Wrap Up the Year with the Gift of Self-Compassion
The end of the year is often a time for celebration and reflection
Counsellor Joanna Burridge encourages self-compassion and healthy goal-setting for the New Year
As the bongs of Big Ben draw nearer, Jools Holland gets ready to Hootenanny and Trafalgar Square gets ready to stream the alternative London ‘event’ (yep the fireworks alongside the river have been cancelled), I wonder if you’re breathing a sigh of relief because this incredibly challenging year is coming to an end? It might be that you are feeling that this last year hasn’t really been one where much has been ‘achieved’ or not so many memories have been made.
I think it’s safe to say that as well as the ‘normal’ ups and downs of life, the fact that everything has been lived and experienced within the context of a world pandemic, has added an extra level of challenge to the surreal game/film we have found ourselves in.
I wonder how the lead up to Christmas feels for you? I think many of us may feel under more pressure to make the celebrations even more perfect because, let’s face it, last Christmas was probably not how we could ever had imagined it would be. And at the same time, the festive period can be tricky for people for all kinds of reasons. Even just being out of our normal routines and spending a lot of time with people we love dearly (but in small doses) can be hard work sometimes, and if we have experienced a bereavement or loss, have social anxiety, an eating disorder or any other issue, it can be that much harder – especially if we are keeping our brave/jolly mask on the whole time.
Same old, same old?
And, if we do have time to think about next year, in the build-up to this Christmas, it’s tempting to tell ourselves that nothing will ever change, we’re stuck in a rut or this is what ‘typically’ happens to us. Sometimes, we can be really hard on our own abilities and talents. We might realise we’re stuck but are scared stiff when it comes to changing things about and getting out of it. Sometimes we worry about the impact changes we make might have on others. Or notice thoughts become more pessimistic and go to the worst case scenario.
There are all kinds of reasons someone will tell themselves that can stop them from changing and creating a better life for themselves. A lot of us lead really busy lives, and if we have younger or older family members to care for, that can mean we don’t actually have much time left over, and if we do it might be really hard to relax, and we feel incredibly guilty for taking some downtime for ourselves and can even think we are being selfish in wanting to do that.
Too much like hard work?
We might want things to change or improve, but think it might just be too much like hard work. We might even have lost hope that things can improve. So, we give up on trying.
On the other hand, perhaps you ARE more of a New Year, New Start person – have you started contemplating your New Year’s Resolutions yet?
Did you know that gym membership increases by over 12% in January, compared to about 8% in other months? And that the fall-off rate for those that join in January is higher than other months too? We start off really keen by resolving to go to the gym or swim or run everyday, or cutting out certain food or drink TOTALLY. This often goes well at the start. We’re high on adrenaline, feeling full of energy and buzzing for the day ahead. Everything is going well, and we’re confident this year is going to be our year.
Fast forward a few weeks, and there’s been a dip. We might have lost a bit of fitness, found life getting in the way, and missed a couple of sessions at the gym, or there was a family event where we ate lots of what we might regard ‘unhealthy’ food. Now, take a moment to reflect on what you imagine might happen next, as I think it’s quite significant.
What we often do is start by beating ourselves up and feeling angry and frustrated. We might feel annoyed (we’ve spent out on gym membership, new trainers etc) and it’s easy to feel we’ve ‘let ourselves down’. We often do this automatically without stepping back from that ‘inner critic’ in our head and telling them to pipe down a bit.
Something like the scenario I’ve mentioned above then leads us to conclude that we have failed big time, totally screwed up and ruined EVERYTHING and what’s the point in trying? Not surprisingly, this is often the point where we lose our desire and hope for change.
I believe there are other possible outcomes. Here are a few strategies to try that might help.
1. Don’t assume that everything is lost
Instead, give yourself time to ‘regroup’, come back to yourself. Instead of criticising yourself, speak to yourself in a kinder, more compassionate way. So instead of telling yourself ‘you’re a total failure’ try telling yourself ‘okay, you’ve made a great start, you’ve gone a bit off course, but you can press that re-set button and start over’.
2. Perhaps rewind even further
If we look back at those resolutions you wrote – what do you notice? Thinking about this now, can help support our progress when we start.
I know that I get a bit over enthusiastic sometimes. I’ve had some physical health challenges and have had to build up exercise gradually. In the past, I could easily swim for an hour. So recently, in planning my new regime, I thought maybe a couple swims a week for 45 minutes would be a realistic adjustment. The medical person I was working with advised me very differently, which was a bit of a shock really. In hindsight, starting off with once a week for 20 minutes is a much more realistic, or SMART, target (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) And that is really key.
If we allow realistic to mean ‘repeatable’ I think that helps – if we can repeat our change that builds up our self-esteem and confidence as well as silencing that inner critic. Start off with smaller steps and goals. And if a day doesn’t go to plan, remember you can start again the next day.
3. Remember you're only human
Nowadays, if we are filling in something online, we often have to prove we’re not a robot/let them know we are human. Try bringing that awareness to yourself – we are all wonderful, individual human beings. The very fact of being human means we are not and never will be 100% perfect. And that’s absolutely fine.
There are lots of online resources that can help you create positive change in your life – you may want to work with a counsellor or coach, but you can also think of ‘buddying up’ or setting some time aside to create your own wellbeing plan (many resources online for this too) and consider what are realistic priorities for YOU in the year ahead.