Like so many fellow humans, I easily fall into the trap of negativity bias where I give greater weight to things that are wrong or bad than things that are positive or good. It often coincides with finding my voice and speaking up when I'm upset about something or wanting to usher in a change.
"You're going into that place where everything's negative, Ariana." My husband will observe as I share a concern with him.
It appears I need to drudge up every negative experience I have to generate the gumption to speak up and act. As though things need to be REALLY bad in order to give voice to my needs, hopes, expectations, and aspirations. Otherwise, I'm just being unnecessarily picky.
Through my upbringing, I also internalized the belief being hard on myself is a necessary motivator for creating positive, lasting change in my life. Otherwise, I might get too complacent. And sadly, I have had a habit of projecting that same belief onto others, especially my family - criticism as the best tool for change.
But allowing the negative to get more attention than the positive has the opposite effect. Kristin Neff's "Research shows that self-critics are much more likely to be anxious and depressed...They also have lower self-efficacy beliefs (i.e., self-confidence in their abilities), which undermines their potential for success."
Ouch, these findings ring so true they sting a bit! I can directly link my own emotional wellbeing with how much I listen to my inner critic. The times I've slipped into depression or anxiety have undoubtedly been fueled by harsh self-talk, ushered to the forefront as a defunct motivational tool. The outcomes for which never match my expectations.
Neff has found "the motivational power of self-compassion comes from the desire to be healthy. Self-compassion recognizes that failure is not only inevitable, but it’s also our best teacher, something to be explored rather than avoided at all costs. Self-compassion also allows us to acknowledge areas of personal weakness by recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience."
In other words, we need to be honest with ourselves - facing our shortcomings, without being harmful by excessively fixating on the negative.
Acting on such a notion takes consistent practice and effort. And there's no time to start or level up your practice of self-compassion like the present moment.
It's hard enough to sustain intentions for the New Year in "normal" times. The disruptions we continue to experience due to COVID create additional challenges. No one eagerly plans to be sick. Or to blow off everything else to care for a loved one who's ailing.
Yet so many people have had to cancel trips. To prioritize rest and recovery over getting things done. To start the year off "behind" on meeting their goals.
One of my good friends has been sleeping most days for over a week. She's frustrated and bothered. But her body just can't perform like it normally does. Every time I check in on her I hear her disappointment and compassionately remind her that caring for herself is her number one priority and the to-dos will still be there when she's ready to tackle them. It helps to have someone else give her permission to rest!
It can be easy in these moments to fixate on the negative. To look at the dishes piling up in the kitchen and lambaste yourself for not cleaning. Or to review all the to-dos in your planner that remain undone and criticize your lack of accomplishments.
You might even fool yourself into thinking such harsh self-talk is necessary for rebounding instead of falling into complacency.
But what we need, as a species, more than ever when things fall apart is compassion - for yourself and others.
For leaders, it starts with practicing self-compassion. Speaking kindly and lovingly to yourself about the pile of dishes or the incomplete tasks on your to-do list. To recognize the feeling - perhaps it's disappointment and allow it without fueling it.
Our self-talk is projected onto those around us. So if we respond with criticism, dismissiveness, or judgment internally, we will bring that same exacerbated tone into conversations with others.
This isn't to say we ignore problems or pretend not to see mistakes in need of being corrected. We each are responsible for our actions and contributions. And we benefit greatly from others bringing to our attention that which we are unable to see for ourselves. To give and receive feedback which helps us be more like the leader and person we aspire to be.
Sometimes the most important contribution we can make for our own sanity and that of others is to let go of negativity bias and acknowledge we are doing our best.
In the Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz wisely observes, "Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.”
Doing our best isn't some static thing. It's variable, just like the weather or traffic. If I'm driving in a snowstorm it's more helpful to accept it'll take me more time to reach my destination safely than to fixate on what I cannot control. Same with driving during rush hour vs. taking to the road earlier in the morning. These variables impact our experiences but we don't have to allow them to influence the quality of our thoughts as we deal.
The weather and the traffic are what they are. I cannot control them. But I can control how I respond to those factors. I've learned fixating on the negative and stressing myself out when driving in traffic does not help me arrive any sooner. If anything, I am in a heightened state of stress and moody - as was evidenced by my high blood pressure after arriving at the doctor during rush hour.
With the way things have been unfolding already in 2022, it seems the universe continues to remind us of the many things beyond our control. Such a reality can invoke all sorts of feelings - frustration, disappointment, confusion, overwhelm, anxiety, glum, etc.
The next time you find yourself feeling upset with what's happening, gently name and allow the feeling without going into a place of fixating on the negative. Show yourself compassion. Acknowledge you are doing your best. And mindfully move forward by focusing on what you can control - your response.
And if you find yourself still worrying, pause. Care for yourself by doing something that relaxes, rejuvenates, and restores your wellbeing. Excessive pressure won't make things better or help you make progress towards your aspirations, but self-compassion will.
After all, Jean Vanier once said, "If people realize that they are loved as they are then they want to begin to change."
The drive to better and change oneself begins with self-love.
Are you struggling to find your footing this year? Would you like to make big things happen in 2022 but don't know where to start or how? Check out the 2022 Annual Planning Workshop to gain clarity, focus, and tools that'll help you navigate uncertainty with self-compassion so you're staying true to your aspirations for the year. More information and registration is available online.