The New Year is almost upon us, which means that many of you will be making resolutions to ‘improve’ yourselves. From losing weight to getting control of your finances to being a more present parent, New Year’s resolutions are an important tradition for many people.
Sadly, breaking New Year’s resolutions tends to be a tradition as well! In fact, research says that 80 percent of our resolutions will end in failure.
Why is this? Are we just not committed enough? Are our goals too lofty or our willpower too weak? Whatever the reason, as we beat ourselves up for breaking yet enough resolution, we probably are filled with shame, anger, and remorse.
But perhaps this shame is the very reason why our resolutions fail in the first place. Brene Brown, New York Times bestselling author and renowned research in the field of shame, vulnerability and grit, had these wise words to say about self-hatred: “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.’
In other words, by viewing our ‘flaws’ with disgust, loathing, and shame, we are crippling ourselves. We become powerless, slaves to our shortcomings rather than masters of our realities. No wonder our resolutions fail. Self-hatred can only take you so far. It can get you to the gym for a few weeks. It can cause you to put the bottle down for a while…but just a little while. Self-loathing just isn’t a good motivator.
Studies have proved this time and time again. People who are ‘fat-shamed’ and believe they are overweight are more likely to become obese in coming years. As addicts and alcoholics well know, their addiction can often lead them to a ‘shame spiral’: They are ashamed of their behavior when they drink, which makes them feel terrible about themselves. Then, they have to drink to medicate those feelings away. Talk about a vicious cycle.
So what am I suggesting? That we continue to indulge in behaviors that are bad for us, even when they cause us and those around us pain?
Of course not. We all have legitimately destructive behaviors that require attention, but rather than giving these qualities negative attention, what if we did just the opposite?
What do I mean by that? Well, what if we what we perceived as our Achilles heel could actually be of service to us? Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen once sang: “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
These wise words resonate with so many of his listeners for a reason. They hold an essential truth within them: The idea that our pain has a purpose, that our ‘flaws’ can actually turn out to be our greatest strengths. Yes, our worst attributes can end up being the qualities that deliver us.
Again, this doesn’t mean that overspending, drinking too much, or having a bad temper are qualities we should simply accept and ignore. But the key lies in Power vs. Force. As the saying goes, that which we resist persists. This means that those qualities and behaviors only end up having a greater hold on us. (For example, a person who is trying to lose weight by obsessively cutting calories will find that food is all they can think about. They become controlled by their appetite and weight, rather than the other way around).
But, when you confront your issues from a place of power, YOU control your appetite. You aren’t at the whim of your behavior. You have 100% control.
How do you get there? Via self-compassion.
Self-compassion allows you to get to the root of the problem. Rather than getting mired in self-hatred when you slip up and eat too many cookies, you can feel compassion and tenderness for the part of you that was trying to fill an empty food with a sweet treat. When you do so, you can gain internal resources to stop the binge and avoid the shame spiral that will make you think (“I may as well keep eating, I already blew it!”). Instead, you can think, “Wow. Some part of me was really hurting and needing attention. That part of me tried to ease the pain with cookies. It really didn’t work. Let me breathe some loving attention and tenderness into that space and see how that feels instead.”
And here’s the thing. Self-compassion is a crucial ingredient for a successful life. With self-compassion, we can drop our defenses and denial, and truly see where we most need to change and grow.
Self-compassion is also key for our brain chemicals as well. Feeling compassion for ourselves and for others affects our body chemistry by lowering stress hormones. This in turn will make it easier to lose weight, as well as give us more energy and more serotonin (which means we won’t have to turn to ice-cream for those feel-good emotions). Each time we hold ourselves with love and compassion the addiction centers of our brain become less powerful. Our cravings won’t have the same powerful hold because the well-worn pathways of shame and pain will be shunted, which means we won’t have to turn to our old methods of self-coping (candy, wine, shopping, etc.).
Lastly, we need to bring gratitude into the equation. I know what you’re thinking. What the heck? She wants me to be grateful that I can’t control my appetite and I eat too many sweets?
Well, yes. I do. Maybe those extra pounds are serving you in some way. In fact, they must be, because otherwise you wouldn’t be clinging on to them with such desperation. Ask yourself honestly: How does your over-eating (or whatever your personal Achilles heel may be) serve you? Here are some examples of what I mean:
1) Overeating: Your excess weight might be serving as a protective layer against unwanted criticism or shame. Maybe your excess weight helps you to feel more comfortable or safe in the world. (Many victims of sexual abuse report gaining weight as a way to regain control over their bodies as well as keep sexual advances at bay).
2) Alcohol/drug abuse: Your addiction of choice could be helping you to cope with severe trauma and untreated anxiety. Even though it’s a problematic method of coping, it grew out of your need for self-protection and peace.
3) Overspending: Maybe shopping is a way for you to instill a feeling of control and autonomy over your life. Perhaps it’s your way of ensuring that your children won’t suffer from a childhood of poverty as you did.
What if your resolution this year was to stop running from the parts of you that you don’t like? What if you stopped viewing these qualities as your ‘flaws’ and started viewing them not only as invitations to grow, but as sacred parts of yourself that deserve respect, nurturing, and gratitude?
German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
This year, make it your resolution to see your dragons as they really are: Princesses (or princes!) who need your love and your courageous self-compassion.
NEW YEAR’S CHALLENGE:
For the next 31 days, look at yourself in the mirror. Get close enough so that you can see deeply into your eyes and really connect with yourself. Now, look into the mirror and say “I love you” at least 20 times. You can also add other phrases such as “You are enough” or “All is well.” Do this for the entire month of January—and chances are those stubborn pounds or the need for a drink will have much less of a hold.