Why You Need to Be A Better Friend To Yourself
One of the great joys of my life as a professional speaker is that I get a chance to have wonderful conversations with a wide variety of successful men and women all over the world.
In some cases I read about them before I meet them, realizing we are sharing a conference stage, and I am excited to get to know them better. We meet, we talk, we share, and we get to be friends.
And I discover that no matter how successful they are, there’s a little part of them that hates themselves.
Strange as it sounds, it is true. These people the world admires want to lose weight because they aren’t comfortable in their bodies. They want to better balance their lives because they feel they are too focused on their work. They crave finding some time for themselves and blame themselves for not being able to schedule it.
They are great, but they want to be better. They are learned, but they want to know more. They are tired, but they cannot sleep.
We live in a world of harsh self-criticism, and there is a whole industry in our culture built around admonishing us for how we are and encouraging us to be better “if” we do certain things.
The issue of not being a good friend to ourselves, of being kind, and gentle and accepting of ourselves and moving forward from there, is not new to our generation, but it does seem more pronounced.
But as far back as Eleanor Roosevelt’s day, she was observing this crisis of self-love and commenting on it. In her book You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, she wrote:
“It’s your life – but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial.
“When you adopt the standards and values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.”
That is a powerful indictment on those of us who might be tempted to try too hard to reach standards of perfection we believe are set by others but which torment us from being happy within ourselves.
How do we move away from harsh self-criticism and into a general acceptance of who we are? How do we look in the mirror and say “I am enough” and then focus our full cognitive capacity on our work and our life and being a friend to others, content that this is the process that allows us to be a friend to ourselves?
I doubt that there is a one-size fits all solution to solving the self-criticism dilemma, but allowing ourselves to live in the present moment, not setting absurd standards we must reach before we can relax into each moment, would go a long way to getting started.
One of the most powerful self-experiments into learning how to find self-acceptance and be a good friend to ourselves was conducted in 1989 when Pema Chodron, a prolific author and Buddhist nun, led a month-long meditation session at Gampo Abbey, a Buddhist monastery. She gave a short talk every day and they were gathered later into a book called The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness.
It was in her fourth talk that I think she came the closest I have ever seen to dealing directly with the issue of our own lack of self-compassion. She said:
“If we see our so-called limitations with clarity, precision, gentleness, good heartedness, and kindness, and, having seen them fully, then let go, open further, we begin to find that our world is more vast and more refreshing and fascinating than we had realized before.
“In other words, the key to feeling more whole and less shut off and shut down is to be able to see clearly who we are and what we’re doing.”
She noted that what keeps all of us from seeing ourselves clearly is that we are never encouraged in our culture to look at ourselves with gentleness, but only criticism.
“…There’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves…,” she noted.
If we can learn instead to just look at the body we have now, the mind we have, the lifestyle we have, the career we have, and the family and friends we have, and respond with gentleness instead of criticism, we can lift a tremendous burden of modern life off our shoulders.
Change should be a constructive and happy state of mind, not an act of aggression towards ourselves.
Chodron says she’s not condoning that we stick with harmful behaviors, but only that we befriend our imperfections and gently let them go.
There is much to be said for adopting an attitude of being a good friend to yourself. It puts a stop to destructive self-criticism, to wasted thoughts and worries, and allows us to sort out our world and find it full of energizing possibilities.
It lifts our burden and lets us sort out our own world without harshness and lets our creative thoughts resume control.
So the next time you stand before that mirror and hate yourself, or read a self-help book and think your current self represents all the bad “before change” parts, give it a rest. Do something kind for yourself and move on. You are enough and you are magnificent!
Paula Morand is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and impact in a more bold fashion. 24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 15 books, former radio personality, 11x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee.
Check out Paula’s best selling books: “Bold Courage: How Owning Your Awesome Changes Everything”, “Dreaming BIG and Being BOLD: Inspiring stories from Trailblazers, Visionaries and Change Makers” book series; and due to be released December 6th “Bold Vision: A Leader’s Playbook for Managing Growth” go to Amazon http://ow.ly/i8yW307ix67
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