Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, January 25, 2021
If my parents couldn’t love me, how can I ever love myself? And if they always found me inadequate, how can I ever be worthy of anything?
OK, let’s all take a breath, and no, I am not suicidal. I have indulged in what is known as hyperbole for effect. But under the dark humor is an interesting puzzle. And to solve that puzzle I turned to a book by Dr. Alice Boyes, “The Healthy Toolkit.”
Boyes wants us “to talk to ourselves with compassion.” She goes on to say that often “we are our own worst critic,” and in moments of anxiety and frustration, we speak and treat ourselves harshly, and are way more critical than is necessary or healthy. In other words, dude, lighten up a little.
Boyes says that we often hold ourselves to standards that are unreasonable and unattainable. This behavior seems to be most prevalent in one of our favorite species — “entrepreneuris technologis.” She says “self-compassion will help you deal with failure” (real or imagined). She argues for showing yourself a little love.
On a personal level, I know this dilemma. If it is good news, I am lucky and don’t deserve it. If it is bad news, I fully expected it and had it coming. This is what keeps shrinks in high demand in Silicon Valley.
Boyes suggests we practice four elements of self-compassion. They are: “using a tone of kindness, recognizing that pain is a universal human experience, taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions (that one is going to haunt me for a few more decades), and expecting yourself to make the best decision you can under the circumstances.” Easy for you to say.
Self-compassion talk is defined as a “gentle and supportive nudge.” She tells us to meet our immediate needs. For example, I get cranky when I forget to eat lunch, and then I yap at Nicole. The solution is, just eat lunch.
Easy on your micromanagement. Boyes argues for “the best way to do a good job is to chip away at it, in pieces.” You don’t need to work at it all day. That idea might be anathema for some of my favorite entrepreneurs, but remember, really good ideas show up when you least expect it — like when you are riding your bike.
Boyes goes on, “self-compassionate talk can be an irreverent challenge of your own beliefs.” Self-deprecation seems to work. Boyes tells herself that the reason editors keep giving her assignments is that her work is terrible and no one reads her column. (Hmm, this one may cut a little too close to home).
She suggests we give up on perfectionism. Her example of self-compassion would be, “I don’t have to get everything right the first time all on my own.” Tell that to my mother!
Self-compassion “involves knowing what your sabotaging patterns are.” And so, stop doing what makes other people nuts and creates tensions in the workplace. Stop snapping your gum and switch to chocolates. You can always join Weight Watchers.
“Pay attention to what others say that soothes you.” She wants us to incorporate and remember the words that bring relief. (Use caution here given sex and gender.) Soothing is not the same as “I think you’re hot.”
Boyes is a fan of talking to yourself, and so am I. I support the inner dialogue because it allows you to really hear and deal with your insanity. She says the trick is to do it with love. For those of us auditioning to get into the Neurotics Hall of Fame, chastisement and self-flagellation can work just as well.
Boyes suggests we “talk to ourselves as you would talk to a child.” OK, maybe, but at the management meeting, reading the words to “Goodnight Moon” carries some definite risks.
She says that “self-compassion can be expressed in positive thinking.” She wants us to not worry excessively, trust that “you will make good decisions once you have full information.” In my religion, worrying is in the DNA and comes right after breathing.
When we are challenged, “read the instructions twice.” Why read them in the first place? I’m not planning to follow them anyway.
Rule No. 692: Be kind to yourself- it won’t hurt much.