For many of us, the last year has been like no other in our lives, as the global pandemic challenged our health, livelihoods, and social lives. We may know people who died, others who became ill or we may have contracted the virus ourselves. Retail, travel, and hospitality industries as well as the arts have all suffered. The world of work has transformed, with many working from home, some furloughed and others made redundant. On the positive side, we enter a New Year with vaccines, positive political changes in the US, and many people across the world re-assessing what’s important and how we should live as a species on this beautiful, but fragile planet.
At this time of year, it’s traditional to make resolutions, committing to doing more exercise, changing our diet, taking up a new interest, or progressing in our career. The fact is that most resolutions are forgotten by the end of January. Although setting personal goals is useful, we can often be hard on ourselves if expectations are not met. In mindfulness practice, we tend to set intentions rather than goals. Taking the bigger, as well as personal challenges into account, one useful intention for the year is to be kind to yourself and others.
We all have faults and make mistakes; that’s part of being human. Self-compassion is about accepting our imperfections and relating to the complete and whole sense of who we are, rather than a limited part of ourselves. In the time-poor, stress-bound world we live in, many of us entertain and identify with the harsh-voiced inner critic; although we may consider ourselves generally kind to others, there are many times when we could have responded with greater kindness, even to the people we are closest to.
So, here are some tips on bringing self-compassion and kindness into your year:
- Don’t assume that you’re naturally kind to yourself; really listen to the quality of the self-talk you identify with, using curiosity, kindness and beginner’s mind – as if you never heard your self-talk before.
- Cultivate greater awareness, appreciation, gratitude, care, and compassion for your body, for all of the stress, strain, and negative judgements you impose on it. Try relating to your body with the same compassion as if it was a favourite child or pet you care about.
- Bring moments of peace and calm into your day by pausing between activities and bringing your attention and awareness to your body and breath.
Although the culture many of us grew up in taught us that we’ll only succeed by being hard on ourselves, the reverse is actually true. Self-criticism erodes our self-worth, increases anxiety, anger, and low mood. Recent research on people who developed greater self-compassion found that they performed better at tasks and were generally a lot happier.
Learning to be more self-compassionate takes time; it’s a marathon, not a sprint, which is why setting the intention for the year is a useful timeframe. There are hidden aspects of ourselves that are worth exploring and self-compassion can help light the way.
Suggested weekly practice
- Review any New Year’s resolutions you make and weave in some kindness and self-compassion.
- As well as resolutions, review your intentions for mindful self-development for the year. For instance; to meditate every day, to notice more, to react less and respond more, or to bring kindness and compassion into each day.
- Watch out for the difficult things that you habitually tend to avoid and instead, move towards whatever the difficulty is and befriend it with kindness and understanding.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore and experience self-compassion and set intentions to be kind to yourself over the coming year.
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