It's the week of love here at our household. Making valentines, planning a date with my husband, figuring out the candy limit for the kiddos - we're all about it. Sure, as a culture we seem to have made every holiday about consuming more, and I don't need to stuff my body full of chocolate hearts to feel the love (although it helps!). But there is something beautiful about all of the messaging we're inundated with this week. Be mine, love you, be true, you're all I need.
Here is my challenge to you, emerging women: let's put ourselves on the other end of all of these loving messages. It seems like a simple change in perspective, but I find this to be one of the hardest things to do. Buddhist author Tara Brach calls turning love inwards like this "radical self-compassion." I love that expression, though I feel like it's almost redundant, because in my experience self-compassion is the most radical action we can take in the world.
As I have felt my way through big challenges like motherhood, marriage, career and now entrepreneurship, I see that I can sometimes fall into the trap of trying to manage my difficult emotions by beating myself up. I think, "I will give myself the ass-kicking that I need to really get off the couch - for once - and make real change in my life."
Well, I don't know about you, but for me this approach sucks. What has worshipping your unworthiness done for you lately? Nada. I love this painfully obvious yet game-changing reminder from Tara: "Imperfection is not our personal problem - it is a natural part of existing." Right?!
According to the research Kelly McGonigal presents in her book The Willpower Instinct, self-compassion is the shortest route to making long-lasting change of any kind in your life. It's the mother of all New Year's resolutions! And so I made self-compassion my only goal for 2015 - and maybe the next decade.
Like anything transformational, self-compassion and self-love only come alive through practice. Here is my simple approach to this powerful practice -- culled from the amazing Self-Compassion authors I have mentioned in this post already. Check out these four steps, and let the self-love-a-thon begin this Valentine's.
4 Steps to Radical Self-Compassion
Step 1: Do a body scan.
Take five minutes in the morning and evening to sit quietly, close your eyes and simply breathe. As I breathe, I notice my body and take inventory of places that feel contracted or even painful. And I just sit there, noticing and breathing until something miraculous happens - those places loosen up and I start to feel a tenderness toward myself.
Step 2: Feel the pain, feel the love.
Yes, this happens. Just like when you see a child skin her knee, and you instantly feel compassion toward her and want her to feel better. When we discover pain in our bodies and we simply recognize it, our human instinct for compassion sets in and BOOM - we start to send loving thoughts. If you want to kick it up a notch, physically and gently place your hand on the places of contraction in your body - it will feel... lovely.
Step 3: Hands on the heart.
This is Kristin Neff's most powerful technique for instant relief if you are trapped in a cycle of worshipping your unworthiness. Put your hands on your heart - that's it! Kristin's version is more elaborate - but I am usually tight on time, and just this simple gesture can turn everything around in an instant.
Step 4: Recognize the change.
Perhaps the most important part of my practice is to witness, feel and record the outcomes from this practice. Recognizing the positive change that ensues when we are tender and forgiving with ourselves will reinforce the practice, and soon our impulse to worship our unworthiness will be replaced by an impulse of self-compassion. Rad.
Remember, the mind's instinct to blame and shame is powerful, so you have to hit these practices hard one hard. I'm serious - hands on the heart 50 times a day if you need it. It will be the best valentine you have ever given, or received.
For more self-compassion practice, download Kristin Neff's free guided audio "Power Practice: Self-Compassion Break."