“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure...we ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?...Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you...It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I know what you’re thinking. Did she really just quote Timo Cruz from Coach Carter? Yep. I did. And not just because it’s one of the best sports movies of our generation (fact). Timo Cruz’s monologue may have been the first time I ever heard this quote, but it has since evolved to mean much more in my process of befriending myself.
I have this notebook called the ten-year journal. Every page in the journal is a different day and has the years listed down the margin with four or five lines designated for that year. Every day for ten years I’m supposed to write a little blurb about what I did, how I’m feeling, or anything else that might be going on so that eventually I will have a clear record of every day from January 1st 2014 to December 31st 2024. As it turns out, I decided to start my ten-year journal at the peak of my self-loathing days.
For two years straight all I wrote were things like I hate myself for doing that, I want to lose weight, I feel so stupid, why can’t I just be chill and carefree like so-and-so, I need to stop eating gluten, dairy, sugar, etc etc. Even when good things happened, my inner critic somehow always snuck in there. It’s only now, after committing to daily self-befriending practices that I am able to look at these journal entries not as a confirmation of my inadequacy, but instead of the fear I felt towards my own inner power.
"Self-criticism can actually make you sick."
Self-criticism can actually make you sick. When we self-criticize, our stress response is triggered. Our cortisol and blood pressure levels rise, our immune and digestive systems temporarily shut off, and all our energy is focused on what is causing the stress. In this case, a negative thought or emotion about ourselves. If we are constantly criticizing ourselves, our stress levels become chronic and can cause serious health risks (think IBS, hypertension, and obesity). And yet we are afraid to quiet this inner critic because we think that it is motivating us to succeed.
Think back to Coach Carter. He is a hardass who yells at his players to motivate them to be better. I’m sure you can think of a teacher or coach from your own life who gave you “tough love” in order to help you succeed. And maybe it worked! Maybe it worked so well that it instilled an idea that you had to give yourself tough love in order to achieve your goals. That without being hard on yourself you wouldn’t get anything done. Well, the results are in amigo, and recent research on self-compassion just proved that theory wrong.
Research now shows that self-compassion actually increases long-term self-improvement motivation and behavior because it allows us to view our “weaknesses” as more flexible, less set in stone. In other words if you want to reverse a bad habit or bounce back from a setback, giving yourself some love could actually help get you out of that rut. The leading researcher on self-compassion, Kristin Neff, says that contrary to self-compassion, self-criticism is a mechanism that keeps us from self-improvement behavior. When we self-criticize we eliminate the possibility of change, staying in our comfort zone of what we know. Self-criticism keeps us safe from the possibility of failure. Self-compassion, on the other hand, opens the door to endless possibilities, to “power beyond measure.” And that is scary.
My ten-year journal is now filled with gratitude for the good (and the bad) times. Some entries are simple little compliments to show myself that, no matter what, I still care. Imagine your inner critic as a friend that you are consoling. What comforting words would you say to him or her? It might sound goofy at first, but befriending yourself could be the key practice to liberate yourself from your deepest fear. Worth a shot, right?!