You must be kind to yourself

Last week I published an article on Quartz about the three mindsets that can help you follow through on your goals.  From what I can tell from trolling the social media universe, the article did pretty well!  I don’t have stats back from Quartz, but the post I found on Linked In had 4500 likes!  Maybe that’s nothing in the world of the internet (I actually don’t know- this is all new to me), but it was exciting for me.

4500 likes! That feels like a lot.
4500 likes! That feels like a lot.

Then Twitter delivered me a cool opportunity and the inspiration for this blog.  The NPR radio show “Word of Mouth” sent me a tweet saying they were interested in having me on their show.  I called into their studio on Thursday and talked with them about how the Olympics can be both inspiring and overwhelming for people who want to exercise more frequently.  One of their most interesting questions was:

Why is it important to be kind to yourself when you want to succeed?

This is such an important question because I know how easy it is to be hard on yourself instead. If you are really invested in something you want to take it seriously!  You don’t want to let anyone off the hook about it, least of all you!  If it takes sheer force of will, by GOD, you will exert it!

I know exactly how you feel because that’s how I was, too.

At the core of the growth mindset (one of the mindsets that will set you up for success) is the knowledge that ability grows through effort, over time.  No one is born balancing a checkbook, bouncing a basketball, or playing a violin.  If you are learning something new you will, absolutely, no exceptions, make a ton of “mistakes.”  

There’s no way around it.  And this should lead you to two very serious conclusions:

  1. If anyone else on the planet is doing this and you’re willing to hang in there through a parade of rookie mistakes, you can do it, too. *
  2. You have to be gentle enough with yourself to see your mistakes as awesome proof of progress and humorous stories to be told for years to come.  You have to loosen the control and let yourself learn.

Here are a few examples:

  • You decide you are going to take control of your finances and pay all your bills online.  You go to your bank website and set up a check.  Little do you know that you have to hit that submit button that blends in with the website theme.  The check doesn’t send and you get a late notice.  Mistake made.  If you are being hard on yourself you might say “I can’t even do that right!” and give up on bill pay.
  • You decide to start running. The first day you put on some yoga pants and head outside. About halfway around the block your pants are falling down and you’re running while holding them up with one hand.  Mistake made. If you are being hard on yourself you’ll be embarrassed and feel like you should have known better and it might keep you from going back out that week.
  • You decide that you are going to take your lunch to work every day!  The first day you pack your lunch but by the time you get to work the sandwich you made is really, really soggy from the dressing you put on it.  Mistake made.  If you are being hard on yourself you will say “I knew it wasn’t going to work for me to take my lunch.”

The mistakes that we are making aren’t really that big of a deal.  You can call the person and explain the check. You can buy some running pants and get back out there.  You can avoid putting dressing on your next sandwich.  But if you take them as an indication that you are somehow deficient or stupid these small mistakes grow in significance.

It isn’t whether you make mistakes- you absolutely will, we all do-  it’s how you perceive them. When you are kind to yourself you say “Well, glad I learned that one!” and get back to it.  If you are being hard on yourself you say “I’m so stupid, I’ll never get this, I should never have tried.”

First of all, that’s just mean. Stop talking to my friend that way.

Second, it’s super inefficient.  Small mistakes can cause a minor blip or a major upheaval, depending on how your perceive them.  And as we’ve got dreams to chase, we just don’t have the time to be unkind.


* I am not claiming that ANYBODY can be ANYTHING. I know that there’s such a thing as talent and proclivity. And I think you should play to your strengths because we are all gifted at something.  But most of us don’t want to be an olympic swimmer, we want to be a lap swimmer at our local Y.  We don’t need to be Einstein, we just want to be able to experience the mysteries of science.  We don’t need to write the Google algorithm, we just want to create our own website. We aren’t looking to be theoretical mathematicians, we just want to be able to calculate a tip without getting out our cell phone calculator.

And you won’t ever convince me that these things, which make life more rich and varied and awesome, are not completely available to you.  Oh, and if you DO want to be an Olympic swimmer, a theoretical physicist, or a Google engineer, you’re going to make even more mistakes, so you should take extra-special note of this post.  🙂

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