That’s what I love about holidays and other annual events — they offer another opportunity to mark my progress, notice what has gone well and what I’d like to change.
One of my most important insights of the past year — or, at least, an insight that I made a conscious, ongoing effort to pay attention to — is this simple formula:
Self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good. (Click to tweet this!)
I believe this more and more with each passing day.
Here, then, are some of the lessons learned from endeavoring to practice self-compassion and self-awareness this past year.
At the start of 2012 I chose three theme words for my year: Self-Compassion, Practice and Untangle. I started the year with a powerhouse challenge that was emblematic of all three: my Great Bedtime Experiment, in which I managed to get myself to bed, lights out, by 11:00pm every night for a full month.
Given that 2:00am was my previous set-point, this was a three-hour change, and wow, was that hard!
But it was worth it. The results were nothing short of amazing. I discovered how very much my habit of staying up into the wee hours to get “just one more thing” done affects me — physically, mentally and emotionally.
When I get to bed early:
My vision isn’t as blurry (damn the aging process for stripping me of my former hawk eyes!)
My mood is much more positive.
I think more clearly.
My body just feels better.
I have better posture.
I’m less likely to succumb to distractions and temptations of all kinds.
Plus, since one of my most creative times is in the morning, I tend to create more!
And yet, am I still getting to bed at 11:00pm? Errrr… Um… That would be a no.
Falling off the Early Bedtime Wagon (again and again) has been one of my major fails in 2012. But it has also been the source of another one of my most useful insights:
The most important practice we can engage in is the practice of getting back on the wagon. (Click to tweet this!)
I’ve gotten back on (and off and on and off and on) many wagons this year, and this saying has become something of a personal motto. When I shared it on a call with Patti Digh in the VerbTribe course I took back in May and June, Patti’s response was perfect:
Yes, and you’d better make sure it’s a really short wagon.
Rule #4 of my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox (one of the accomplishments from 2012 that I’m most pleased with) is Think tiny (and daily) for a reason. It’s a helluva lot easier to get back on the wagon with a 15-minutes-a-day commitment (short wagon) than a two-hours-a-week one (tall wagon).
But this is also where the formula above comes in really handy:
Self-awareness means noticing how I feel when I fall off the wagon of one of my goals or commitments, and how that compares to how I feel when I’m on track.
Self-compassion means not beating myself up for blunders, but treating myself with love and forgiveness.
This didn’t come easily to me at first. I’ve had lots more practice at beating myself up than treating myself with compassion.
The many years when I was bulimic, trapped by self-hate and a very distorted body image, were a broken record of “Oh my god, you blew it again. You suck! You suck! You suck!”
It’s ironic that this is how we too often react when we confront a willpower failure, because as Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal shares in her outstanding book, The Willpower Instinct (one of my most favorite finds of 2012), people who beat themselves up after a “fail” are dramatically less likely to succeed in their goals than those who forgive themselves.
Self-compassion, it turns out, is the strongest indicator of success with any willpower challenge. (Click to tweet this!)
(And btw, I’m planning on running a Willpower Instinct book group/study group/e-course early next year, probably in February. Creative Ignition Club members will have full access for free, and I just opened the doors of the Club to new members via monthly subscription for the first time, but only through December 31, so you might want to check it out.)
The first of my three words for 2012 has proven to be even more profound than I anticipated. I’m even considering recycling “self-compassion” as a theme word for 2013. It seems one can never have enough self-compassion, and the more consciously I practice it, the deeper and wider the transformations ripple out through my life.
I have also come to see that the second of my three words, Practice, is inextricably tied to the notion of self-compassion.
After resisting meditation for many years (I couldn’t seem to do it “right,” so I always gave up), I was turned onto Susan Piver through an interview in Jennifer Louden and Michele Lisenbury Christensen‘s (highly recommended) TeachNow program (for which I am a proud affiliate, fyi).
Something about Piver’s spirit spoke to me, so I clicked through and signed up to get her twice-weekly OHP newsletters, each with a ten-minute meditation video.
“Ten minutes? Hell, even I could tolerate that,” I thought.
Remember Creative Sandbox Rule #4, “Think tiny (and daily)“? Yep. A tiny daily meditation commitment — just ten minutes a day for the month of April to start — has been key for my developing an ongoing, consistent, sustainable meditation practice.
It took a few weeks to stop seeing meditation as something not-so-fun that I “had” to do, but just a couple of weeks after that I noticed I didn’t want to not meditate! I looked forward to my daily sessions! In the past six months, I’ve missed a total of five times (and that includes my week away at Jazz Camp West in June, and two weeks in Istanbul in October)!
It helped that I discovered, thanks to The Willpower Instinct again, that meditation is the perfect willpower booster for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it’s a way to practice both self-compassion and getting back on the wagon over and over and over again, every single day.
As McGonigal writes:
Most new meditators make [the mistake of thinking they’re wasting their time if they aren’t able to focus perfectly on the breath], but the truth is that being “bad” at meditation is exactly what makes the practice effective.
What I do in meditation — noticing when I get distracted and gently returning my focus to my breath, over and over and over — is exactly what I need in real life: to catch myself moving away from a goal and then point myself back at it.
I’ve noticed how this practice of treating myself with forgiveness and self-compassion, and getting back on the wagon, is spreading into every area of my life. Thanks to another wonderful book, Spark: the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by Dr. John Ratey, I’ve finally gotten back to regular aerobic exercise after many years.
Do I meet my exercise goals (30-60 minutes/day) every day? No. But instead of beating myself up and driving to Krispy Kreme to numb my disappointment in myself, I chalk it up to being human and re-commit to trying again tomorrow.
I used to use a multi-commitment wall chart to check off whether or not I’d accomplished each of my goals (which I offer to subscribers to my insiders newsletter as a special bonus — sign up in the form at the upper right of this page). Now I use a (free) iPhone app to keep track of my various commitments, and over the past three weeks I’ve checked off that I exercised thirteen times.
Not nearly as good as I would like, granted, but waaaaaay better than what I would have done if I didn’t have the goal in the first place, and if I didn’t practice forgiveness and self-compassion!
And as an ex-boyfriend of mine always liked to say, better is better.
So what’s the upshot here?
I started off this post with the intention of writing about my greatest fails, greatest accomplishments, greatest insights from 2012, and some great ideas for 2013. Typical of me, my eyes were bigger than my stomach (as it were). Here I am at almost 1500 words, and I’ve only covered a fraction of what I intended.
Which is, appropriately, another one of my 2012 lessons (finally) learned (mostly): what I think I can accomplish in a day or a week or a single blog post is invariably much more than I actually can.
Okay, perhaps I learned this a long time ago conceptually, but what’s different now is that I’m finally also learning to stop resisting, and just adjust to reality. (Okay, well, let’s just say I’m getting better at it.)
It’s a much gentler, more self-compassionate way to live.
Isn’t it cool how everything intertwines?
Self-compassion is linked to self-awareness.
Practicing meditation is a way to practice self-compassion and self-awareness.
Tiny (and daily) commitments are a way to practice practicing; noticing how I feel when I fall off the wagon is self-awareness; and getting back on with forgiveness is self-compassion.
Self-compassion means self-acceptance, which allows for more self-compassion.
I’m still processing the multitude of ways these concepts are playing out in my life. I can tell you without hesitation that keeping self-compassion front-of-mind during this past year has been transformative.
I’m looking forward to practicing even deeper self-compassion in 2013. I hope you’ll join me.
Only until December 31…
We’re practicing self-compassion and creating up a storm inside the Creative Ignition Club! How? Sharing our stories. Posting our progress. Sharing our commitments and lovingly holding each other accountable.
We’re making art, and writing, and trying things that scare us, and clearing clutter in our lives.
All of which is just sooooo much easier and more fun when there are a bunch of really awesome people cheering you on!
Erin wrote: “I can’t say this enough: THANK YOU.”
Laura wrote: “”To you and everyone here – your stories do enter into my psyche and continue to help shape how I go about my life. So, to everyone sharing stories here, thank you ~”
Come join the fun! You can get inside for just $18. The doors open just a few times a year, and right now they’re open until December 31. Click here to read all about it.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!