Were you kind to yourself when you failed? Are you trying to help prevent others from suffering when they fail? Research has begun to show that this ability is the key to success and happiness in life.
Identified as compassionate, Cultivating these life skills is very different from current western parenting theory which focuses on building self-esteem. Praising everything our children do and protecting them from disappointment has been shown to increase vulnerability and neuroticism later in life. The opposite approach, encouraging children to achieve through threats and criticism, has been linked to the development of anxiety and depression.
However, being kind to ourselves and committing to helping others lessen the suffering, helps us survive the blows, become stronger, and learn.
I, personally, am one of those people who subconsciously believes that beating myself up every time I fail will make me more likely to fail. I am VERY good at torturing myself. So much so that I became afraid to try anything new. When failure hurts so much you start to shut yourself down.
When I had kids, I started to realize that modeling this behavior would destroy them. So I started working hard to change my relationship with failure. I try not to see it as a sign of personal inadequacy but more as a result of circumstances at the time, some of which I can change, but many of which I cannot control.
I also work hard to not get too attached to success. I find that wanting something with every fiber of me tends to push it away. So when I started trying new things, I cultivated the patience to be bad at things and not take them too seriously.
I’ve always wanted to act in plays but never had the guts to attend auditions. So I took classes and started auditioning but my focus was NOT on getting the part. My focus is on getting through the auditions and the subsequent “wait for the call” process afterward.
Instead of waiting by phone for my grades to be validated, I would congratulate myself on finishing my reading, and imagine all the ways that NOT getting the part might be a good thing, or I would have more time to spend with my family. . , I can go on weekend trips, etc.
As my kids grew, so did I by regularly leaving my comfort zone. I finally took the biggest leap by enrolling in an improv class. There I discovered that people can achieve AMAZING things when they practice reacting positively to failure on a regular basis. (In fact studies do associate self-compassion with the ability to access higher levels of creativity.)
The Improvizer welcomes failure. When they are playing a game and someone makes a mistake, they greet it with warmth, laughter and appreciation. The fail hug is a HUGE part of any improv training.
When I started performing with an improv group, I found myself changing a lot more, editing myself less, and becoming much more comfortable expressing myself in all kinds of situations.
As my life circumstances have changed, I’ve found that compassion frees me to jump in and try all kinds of new things and learn as I go along. This includes, social media marketing, blogging, speaking and facilitating interactive presentations. The desire to help others cultivate compassion has also prompted me to follow a new career path to share these skills with non-performers.
I have no doubt that studies will continue to show great value in developing compassion. After all, if you really understand that we are all connected, you can see that it is at the heart of most of the great spiritual traditions. You can’t really give to other people. Whenever you give, you are only giving to yourself.
Giving is not difficult. But changing the way you see the world, your failures and your role in them definitely can. I, for one, can testify that it is one of the most rewarding investments in yourself that you can make.