not to be so prescriptive; that just because something works for me, and even if there’s (some) science behind it, that doesn’t mean it’s a rule for everyone.
Perhaps. And I try. I do try not to be prescriptive. But here’s the thing (because as a bear, I must do as bears do). (What even does that mean.) Given that something’s not working in your life, that something is holding you back…it’s possible that the noise in your head disparaging self-kindness may not be helping. It’s further possible that if all the things you’ve tried in your life thus far have not worked, then here’s an opportunity for you to try something radically different, even the opposite of what you’ve tried thus far.
It’s worth noting that it’s not necessarily that self-compassion is magically going to make you more productive…necessarily (though you never know! It could happen).
But self-compassion increases the odds that we’ll dust ourselves off and try again, and better still, try harder. That’s a pretty big win, it seems to me.
If you’re not sure where to start, one place is with a self-compassionate letter (eye roll noted). If you try this, do let me know how it turned out for you.
In conclusion, I’d like to offer that we don’t give up on ourselves. We’re still worth one more try. Don’t give up on us: I know we can still come through. And David Soul does, too.