Monday, January 28, 2013

Self-Compassion; It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore


One thing that I have learned as a human being (and by that I mean artist/crafter, blogger, small group leader, wife, mother, friend, marketing manager, daughter, and every other little or big thing that I am or ever was) my soul is never still. It seems that I bounce from confidence to self-contempt - from absolute surety to absolute doubt - about a thousand times a day. It is a tenuous, albeit bouncy, place to exist.

As a task-oriented person, especially outside of the studio, I judge myself based on the outcome of actions. In other words, I am what I do. So, when things don't turn out as expected or if I have made a mistake, I am unkind to myself. The words and the shame that I pour on myself is nothing that I would ever say to another human being.

I do the same thing as an artist. I will work on a project and finding that my hands cannot make what I see in my head, I will indulge in several moments (okay hours) of self-recrimination. Even when I am proud of something I have done, there is always a little voice of doubt or criticism. For many years in my life, I have given myself over to this way of thinking, somehow equating the self-criticism as an atonement for mistakes or imperfection. I thought avoiding the internal lashing would make me perform better.

Turns out that's a crock...a crock I tell you!

Not only does my faith tell me that (and by the way grace can be lost in the foreground of self-recrimination), but now it turns out that science is reinforcing it. In the latter part of 2011, psychologists from the University of California, Berkeley found that self-compassion may be more healthy than trying to elevate self-esteem. It seems that "findings suggest that, somewhat paradoxically, taking an accepting approach to personal failure may make people more motivated to improve themselves." This idea is so staggering and counter-intuitive that a blogger for the Harvard Business Journal wrote that self-compassion actually makes people better workers and leaders than trying to trying to manage self esteem.

So what does this have to do with a blog primarily about mixed media, art and crafting? Simple. The critic in our heads is not really an effective tool if it tries to buck us up or beats us up. Self-compassion is actually a better gauge. It is the voice of honesty. It has a critical, editing eye. It motivates us to learn and grow.

So tell that mean voice to shut up. Don't listen when it tells you that your art is a waste of time or worthless. Instead listen to the voice that gently points out our mistakes and spurs us on to improve the next time. (And when you figure how to do that more often than not, be sure to let me know).
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