Your Most Important New Year’s Resolution: Be Kind to Yourself 

I know, I know.  It sounds vague and, perhaps, airy-fairy when people say that you need to be nicer to yourself.  “Give yourself a break,” your friends might say, or “keep up the good work, you’re doing great.”  At which time, instead of displaying acceptance to these words, we offer an explicit or implicit *eye roll* as we continue to scrutinize and criticize each and every one of our decisions.  Sorry to sound like an after-school special here but self-compassion needs to be one of our top priorities in 2017 into infinity.  

I can't tell you how many people I see with very harsh, perfectionistic, critical and abusive internal dialogues. What if I told you that mean self-talk can cause diagnosable mental disorders? I was working with one of my clients on her generalized anxiety disorder, otherwise known as GAD (an anxiety condition that is primarily characterized by extreme and excessive worry about many different aspects of life).  After I, annoyingly, poked and prodded her about the fears hidden underneath her worry, we discovered that she was actually afraid of feeling like a failure.  Essentially her neurotic planning and worrying was subconsciously put in place to avoid failure, because failure "was not allowed!" She had this intense and critical internal dialogue that insisted she be perfect.  Otherwise, "she failed and was worthless." C'mon, "worthless." Really? That's pretty mean! This is what I call a critical voice and the only way to remedy a critical voice is with self-compassion. How interesting is it that legitimate psychological symptoms of anxiety can be reduced by simply being kinder to yourself? Sound too good to be true? It's not. Being more compassionate and more allowing of her imperfections significantly diminished my client's critical voice, worrying and, ultimately, her GAD.  Basically, you must find an internal dialogue that is supportive, allowing and compassionate.  Importantly, you have to practice it every day.  Practicing new thoughts is the only way to activate true change in your cognitive and neuronal patterns.

Here are 7 things you must work on to increase your level of self-compassion.

1)    Realize you are not alone in your struggle with self-compassion.

I see so many people with a critical, rigid, and perfectionistic view of themselves. My anxiety clients have among the highest rates of self-criticism I've ever seen. Based on our upbringing at home and in school, it is common to seek approval from adults and it is also common to obtain criticism as a result. Consequently, we sometimes internalize criticism to the point where we actually believe we are not good enough.  From that point on, some of us relentlessly and unnecessarily develop mean self-talk and some form of perfectionism.  It sucks but I can’t tell you how common this is.

2) Think about what you would say to others who are down on themselves.

Treat yourself the way you'd treat a friend who was being too self-critical. To a friend, you'd be supportive, kind, nurturing, and caring. You need to treat yourself the same way.  Easier said than done, I know, but I still had to make this part of this list.

3) You must realize that being kind to yourself is not egocentric.

Showing yourself kindness by supporting your own decisions, standing up for yourself, and knowing your own worth is healthy and important. You are not bring conceited and self- entered.  You are simply showing yourself the same kind of respect you give to others. Isn't that fair?  …and it’s not like you are all take and no give.  You are now simply giving yourself an equal piece of the pie.

4) Know that it is not a waste of time to be nice to yourself.

I understand how good it feels to be productive and efficient. However, taking the time to be kind to yourself is also productive and efficient. So many people feel guilty when they do something nice for themselves or take the time to positively talk to themselves.  However, you need to believe that being kind to yourself is as important and productive as your most prominent priorities.

5) You must watch that language.

You have to realize the nature of your critical self-talk. You have to call yourself out when you do it and redirect your critical thoughts every single time.  Start practicing.

6) Find actual things to do that will make you feel good.

Get your hair done, get a massage, or take a walk! Essentially, you must take the time to actually do kind things for yourself, in addition to using positive self-talk. Plan something that you will do for yourself please.

7) Lastly, JUST DO IT.

At first, being kind to yourself will feel awkward and you'll be tempted to quit. DON’T. You must stick with it until your body habituates a little.  You must train your mind like you'd train an unused muscle at the gym. Keep at it and you will see results.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.