All of us experience difficult thoughts, situations and feelings throughout our life. It’s a normal part of being human. Evolution has given us brains that are constantly evaluating, judging and comparing, so it is quite normal that our mind is at times somewhat harsh. Imagine being a caveman chased by a tiger and your mate has just been eaten. Which kind of mind would give you better chances of survival: one that allows time to grieve, or one that kicks you to run faster?
We may not live in caves any more, but our mind is still the same. The problem now is that the same ways of thinking that were once a survival advantage are now a liability. The mind might offer quick fixes and distractions, but they may not be the kinds of things that move us towards a rich and meaningful life in the long term. Here’s an example. Say you loose your job. Of course a stack of difficult thoughts and feelings show up. In kicks the caveman mind searching for an instant fix: if you take to alcohol or drugs, the pain is gone. This may well work in the short term, but it is not a great long term strategy.
One problem is that we are not very good at self compassion. Yet there is much research that self compassion is a much better long term strategy to help you achieve your goals than self criticism. I know it sound counterintuitive, I am hearing you shout “I need to be pushed harder, not given a break!”. But all evidence shows that this is wrong, self compassion works better to achieve long term goals. See Kelly McGonigal’s Wilpower instinct for more information.
What is self compassion?
Russ Harris defines it as “Acknowledging your own suffering and responding kindly”.
Here is the ABCDE of self compassion
Acknowledge the pain. Accept that pain is an inevitable and normal part of human life. This doesn’t mean having to like it or agree with it, it is simply acknowledging that the situation / emotion is painful, and accepting that pain is inevitable at times. If you love, you will experience pain.
Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself in the way that you would treat your best friend if they were in this situation.
Connect with others having same experiences. Recognise that you are not the only one, seek help and support from others who are also facing similar challenges. Sometimes simply realising that others have similar experiences help.
Detach from your harsh thoughts. Recognise that these are thoughts going through your mind, and recognise that you are free to choose whether you let them influence your actions or not. When adversity shows up, you can choose actions that move you towards a rich and meaningful life, or you can choose actions that move you away.
Engage with values that move you towards a rich and meaningful life. Recognise that adversity shows up all the time, but that you have a choice. You can accept the difficult thoughts and feelings, because accepting them is what helps you move towards the kind of life that you want to lead.
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