Many of us can be quite critical of ourselves. I’ve met so many people who work incredibly hard, yet they still worry about their perceived shortcomings or wrongs. These people always want to do better. When they fall short of their own expectations, they obsess over those misses.
I know what this feeling is like, because I used to be a strict perfectionist. Through the years, though, I’ve learned that perfection is an ideal and not an end goal. Perfection is equal parts curse, equal parts blessing—it inspires us to do our best, but can also confine and frustrate us.
Extending kindness towards yourself
Self-compassion is a practice we all need to embrace. Kristin Neff, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Texas who created the Self-Compassion Scales, says that self-compassion is made up of three parts: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
It’s a practice of extending kindness and understanding towards yourself whenever you experience a perceived failure, inadequacy or time of suffering. It’s remembering that you’re only human, and are therefore prone to error; and that everyone feels the same way, at some point or another.
It can take a while to reach this point of self-awareness and self-love, but it’s well worth the time. Personally, I’ve always struggled with my night-owl nature. For a long time, I tried changing my sleeping habits (by changing my nighttime routine, reading books and articles on getting proper sleep and choosing a consistent wake-up time). I consistently failed, returning to my old habits in no time, and I’d berate myself for my shortcomings or failures.
But over time, I slowly began to realize that criticizing myself for my mistakes was counterproductive, and that wallowing in self-loathing wasn’t helping me. In fact, it was keeping me stagnant.
Focusing on the situation
Instead of focusing on my flaws and weaknesses, I began focusing on each situation itself. Through journaling, I was able to view any situation more objectively and look for areas of improvement. I was also able to see progress and growth—something we forget about when we’re going through the motions.
By practicing self-forgiveness and self-compassion, I was able to move forward and make continued progress. I may still fall into funks or ruts, but I’ve developed a much healthier attitude towards sleep now. I can put a healthy sleep routine into place and know that I only have to continually make the conscious decision to maintain it.
When I make a mistake or an error in judgment, I still get frustrated with myself, but I’m able to move past that feeling more quickly than before. I acknowledge it, learn from it and move on.
3 practices that have worked for me
Forgive yourself and remember that you’re only human – If we can’t forgive ourselves, how can we ever forgive others? Love and kindness should be all-encompassing. I recommend trying meditation to learn how to practice self-love and forgiveness. Apps such as Calm or Headspace offer guided meditation, which is a great way to introduce yourself to it if you’re new to the practice.
Reflect on the lessons you’ve learned and grow from them – Instead of focusing on what you did wrong and what’s wrong with a given situation, take a problem-solving approach. Ask yourself:
- What led to this decision or situation?
- How can you avoid that in the future?
- What lessons can you take with you into similar situations, and how can you use those lessons to change yourself and the future for the better?
I find that journaling is a good way to put my thoughts down on paper so I can look at them from a different perspective and find creative solutions.
Take the time to practice self-care – When you take time out for yourself—for even a few minutes—you’re acknowledging that you’re a human being who is worthy of self-love. Self-care can be anything from taking a few deep breaths to having a relaxing shower. When you give yourself a few moments of uninterrupted peace, you allow yourself to reflect, rejuvenate and re-energize.
Imperfection leads to growth
The next time you find yourself obsessing over a perceived wrong, failure or shortcoming, remember that we’re all imperfect and that our moments of imperfection are opportunities for growth, learning and discovery.
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