Your past failures can be used to fuel your future change if you can take the time to stop beating yourself up over them.
Five years ago, I was struggling in an emotionally draining job because of infighting by the owners. I had an infant and a toddler. I was getting ready to move to a different state. I was in a fellowship training program after my doctorate, and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be married anymore. Emotionally I was scrapping the bottom of the barrel. However, my response for months had been to ‘just do better.’ I would stay up later to get ahead the next day with the result that I was so exhausted I couldn’t make it to 10:00 am without 2-3 cups of coffee.
I was burned out from my job, parenting, and educational goals. I didn’t take care of myself, and I actively resisted self-care as I wasn’t ‘that bad off.’ I was in the trenches taking bullet after bullet but acted like the black night in Monty Python, “Tis but a scratch.” I was checking off the boxes regardless of my wounds. I was resentful of all the boxes I was checking off that I didn’t even want to talk to my husband, who was working 7-7 or more dealing with his job stresses.
My husband was very good at recognizing when he was in a deficit of self-care and would go to the gym before work or try to take specific time for himself. Instead of seeing that and understanding that he wasn’t implying I couldn’t do the same thing for myself, I was resentful and bitter. The resentment I felt was masking my shame for not doing the same thing for myself. Self-compassion and self-care didn’t fit my vision of myself being the girl who can take it all and is not shaken by the amount of work, school stress, or sleep deprivation. I liked to think I was steel when I was particle board trailing sawdust. It took counseling to get to the point where I was okay with indulging in self-compassion when looking at my regrets during that time frame of my life. As someone who had an unbending commitment to self-criticism, it was surprising to see how self-compassion helped me see my regrets as power for more thoughtful choices and greater meaning.
Compassion is when you feel the hurt of others and are motivated to relieve it. Self-compassion is when you feel your pain and are motivated to reduce it. Support is there in the form of self-compassion. It is the medicine most of the modern world doesn’t think they need, but everyone needs it because everyone goes through tough times. It is also supported by research over self-criticism or inflating your ego to help you ignore your regret.
Daniel Pink’s most recent book, The Power of Regret, discusses that bringing yourself down via self-criticism leads to unproductive rumination. However, the opposite tactic of pumping yourself up after a life regret has its downsides because you must denigrate others in your mind to achieve your self-worth again. The most powerful step you can take for self-improvement from regret is the regret-reckoning process, otherwise known as self-compassion. The University of Texas psychologist Kristin Neff pioneered the regret-reckoning process as a part of her recognition that we treat ourselves more harshly than a stranger who made the same mistake. Self-compassion helps us find a middle ground in dealing with negative emotions without suppressing them, exaggerating, or overidentifying them. Instead, we acknowledge our screw-ups and recognize that we are imperfect and make mistakes. Self-compassion will increase happiness, curiosity, personal initiative, and mental toughness and decrease depression and anxiety. Looking backward with self-compassion can push you forward.
Action steps: This is a great suggestion from Daniel Pink’s book The Power of Regret. Write down a regret from last year. Don’t just mentally think about it, write it down and divulge it on paper. Denying regret taxes our mind and body. By divulging the regret, we reduce some of its burden, which can clear a path for making sense of it and how to move forward.