New-year resolutions offer us an excellent opportunity to practice self-compassion simply because they present us with so many pitfalls. The first of which is perfectionism, defined here as the tendency to measure personal worth by success or failure. Indeed, many of our resolutions arise out of a perfectionistic disposition. The unspoken sentiment “If I don’t lose weight, I won’t get anyone to love me” might inspire the resolution to lose twenty pounds in the new year. The appearance of our wounded sense of self, whose value is painfully conditional, presents us with the first opportunity to practice compassion. Can we let ourselves come into relationship with that wounded self and offer her the care of our attention? Can we hold her in acceptance and kindness even as challenging feelings like shame, rage, and grief express in us?
And can we practice reframing our resolutions to reflect loving intentions? We might say: “I’ve tasked myself with self-improvement because I want to fulfill my true potential.” In that way, we recognize the capacity for growth in ourselves and seek to nurture it. Open-heartedness instead of perfectionism becomes our guide.
We might also consider that compassion doesn’t mistake indulgence for kindness. When we are aligned with our compassion, we act out of love, which might mean curbing harmful habits and avoiding the conditions that trigger them. Would you let your precious child smoke a pack of cigarettes?
And what if, in spite of our best intentions, we falter in our resolve and slip back into habit or find ourselves rebelling against the restrictions we’ve imposed? Those occasions, too, become opportunities for compassion. Instead of punishing ourselves for our perceived lapses, we might get curious about why we are as we are, why succeeding feels dangerous or why our harmful habits feed neglected parts of ourselves or why so much fear comes up when we take risks. And we can hold the vast complexity of our experience in the field of our compassion, like a mother gathering her children into her arms.