Beating Yourself Up vs. Forgiving Yourself

August 23, 2013 by  
Filed under blog

My daughter Cammy teaches yoga and has persuaded me to go a number of times–and yes my creaky body certainly benefits from all that posing and stretching–but her comments to the class at the end of each session finally got through to my brain. I’ve been over the top surprised about what a powerful and life enhancing message she was delivering all this time and it had totally passed me by.

Her simple statements didn’t sink in until I was re-reading Kelly McGonigal’s wonderful book The Willpower Instinct. My daughter would end all of her yoga classes saying “Thank yourself for putting forth the effort to come today and please cultivate more and more compassion for yourself–don’t be hard on yourself.” I’ve always thought her words were pretty good advice but WOW have I made a great discovery that puts those words in a category much, much greater than just “good advice”. Let me explain.

Anyone that reads my blogs knows I am a huge advocate of setting lots of goals, and tough ones, for yourself. I preach that all the time to anyone who will listen. My big time discovery is that I realized that when I fell short of my goals I’d been doing exactly the wrong thing to myself, the very thing that hurts me and makes it even more difficult to reach new goals in the future. What I’ve been doing (and you probably have been doing the same thing) is this: When I fail or fall short of a goal I beat myself up mentally and I certainly don’t have any compassion for myself. I, like most people, think that if I forgive myself for falling short of my goal, I’ll just do it again. However, that is simply not true.

As it turns out, research done by two psychologists from Louisiana State University and Duke University show that it’s forgiveness of self, not guilt and beating yourself up that increases your accountability. I was shocked. I read this in McGonigal’s book where she goes on to say “These findings fly in the face of our instincts. How can this be, when so many of us have a strong intuition that self-criticism is the cornerstone of self-control, and self-compassion is a slippery slope to self-indulgence?” But in this case our instinct is dead wrong!

This very smart and well-spoken author also mentions that “One reason forgiveness helps people recover from mistakes is that it takes away the shame and pain of thinking about what happened. The what-the-hell effect is an attempt to escape the bad feelings that follow a setback. Without the guilt and self-criticism, there’s nothing to escape. This means it’s easier to reflect on how the failure happened, and less tempting to repeat it.”

Isn’t that fascinating? We’ll talk more on this subject next week but in the meantime try forgiving yourself daily for any failure or falling short of what you have set out for yourself. Take time to give yourself great dosages of compassion and, yes, it’s okay to love yourself and a lot. Talk to yourself and give praise and love like you would to a kid that you love.


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