Let me ask. Have you ever:
Felt like a complete failure when your kid hauled off and hit another during a playdate?
Silently, (and psychically) slapped yourself around after discovering a typo in a client e-mail you just sent?
Headed the store to buy spaghetti for dinner, only to return with five bags of groceries, and no spaghetti?
Geez, how could you be so stupid, right? Isn’t that what you think?
If you’ve ever beat yourself up after making a mistake; if you’ve ever huffed and puffed, and pouted; if you’ve ever blamed your spouse for the stupid thing YOU did – (O.K. that should cover just about everyone) this post is for you. But it’s not about our blunders, it’s about a better way to deal with them.
Because while we’re generally kind and supportive to our family members and friends when they screw-up, we are downright nasty to ourselves. That’s just not good or healthy or productive. Plus, it adds to our stress, which adds to our wrinkles, which adds to more money spent on Oil of Olay.
A little self-compassion can diminish those negative feelings and the face cream receipts. So, instead of hanging on to the mistakes you make and haranguing yourself over the stupidity, recognize the error and then treat yourself as you would a friend. Be kind.
Self-compassion is crucial when it comes to coping with failure, defeat, rejection and other tough stuff, says Mark Leary, Ph.D. It seems self-compassion also serves as a buffer against future disappointments.
It doesn’t let you off the hook, doesn’t excuse the error, but it helps you manage the mistake in a way that will lead to more positive emotions and behaviors, he says. Self-compassion makes it easier to get through the bad stuff.
As an added bonus, people who exhibit greater self-compassion also tend to be happier and have an easier time accepting responsibility for their errors. Self-compassion breeds accountability.
So, next time you make a mistake, go easy and try these tips to access your kinder qualities:
1. Recognize what went wrong, but don't dwell on it. Acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes. O.K. maybe not as big as yours but.... (Come on now, I’m just kidding here.) Our propensity to screw up connects us. We can all relate.
2. Think of a time when you screwed up and write yourself a letter of support. Write as though you were reaching out to an old friend, full of kindness, and humor and understanding. Recognize, that you are worthy of that kindness. Forgive yourself.
3. Look at the situation objectively, without emotion. Don’t judge yourself, just look at what happened and why, and how you can prevent it from going south next time. Then, recognize again that everyone goofs once-in-awhile and you’ll do better next time.
There is nothing noble or productive about smacking your inner self around when you’ve made a mess of things. But a kinder, gentler approach will help you feel better and do better. Doesn’t that make sense? You wouldn’t – I hope – berate a friend who made an honest mistake. You don’t pummel your son’s psyche when he incorrectly solves the math problem. So, don’t do it to yourself.
Polly Campbell writes and speaks on personal development and spirituality topics. She is the author of Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People, Viva Editions 2012.