In late December, I had dinner with a friend and we got to talking about our New Year's resolutions. I told her that every year, I write out a long list of things I’m trying to accomplish for the year.
“So your resolutions are kind of like a to-do list,” she observed.
“I guess that’s true,” I said. “What’s your resolution?”
“This is going to sound cheesy, but my resolution is to just be nicer to myself,” she said.
“Wow,” I realized, “that’s a great one.”
With my friend’s permission, and with an awareness that my previous “to-do list” approach has not worked in any year prior to this one, I have replaced my litany with this far more succinct commitment: I will strive to be nice to myself. And I would recommend this goal to anyone who has already slipped up on a resolution made in this New Year.
After all, how many of us have wasted unnecessary energies on self-criticism when we fail to make it to the gym as often as we’d like, when we sleep late on the weekend, or when we indulge in a few extra calories? We can all work to establish new and healthier habits in 2013, but here are some simple ways you can put caring for yourself at the top of your list.
Most of us—especially this time of year—fixate on our flaws. We think about what we have yet to accomplish, what we promised we would finish yet didn't get to, those unmet goals, unread books, and yet-to-be surmounted career goals.
Instead of focusing on what you haven't finished, embrace self-compassion—defined, simply, as your ability to accept your shortcomings with kindness and understanding.
"Having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness,” writes Kristen Neff, an expert in the field of self-compassion. “Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us."
Quiet Your Inner Critic
You're most likely very familiar with your inner critic and her tendency to put you down: She's the one who tells you you're not thin enough or smart enough. If you let her, she'll keep you at night up with an endless list of all the things you did wrong that day.
But turns out, quieting your inner critic is good for your mental health. Research shows that self-compassion leads to self-reported feelings of happiness, optimism, and curiosity.
It may not be possible to silence her entirely, but you can start recognizing your inner critic when she acts up. Change the language she uses. Instead of letting her say, "You’re lazy," encourage her to speak to you the way you'd speak to a good friend: "You had a hard day and deserved rest after work! You’ll make it to the gym this weekend."
Remind yourself that you are imperfect, and that's perfectly fine.
Be Kind to Others
A recent study at University of California, Berkeley, found that participants who were compassionate towards others were in turn more compassionate toward themselves. It makes sense: Once we’re able to accept those around us, it's that much easier to accept ourselves.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion," says the Dalai Lama. "If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Research supports the Dalai Lama’s sentiment: Kindness towards others leads to enhanced well-being. Want some inspiration? Check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation which has a list of kindness ideas to get you started.
Give Yourself Permission
After New Year's, my friend who made the resolution to be kinder to herself sent me a one-sentence email.
I got her note on an afternoon that I was feeling especially run down and tired, yet trying to push through an imminent cold.
"Were you nice to yourself today?" it read.
I read her note, remembered my resolution, and smiled. Then, I gave myself permission to take a nap.
Give yourself these permissions to be good to yourself in the new year. If you’re feeling run down, get more sleep. If you’re feeling stressed out, take a break. And if you’re feeling bummed out because you haven't met enough of your resolutions or goals, kindly remind yourself: You are enough.