Can You Afford To Skimp On Self-Compassion?

To Gain Perspective, The Answer Is Obvious.

Clarity, as it relates to the mind, is referred to as such for a good reason. Your level of clarity can either inform your perspective or distort it. In last month’s DRIVEN article Dear Journal: Gaining Clarity Through Intentional Journaling, I explored journaling as a foundational practice for cutting past the fog of distortion and arriving at clarity. The nonchalant-sounding activity of journaling for clarity has proven beneficial to everyone I know who has tried it. It’s an effective method for unpacking our emotions, memories and future aspirations, and it provides us the opportunity to see patterns in how we act and even avoid aspects of our lives.

In “A Painful Case” from James Joyce’s Dubliners, Joyce described a character with the powerful line, “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body”. Such a line reminds us that in order to derive the greatest benefits from living, we must be vulnerable to the emotions inside ourselves. Let’s look at Self-Compassion through this lens, including how it results from journaling. It will soon be revealed that clarity through self-compassion must remain at the very top of any professional’s productivity toolbox.

Getting Your House In Order

DRIVEN’s January 2020 OfficeHours guest Dominique Ara-Zwahlen provided additional journaling-for-clarity insight with her great analogy for understanding the power of journaling, comparing journaling to cleaning a house. When you begin your journaling, you’re “tidying up the first floor”— a public area with little displayed of intimate or personal nature. Indeed, when I started journaling, my mind got lost in my to-do list and on autopilot “small talk”. As I continued, I soon found myself on the proverbial second floor— a more private and personal space. This is where I recognized how many emotions fill my day. One minute, I may be content, focused and determined. The next instance, when a client throws me a curveball, I may become frustrated, feeling helpless.

When you get lost in your journaling like this, letting your hand inform your mind, you can finally see your patterns. It gets even harder to write and digest what you’ve written when you hit the “second floor” of your subconscious. The more you journal without premeditation of content, the more you will notice how the little emotions are truly the captains of your life (Thank you, Van Gogh!)

For journaling to then proceed towards the attic, one must be well-prepared. Where dusting the dining room table only requires a little furniture polish, climbing up to that rickety loft and investigating the souvenirs (and the baggage) of our lives takes emotional and spiritual fortification— far more potent cleaners. The strongest emotional scrubber in the cabinet is….you guessed it: self-compassion. Before digging deep into our past and examining the stories we carry, which deeply affect our beliefs, realities and aspirations, we must put that self-compassion into practice.

This is important to acknowledge because if you don’t ready yourself, your journaling might be for naught. You may never access that attic, steering clear from this healthy practice and sticking instead to emotional safety. You also may find yourself spiraling into shame, regret, guilt and blame, which are unhealthy, anti-growth emotions.

Your Emotional First-Aid Kit

Fundamentally, self-compassion is being kind to oneself— something we humans have a poor track record with. So, before you embark on the journey of clarity, prepare yourself with this first-aid essential: When you focus on the difference between what seems real vs the truth, you’ll recognize that indeed much of what you thought was the absolute truth is only your truth, remembering that you’ve been wrong in the past. You always did what felt honorable and necessary, but if only you had better perspective, understood your biases, tuned into your state of mind, and knew what you didn’t know, you would have literally reached different conclusions.

From a Career Perspective

Self-compassion is an essential ingredient for embracing the growth mindset. This attitude, which is backed up by neuroscience, can be expressed in various job-related sentiments: “I’m always learning and improving”. “I’m not a failure, I failed. Now what can I learn from the experience to do better in the future?” After all, each of us makes 35,000 decisions every day. Not every one of them is going to be the best decision you can make, and some of them will be downright flops! If you don’t embrace self-compassion, your mental momentum will work against you, as you perpetually battle your inner critic. This negative inner voice keeps you in a state of adverse emotion, releasing the stress hormone cortisol into the body.

Besides the negative physical and emotional effects of cortisol, it also fogs your thinking and inhibits your career performance by preventing your prefrontal cortex from engaging. Ultimately your productivity, creativity and effectiveness suffer as the precious mental energy that you’re paid for falls into short supply.

I invite you to consider reframing self-compassion as a tool to strengthen your resilience. The more clarity you gain, the more effectively you can apply self-compassion, forgiving yourself when you recognize that what you’ve always assumed to be the case is actually contrary to reality.

Self-compassion isn’t only necessary when journaling, it’s also essential to career progression and success. I’ve written quite a bit about self-compassion in the past, and I’m not the only one! Next week in my monthly Lagniappe, you’ll have access to some additional resources to further explore on your journey to self-compassion. Your engagement will amount to time well-spent!

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