No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. When we make a mistake it’s easy to be our worst critic. But it’s much more effective to be our best supporter. Here are 5 strategies to stop beating ourselves up and embrace the lessons we learn.
Photo creds: Frank Park
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield
Last week a friend came to me for advice. She had made a mistake (“a huge mistake” she said) and was beating herself up to death. In her own words: “I feel like an idiot. How can I be so stupid to make such a basic mistake? Even a 7-year-old knows that what I did was stupid. Argh, I hate myself for it.”
It broke my heart. She is so kind and so generous to everyone. She is always the first one to offer help and be supportive. She is a true, kind friend. But you wouldn’t know that about her had you overheard our exchange. So it broke my heart to see that she could not extend all of that kindness and generosity to herself.
Well, today I found myself in her shoes.
I made a mistake and you have no idea how critical I was of myself. Oh, how I felt bad and stupid for what I did. “If I could turn the clock around…” “If I hadn’t sent that email while having a migraine…” ‘If I were more careful…” “If I wasn’t looking for validation of my work and were more humble…” “If…” If…” If…” Oh, that self-talk was taking me downhill fast. Luckily, I am a coach! And as soon as I noticed my self-criticism, I applied to myself the same advice I gave my friend just a week ago because I would never talk to a friend the same way I was talking to myself.
So here are my 5 strategies to be kind to yourself and stop beating yourself up when you make a mistake.
1. Talk to someone you trust
I immediately texted my friend (the one above) and told her what happened. I knew she would understand. She was kind and loving. She reminded me that I am not my mistakes, also that “I don’t know what I don’t know” and that I did what I thought was best at the time.
It might be hard to be vulnerable and talk about your mistakes, especially if you’re feeling ashamed and afraid of being judged. But odds are someone who loves you will view your mistake from a different perspective and help you see the positive intention behind the misguided action.
2. Practice kindness to yourself
My very first thought after I realized my mistake was “Oh no, why did you do that? That was so stupid! You shouldn’t have done it!” But I would never talk that way to a friend or a loved one, or anyone for that matter. So why should I talk to myself like that?
Being kind to yourself is just as important as being kind to others. Things you would never say to loved ones should never be said to yourself either. Imagine the amount of suffering it would cause others to hear these words from you, and realize that you are hurting yourself just as much.
I immediately started a loving-kindness meditation I learned from my dear friend Dr. Shauna Shapiro: I closed my eyes, put my right hand on my heart, took a deep belly breath and chanted, few times:
3. Practice positive talk
Make a conscious effort to stop the self-negative talk. Remind yourself, better yet, compliment yourself on what you did well. Acknowledge your achievements, big or small. I bet you, for every mistake you make there are at least 10, if not hundreds, of things you do well.
I was able to remind myself of all the good work I had done and the positive results I was able to achieve for them. It sure made me feel better. But I still was not 100% convinced.
4. Acknowledge that you are not your mistakes
Then my friend told me “Remember that you are not your mistake.” She reminded me how I used those same words to help her get out of her funk. And that’s true. I need to be able to offer to myself the same kindness I offer the people I love and care about.
5. Be grateful for the opportunity to learn
Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Life is a never-ending journey of self-improvement and mistakes will happen. That you can be sure of. But you have many great qualities and strengths, as well as many areas for improvement. If you see those mistakes as opportunities they show you what you need to work on and become the best you can be.
As I was reciting the loving-kindness meditation I told myself that I had made a mistake, that was true, but my intentions were always good and I learned my lesson. I know for a fact that, from now on, I will not make that same mistake again. And that is true too.
The truth is, we all make mistakes. And we will do, many times more. It’s just part of being human. Because “we don’t know what we don’t know” and sometimes it takes a mistake for us to learn the lesson. So let’s be kind to ourselves as we would to our loved ones and grateful for the opportunities to learn new lessons in life. Because it means that we are living and thriving.
Gratitude is a practice we can cultivate. It does not have to be a once a year thing, it can be an everyday habit. In fact, once cultivated and put to practice, gratitude can make us happier, healthier and more successful. That’s why I created The Gratitude Week Project, a FREE 7-day project created to help us cultivate this practice. I hope you will join me and dozens of grateful folks.
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