"Good enough" IS good enough – we can all use a little more self-compassion in our lives. Here's how to start.
Do you often feel a nagging sense of inadequacy or self-doubt? Perhaps you’ve gotten too acquainted with that little voice in your head telling you you’re “never good enough”? Have fear and shame persistently stopped you from living your life fully? If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Say hello to your inner critic.
The inner critic: Everyone has one
Many of us live our lives in secret fear of being judged by others. The truth is, we’re our own harshest judge. Remember the last time you thought you messed up. Did you end up shrugging that off or did you beat yourself up for being a “loser” or ”failure” (insert negative label of your choice here)?
Thanks to our confirmation bias, our mind tends to pick up on nuances and cues that confirm our negative beliefs about ourselves, reinforcing our “not good enough” narrative. We focus on things that go wrong instead of those that go well. We learn to feed our inner critic on autopilot, and over time, we surrender to its demands and criticisms without question.
Surely this can’t be a pathway to joy and acceptance. Many highly self-critical or perfectionistic individuals grapple with anxiety and depression, fueled by underlying shame and fear. Yet in Stockholm Syndrome fashion, the inner critic makes itself indispensable by convincing you that being harsh to yourself is the only way to be a better version of you. Held captive by its promises, you stop putting yourself out there because the world suddenly seems like such a dangerous place.
The case for “good enough”
Instead of setting unrealistic expectations such as never messing up or being perfect all the time, we can learn to be more flexible in our approach to life. Psychological flexibility is a protective factor for good mental health.
In “The Gifts of Imperfection”, Brené Brown underscores how perfectionism is about earning the approval and acceptance of others rather than healthy growth or self-improvement. Healthy striving encourages a focus on being a better version of ourselves, without the harsh self-criticism, unattainable goals, and over-identification with mistakes in the process.
Accepting that “good enough” IS good enough, and that our self-worth isn’t defined by our mistakes, is a good place to start.
Self-compassion to the rescue
Kristin Neff, the author of “Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself”, defines self-compassion as a combination of three elements: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Self-kindness is about being gentle, not critical. Common humanity is the reminder that we’re not alone; our pain is a shared human experience. Finally, mindfulness is the open awareness we bring to thoughts and feelings that arise in the moment.
Self-compassion invites us to establish a different relationship with our inner critic. Research has shown that people who are self-compassionate tend to be more emotionally resilient, productive and make better leaders.
How to incorporate more self-compassion in your life:
1. Know that it’s okay to make mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes, and most times, they’re not as dire as the apocalypse that plays out in our minds. Making mistakes doesn’t make one a failure. If you put in the best effort possible with the resources you have, that’s a job well done! Beating yourself up or shaming yourself won’t make you better; that only slows you down. All this energy can be better used to understand what went wrong and how you can improve. Like what James Joyce said, “mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Be nice to yourself so you can be better!
2. Take risks and embrace vulnerability
Being brave comes with practice. It doesn’t mean experiencing zero fear; it’s about taking a risk in spite of fear. When we’re held hostage by fear and shame, our world shrinks. Fear and shame consequently become magnified in our lives. The only way to change our relationship to these emotions is by accepting that it’s okay to fumble and be awkward, and by doing the things that invoke these feelings.
3. Call out your inner critic
By that, we mean giving your inner critic a name. Think “Old Grumpy” or “Cockroach” – be creative! The key is to separate you from your inner critic, so you recognise this isn’t who you are and create distance from it. Notice the same “not good enough” story that your inner critic plays on repeat in your mind. Know that your inner critic isn’t always right; sometimes we have to challenge it a little. For every “can’t” your inner critic comes up with, ask “why not?”
4. Celebrate little wins
Learn to practice gratitude for things that do go well, and make it a habit to look out for the good in situations. When someone compliments you for a job well done, say “thank you” instead of “oh, but I could have done better”. Savour the good experiences! With practice, we learn to strengthen these positive associations in our memory and internalise the good.
5. Make friends with yourself
Think about the last time your close friend felt discouraged. How did you support them? What did you say, and how did you say it? Now, think about the last time you felt discouraged or went through a tough time. How did you show up for you? What did you say to yourself?
If you notice a difference between how you behave towards yourself and your close friend, perhaps it’s time to treat yourself like a true friend. Practise connecting with your inner friend, be kind to yourself and know that you can have your own back, too.
At the end of the day, embrace self-compassion because you deserve a more fulfilling life!