In high school, my parents would tell me to “be well.” Throughout college, my mom ended phone calls with “be good to Clare.” Now, my boyfriend asks how I’ve been nice to myself on an almost-weekly basis.
I’ve struggled for years with the idea that I can be nice to myself AND get all my work done.
For more years than not, I have bought into the idea that if I wasn’t cattle-prodding myself, I wasn’t going to excel.
If I was too tuned into how I was feeling or what I needed, I wouldn’t move forward in school, life, etc. I was a militant worker, and if each task didn’t produce hail storms of stress, I wasn’t working hard enough.
In recent years, I’ve made a concerted effort to be gentler with myself. At first, and even now to a certain extent, I feared that by being nice to myself, I would never get anything done. Would I just become a couch potato who lacks career aspirations and passions and goals? Would I be seen as lazy?
As with most things in my life, my fear was/is much worse than reality.
Being nice to myself has not transformed me into a person I don’t like. It hasn’t prevented me from seeking new opportunities and taking on new challenges. In fact,
I would argue that self-care has given me the energy and the mental space to power through tough stuff and thrive at work and at home.
So, how am I nice to myself while continuing to feel like I am making progress?
For one, I allow myself to have an “off” day. You think Hillary Clinton doesn’t have days like this? We all do, and self-punishment will only push you further into thinking you’re failing in some way. Allowing yourself to have an off day is like a trust fall, because your instinct in the moment might be to criticize yourself for an undone to-do list or an unmet deadline. Tell yourself you’ll let yourself be off your game for just one day. And see how you feel the next day. My guess is you’ll feel restored and ready to tackle those to-dos.
It’s important to remember that moving forward without punishing yourself is not about what you do, but how you do it. Being nice to yourself does not necessarily mean cancelling a meeting or leaving your laundry undone (although you may need to cancel a meeting or skip that second load sometimes, and that’s ok).
Being nice to yourself means approaching each day and each task with kindness toward yourself.
A new way to view being nice to myself
Sometimes it can be easier to understand the “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it” line of thought by applying it to someone else. If a friend told you she had tons to do, would you tell her to give up and crawl into bed? Likely not. Would you tell her she was lazy, not good enough, not fast enough and not using her time efficiently? Even less likely. Instead, you’d probably provide encouragement and kind words, maybe even pointing out fun plans you two have planned later that week. You’re not looking to affect what she does, but you are providing the kindness and compassion — the how — that can help her power through her day.
I am reframing the concept of being nice to myself, in order to allow self-compassion into my life. I am abandoning the idea that being nice to Clare is lazy or indulgent. It is not taking the easy road. It’s not giving up.
It is removing a giant barrier to living and enjoying my life. When I am nice to myself I still get work done, I still do laundry and I still go to meetings. Nice-to-myself me still does all the things I have to do, without pummeling myself for the way I do them or how well I do them.
By choosing self-compassion over criticism, you are not shelving your goals or dulling your ambition. You are abandoning a way of thinking that keeps you locked in disappointment.
You are choosing to trust your instincts and abilities. By being nice to yourself, you are paving a smoother road to your own personal satisfaction and success.