I think it's never too late to start anything, except maybe being a ballerina. Wendy Liebman (stand-up comic, writer, actor)
Self-compassion practice is an act of love for those whose paths we have yet to cross in the world. Because once we have learned to hold ourselves in tender awareness, that same tenderness can more naturally arise for other beings around us. (Aimee Eckhardt, compassion teacher)
John O’Leary, an inspirational speaker, wrote this morning about a conversation he had years ago in a café. The story reminded him not only of our ability to excuse away opportunities, but of the chance we still possess to learn from yesterday, embrace the miracle of today and resolve to make tomorrow even better.
Stick with me. This post is longer than usual. Get a cup of tea. Read it on your computer when you have some time. It may be exactly what is needed for a good 2023!
The conversation was with a young man who had been in and out of various colleges, switched his major several times, and was finally a semester from finishing a business degree. As adulthood loomed, he seemed listless and uninspired, unwilling to apply for jobs or truly anticipate what might come next.
After making some small talk, John asked the young man what he planned to do after graduating. Lowering his coffee mug, the young man shifted uncomfortably in his seat and said: “I don’t know.”
John asked him, “If you could do anything after graduation, and you knew you would not fail, what would you do?”
The young man looked out the window. A smile lit his face. He spoke about his love for airplanes. In fact, for the first time since they sat down together, his voice came alive and seemed to sing with excitement.
The conversation continued as the young man told John that for as long as he could remember he loved the idea of flying. He used to make model airplanes as a kid, he drew them in his free time and knew that someday he wanted to work around them.
The guy didn’t care whether he was a pilot, a flight attendant, an aviation mechanic, or the guy who cleans the airplane lavatory; he just wanted to be around planes.
John listened then asked, “So what’s holding you back from doing exactly that?”
The smile disappeared. The guy looked again out the window. Took a sip of coffee. Looked up at John. And responded: “I am too old.”
“How old are you?”
“Dude!” John responded. “I have ties that are older than you!”
Nevertheless, the young man shrugged off John’s comment. “Like I said, I’m too old. It’s too late.”
“How crazy,” some of us older folks may be thinking. And although I am sure there are some dreams besides being a ballerina that we might need to modify, in general, the idea is we may be passing up a lot of opportunities. I know I use the fear and "I'm too old" card.
(I am, however, celebrating getting out on the ice on skates despite my fears... and my first snow tubing adventure over the holidays. One of my grandkids told the person next to her as she pointed to me, “That’s my grandmother. It's probably the most exciting thing she has done in forty years." Bah.)
What gets in our way of doing what we want to do – achieving our heart’s longings? Maybe it’s ideas about being too old, maybe it is fears of failing, perhaps it about negative voices from our past.
One of the best methods for overcoming our obstacles, whatever they are, and pursuing joyful lives of adventure and fulfilling our dreams is, according to researchers, probably not what you think. The best strategy is…
Dr. Kristin Neff, THE self-compassion guru points out this scenario: you’re falling behind on your marathon-training plan and angry with yourself about it. You might think, I’ll try harder because I feel inadequate.
In the short term, that may work, but in the long run? Nope. When we get down on ourselves, we wind up doubting ourselves, which makes it harder to take risks, learn, and grow. We become afraid of failure, and we are more likely to give up than to try again.
Self-compassion-practice involves showing yourself kindness when you’re struggling, failing, or noticing something you don’t like about yourself.
Self-compassion isn’t about measuring up to expectations; it’s a way of relating to ourselves as a human. By caring and expressing concern for ourselves during hard times, we are more able to persevere and create changes.
With self-compassion-practice, we think, I’m going to try because I care about myself. That kind of motivation “leads to more self-confidence,” Neff says.
When we can sit with our pain and think through what we might need to achieve our goal—like waking up earlier for runs or scheduling them on a phone calendar—instead of spiraling over all the ways we are failing, we can better overcome challenges, build our confidence and believe in ourselves.
It may seem like a subtle switch-up, but it makes a huge difference. “Self-compassion gives you a stable source of self-competence, Neff says.
There are two sides to self-compassion, Neff says. The tender side embodies the idea that although we are innately flawed, we are still worthy. And the fierce side says if we truly care about ourselves, we accept ourselves but don’t accept all of our behaviors, especially harmful ones.
“Part of caring for yourself means taking active steps to change,” says Neff. That’s where the power of self-compassion comes in.
But none of this is easy. “We tend to be waaay nicer to others than we are to ourselves—and we’re quick to judge our shortcomings and failures. The good news is this is a trainable skill. It’s a muscle you can build,” says Neff.
Here are four self-compassion-based practices that Neff and her colleague, Dr. Chris Germer, have offered that help me.
Ask Myself: What Do I Need?
This is the question that guides the whole self-compassion cultivation agenda. Say I mess something up. Instead of spiraling into negative self-talk, I can figure out what I need. Maybe I need to reach out to someone for advice. Maybe I need some rest. Maybe I need to talk a walk. This question to myself helps me figure out what resources and tools I need for change.
Put a Hand on My Heart
Touching our heart “is probably the most widely used, simple, and physiologically transformative experience toward self-compassion,” says Germer. This self-touch lowers cortisol levels, according to German research. Also, when you rub your chest, specifically, you may activate your vagus nerve https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044/full, the main nerve of your parasympathetic (or “rest and digest”) system.
Offer Best Wishes To Myself
Best wishes sound like this, “May I accept every part of me,” “may I use my strengths to become stronger and more resilient,” may I use suffering to become more compassionate.” Giving ourselves best wishes surrounds ourselves with kindness and encourages our growth.
Be Curious about June
I wonder what held me back this week? That sort of curious question is kinder and more productive than beating up on myself.
And… any goals researcher will tell you to look around for people who inspire and encourage you rather than make you feel bad about yourself. We may need to actively seek them out in real life, in stories, in the news.
Here’s an inspiration I noticed out there in the world. A Washington Post article called it one of the best things that happened in 2022 - the achievements of the older generation.
Tony Bennett won a Grammy in April at age 95. Angela Alvarez, also 95, won best new artist at the Latin Grammys. Erlinda Biondic, at 82, became the oldest woman to complete a 100-mile race. And Lester Wright, a veteran of WW2, 100 years old set a new 100-meter dash record (26:34 seconds. Wright got a standing ovation from the crowd.)
How might we say goodbye to excuses, notice our heart’s longings, and use self-compassion to bring in a truly satisfying happy new year?