The New Year often brings resolutions of positive, sometimes dramatic changes to our lifestyles. Goals of weight loss, exercise, healthy eating, organization, or career accomplishment are commonly kick-started by the changing of the calendar. No matter what the goal, the one thing that they tend to have in common is that they are forgotten or abandoned not long after they are started. Research suggests that around 85% of people who make New Year’s resolutions fail. But what determines failure? If the lofty goal of suddenly attending the gym five days a week gets derailed due to increased commitments at work or home for a few days, have we failed? If we binged on popcorn during a Netfilx marathon after two weeks of healthy eating, have we failed? Is perfect the enemy of the good?
Many wise thinkers (e.g., Voltaire, Aristotle, Confucius) have cautioned against extremism. In other words, if a “cheat day” derails us from our overall goal of eating healthier in the New Year, we are setting unrealistically high expectations of perfection that will only lead to feelings of failure and a loss of motivation. New behaviors take time and repetition to become habit. Just think about how many times we will each write 2015 in error instead of 2016! So how do we combat these thoughts of failure and maintain motivation for healthy life improvements? Ironically, research suggests we love who we are right now in this very moment!
As taken from the work of Dr. Kristen Neff at the University of Texas at Austin, self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy or failure. Self-compassion has been shown to promote greater life satisfaction, optimism, curiosity, social connectedness, and emotional resilience and personal responsibility. According to Dr. Neff, self-compassion includes the following main components:
- Self-kindness: being warm towards oneself when encountering personal shortcomings, rather than being harsh with self-criticism
- Common humanity: recognizing that personal failure is part of the shared human experience
- Mindfulness: taking a balanced approach to one’s negative emotions so that feelings are not exaggerated
Being compassionate toward setbacks and failure is actually what will support continued efforts toward our goals and long term change over time. One quick way to practice self-compassion is to ask ourselves what we would tell a friend who was experiencing a similar set back. Likely, we would kindly reassure our friend that set backs are normal and provide encouragement to get back on track! So instead of being discouraged by our lack of perfection in the New Year, let the New You be one of compassion and kindness toward our progress and ourselves.