Self-compassion as an alternate motivator 

For me winter is a great time to reflect on the year and take a well deserved break. As we are approaching the depths of winter, I naturally assume that everyone will be prioritising their comfort and security. So I think it is perfect timing to talk about self-compassion and self-love. More specifically, I want to highlight the fact that self-love and compassion is an important skill that will benefit our lives.

What is self-love and what is compassion? I believe this is a hard question to answer. Self-love can just be the only thing needed for you to progress past any dull day or difficult situation. In simple terms I believe self-love is when you know your worth, and you accept and appreciate yourself as you are. In order to build on your ability to be self-loving you need to slowly work on your ability to be compassionate with yourself. The first step for this is to be accepting of yourself and all your flaws. 

Mindfulness exercises help you to bring present-focused awareness with non-judgemental observation. When working on self-love you can incorporate positive visualisation elements to your mindfulness practice for more effect. What do I mean by visualisation? Visualisation exercises often involve picturing an image in your mind. In terms of self-love visualisation, you would ideally recall a situation you felt loved or appreciated and bring into mind the exact feelings you felt. When you remember these feelings perhaps from a particular memory, it is then advised to pass over these feelings and attitudes to all the thoughts and aspects of yourself you do not love. For example, if you do not like your appearance you can go through the exercise of sending love towards this insecurity, after you have clearly brought your personal account of love into fruition.

I would say that the vast majority of society struggle with self compassion due to the following reasons:

  • The pressure you feel to “fit in” and be “normal”often forces you to disregard your authentic self
  • The mass media promoting false images of what it means to be strong, i.e. Men should not cry; which then prompts you to disregard your emotions
  • Childhood trauma associated with bonding with your parents

I want to elaborate on the last bullet point associated with childhood trauma. This is because I believe this has the longest effect even in adulthood.

 We learn best from the example our parents give to us at an early age. When a parent only provides conditional love for their child rather than unconditional love. The child then identifies with “trying” and “doing” as a means to becoming worthy of love. In an extreme case when a parent neglects a child by only acknowledging them when they have something spectacular to offer; the child learns that he or she is not worthy of living if he or she does not “do” or “try” something spectacular. This is the birth of neurotic motivation. This is the birth of a child who feels invisible until he or she is validated by accomplishing something amazing.

The problem here is that the child grows up mentally whipping themselves to get anything done in life. This puts a lot of stress in adulthood and makes them very irritable. The deeper issue is the inner critical dialogue dominates over the more tender and positive regard for oneself. Afterall, if feelings of guilt and shame dominate a child’s memories, they will never ever be able to perceive of the idea that you can motivate yourself through self-love.

Naturally, with any human being there exists three inner motivation systems:

  • Drive system – often occurs in short bursts and typically is a goal-orientated form of motivation
  • Fight or flight system – is a survival -orientated form of motivation
  • Self-soothing (self-love) system – is a form of motivation driven by enjoyment and self-care

All three systems of motivation will serve a human being well, across different scenarios. So which systems of motivation are more prevalent with a child who grows up with lack of love and attention from parents? In this scenario, the child will be less familiar with self-soothing as a form of motivation. This is due to the fact that the child may have been taught to be ashamed for expressing their authentic selves to their parents. Therefore this child, will only conceive of the idea of being goal-orientated (drive) or constantly being anxious and fearful of the future (fight or flight) as a way to prime themselves to act. Which eventually leeds to problems such as anxiety or depression, as the child grows up experiencing long term chronic stress from all this pressure they put on themselves to “fit in” or to be “perfect”.

So how do we learn how to become more compassionate to ourselves? And how do compassionate people also manage to also be productive without needing to mentally whip themselves? I will answer these questions using an example from my own experience.

In my job, it was essential I could deliver good quality I.T. training sessions for ten people at a time. During my training, it was encouraged that we all promote the digital workplace and convince staff members to go ahead and use new devices and softwares. 

Essentially, I was presenting a lot and had a tight schedule of sessions. Initially, what I tried to do to motivate myself throughout the day would be to push myself to be more disciplined and prepared. This approach worked initially, however what I noticed was that it made me focus too much on elements of the script, rather than building a great user experience for others whilst delivering sessions. It also made me run out of energy very quickly as I could feel the pressure in myself building up.

Hence, in order for me to improve the quality of my sessions I had to take a different approach internally. Instead of mentally whipping myself, I paused for a moment. I took a break for a short while. Had a glass of water, took many deep breaths. I slowly remembered why I enjoyed this project to begin with and this was because I enjoy working in teams and facilitating innovation and change. I decided to embrace my authentic desire to have enjoyable conversation, and to show off new technology. My focus shifted away from the content and more on making the people smile and laugh. This interest was not forced, it was an authentic desire that I had to first notice, and then act upon. As I gave myself permission to let myself be in the moment, I was able to be more focused and engaging during the training session. The result was that I felt less stressed, I enjoyed delivering these sessions and I was more true to myself. 

The example I gave above, is a prime example of how the self-soothing system can benefit you more than the typical drive system or fight or flight system would. I invite you to try and view your life as less of a competition and more as an opportunity to create and share what is unique to you. In order to find your uniqueness you must allow yourself time to explore your passions. The key is to allow yourself to express your inner desires and not force yourself. Whatever goal you have, use self-love to tune into the frequency of that passion in order to build a genuine interest in whatever you pursue. If you do not find or generate the passion and enthusiasm within, then your only source of motivation left will be from a place of harsh discipline. 

For example, if you want to keep a regular gym routine. Instead of forcing yourself out of bed and developing a strict routine. Find within yourself the natural desire you have to be healthy and act from that. After this, focus on making the working-out routine easier to manage and enjoyable for yourself. 

As a rule of thumb, to be able to radically shift your attitude in this way I would recommend the following:

  • Take a long pause and breathe
  • Notice the tenseness in your body 
  • Notice the worries in your mind
  • Tell yourself it is okay to feel tense or worried
  • Ask yourself- how can I make this situation more easy and less stressful? 
  • Remember that nothing is worth your health, fear or anxiety
  • Add a little flavour to your day, follow your gut instinct and act based on authentic natural desires
  • Stop telling yourself: “I should, I must or I have to do this…”. Avoid using black and white statements when priming yourself to act
  • Have more gentle self talk when thinking. Offer yourself suggestions and don’t put yourself down

    If you try these methods and it seems that you are still finding it hard to love yourself. Please do not despair, it is generally quite difficult to transition into this state of mind straight away. Often your repressed emotions need to be addressed first, and the task of clearing out your repressed emotional trauma can take years of work. Building self-love will require many of the skills I talked about in earlier blogs such as: mindfulness, metacognitive awareness and emotional intelligence. 

    You will need to commit to retraining your mind to view yourself in a different light. As a pointer, don’t try and set yourself high standards or be goal orientated when choosing to become more self-loving. Afterall, I don’t want you to get frustrated when you find yourself struggling to love yourself. It’s a slow process that requires some experimentation with self-expression.

    When other people try to define your worth, Remember this: your value does not decrease when other people fail to see it. If you feel alone, misunderstood and trapped; evaluate the relationships you currently have and which ones are bringing you negativity. Removing dysfunctional and toxic relationships is a first priority. 

    Surround yourself with those that see your value. Commit yourself to catering to your personal goals, your health and mental health. Self love is a journey not a destination.Take your time as we are all learning, and as long as we can embrace our imperfections, we can continue to live with our heads held high.

    Peace and love, 

    Azeem

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