As we all continue to be inundated with messages of ‘New Year, New You’ and lots of external sources telling us all the ways we can be smarter, more productive, healthier, more attractive and just better. Despite the unceasing reminders of our New Year’s Resolutions and the countless promotions and support groups, research at the University of Scranton found that only 9% of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions. The question then arises “what do I do if I have a change I deeply want to make?”
Many of us have aspects of ourselves we want to improve, such as quitting smoking, going to sleep earlier, exercising regularly, being more present or having more balance between work and family. These are all great goals, but it’s helpful to remember that change comes more easily and is more lasting when it comes from a place of love. Most likely you can remember a time when you’ve used self-criticism as motivator for change. You may even recall moments when others used criticism to try to motivate you to change. Was the criticism successful in supporting you in making lasting change? If you’re like most of us, the answer is no. We frequently beat ourselves up repeatedly hoping that this time it will finally give us the willpower and tools to change.
Take a minute to try to connect with the pain you experienced as a result of your self- criticism. First offer yourself some compassion for shouldering such pain and then ask yourself, “is there a kinder, more supportive and caring way I can motivate myself to change?”. You might want to consider how you would motivate a friend to quit smoking or establish better sleep habits. Most likely you wouldn’t chastise them if they slipped up and stayed up late watching TV shows once again. Instead you might remind them that you love them and care about them feeling their best and their health and therefore want them to keep trying to go to bed earlier. You might even offer that they set a reminder on their phone or help them brainstorm ideas of their own.
It’s easy for us to see that our friend is more likely to keep digging deep and working to establish new patterns of behavior if they feel loved, supported and understood. Why don’t we use our insight into supporting other people who are making difficult changes to help ourselves? Why don’t we try using love and self-compassion to motivate and encourage ourselves instead of continuing to cause ourselves emotional pain by continuing to criticize ourselves?
If you’re having a hard time believing that you would be motivated to change if you aren’t hard on yourself, you can conduct an experiment on yourself. Think of a pattern of behavior that you really want to change and in the past have used self-criticism as a motive. Simply try to use self-compassion and love to support yourself in making change for a week. After a week evaluate whether you were able to make some progress. You should also check-in on your overall well-being and level of contentment. If using self-love and compassion didn’t help you start to make changes or increase your overall wellbeing, you can go back to your old habits. If more self-love and self-compassion benefitted you, please keep it up!