When children criticize themselves or what they are working on, I often ask them, “Would you say that to me? Would you say that to your friend from school? If the answer is no, don’t say it to yourself.” As Buddha is often credited with saying, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” If this is a new concept for you, reread that sentence one, two, three hundred times until it sinks in. You deserve your own love and respect. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Remind yourself that no one is perfect and we are all doing the best we can with the skills we have at the time.
If you find your self-talk being unkind to yourself, interrupt the self-abuse – do not dish out extra abuse because you took a step backwards in your resolution to use only positive self-talk. Tell yourself three kind things about what you are doing or trying to do and, instead of “should”-ing yourself into oblivion, tell yourself what you would like to do next time.
Pause it. Name it. Change it.
Your brain is extremely efficient. It likes to use the same neural pathways it always uses. If you have a habit of frequent negative self-talk, it will take time to rewire your brain. That’s okay. You can still do it. Don’t get discouraged if you fall over at the starting line. The key to finishing a race is getting back up and going on. The more you think positive thoughts about yourself and continue to create compassion and space for yourself, the more you will do so in the future. Be encouraged that each and every act of self-compassion will beget another act of self-compassion.
Create routines and processes in your life that contribute to your feelings of self-value. Did you know that if you do a favor for someone or something kind for someone, your feelings of affection for the other person are increased and not the other way around? This has to do with investing in someone or something. If you’re willing to do something (like a favor) for someone, it tells your brain “wow – I must really like that person since I was willing to go out of my way to do something for his benefit.” Use and abuse this premise when building self-compassion and self-love. Take time out of your schedule to do yourself a favor – like purchasing a favorite treat, giving yourself some alone time to read a book, taking a class that interests you, or doing something that makes you feel beautiful, handsome, intelligent, invigorated, or relaxed. Go out of your way for yourself!
If you wouldn’t call your friend an idiot for accidentally forgetting to pick up the milk from the store on a busy day (or even a not-so-busy day), you must also practice that kindness and respect toward yourself. Children and adults do well when we feel positive about who we are as a learner and a person. All of life is an opportunity to learn. Every day is a series of tiny experiments. If something worked for you, great! If it didn’t, throw it out without administering 50 lashes to yourself. Scientists in the lab don’t insult themselves when a hypothesis doesn’t pan out. They stay curious, look back at the data, and formulate a new hypothesis. So forgive yourself. Allow yourself to play. Encourage yourself.
Studies show that when you encourage yourself by self-talk that says “you” instead of “I” you are more likely to be successful. In other words, saying to yourself “you can do this – you are a strong, smart, and resilient person” is more likely to yield positive results for you than saying “I can do this. – I am a strong, smart, and resilient person.” Why? Some researchers believe that it is because it models the speech of a coach, which is more encouraging encouragement than self-encouraging encouragement. It bears more weight. The reality is, though, any version of positive self-talk is better than no version of positive self-talk.
The long and short of this post is this: Be kind to yourself. Apologize to yourself when necessary. Encourage yourself. Give yourself breaks when you’re tired. Comfort yourself when you’re sad. Give yourself the tools to succeed. Seek help when you can’t do it alone. Believe that you can. Listen to what your body needs.
The more inner compassion you have for yourself, the more outer compassion you will have available for those around you – including the children in your care. Make sure your bucket is filled up to the brim so you can pour into the vessels of others. You cannot give to others what you do not have yourself. Fill yourself up. Love yourself. Give to yourself.
It will be hard at times. You may take two steps forward and one step backward. The good news is that after two zillion steps forward and one zillion steps backwards you are still one zillion steps ahead of where you used to be! High five!
You may need to remind yourself many times over why you wanted to begin this journey in the first place. That’s the dance of life. With each new skill learned you will be challenged (repeatedly – kids are always good for that). Pick yourself up. Hold strong. Stay curious. Keep your eyes focused on the step directly in front of you when you feel overwhelmed by the journey ahead. Move forward. Resist fear. Do not relent in your decision to be a more loving and thoughtful version of yourself.
The world needs your loving heart and thoughtful mind. The world needs you. Children need you.
Never forget that you can do this. You are strong. You try hard. You are thoughtful. You are a compassionate caregiver.