Three Thoughts to Keep In Mind When You Fail

A nineteenth century mindfulness guru called Gurdjieff once made a commitment to himself to be aware of everything he did for the next twenty-four hours. In the first hour of his practice, he went out to visit a shop. Along the way he watched each step and each thought and feeling. But somewhere on his trip, he lost track of paying attention. Only days later did he suddenly remembered that he had intended to be mindful. This guy eventually became a guru in the early 20th century history of meditation and mindfulness, but he couldn’t do it all the time.

Often when we realize we want to change something about our automatic emotional responses or thoughts, we set out to change by constant vigilance. We might read books on mindfulness practices and try to apply them to the problem. Then, as so often happens in the course of living our lives, we miss an incident of the thing we wanted to change and beat ourselves up about it. We failed to be aware and make a better choice. And, worse, we failed to maintain our mindfulness.

If you are trying to be more mindful, trying to act differently at work or at home, or just trying to watch what you eat, here are three thoughts to keep in mind:

1. It’s okay to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not approaching the edge of your compitence or your comfort. Growth happens at the edge of your comfort zone. Boredom sets in if you spend too much time deep inside that zone. Growth, creation, and relationship are all most alive in the turbulence near the edge.

2. It’s okay to fail. The point of mindfulness is the practice not the perfection. As with Zen meditation, a great deal of the benefit comes from those moments when you consciously see what just happened and bring your attentioIts-okay-to-fail-liberationtherapyn back on focus. It feels hard because you are strengthening pathways in your brain. And this new strength will benefit you, not just in being mindful, but in being better able to focus and concentrate your attention in everyday life.

3. It’s okay to fail. You are a precious human being even after you broke that dish. You are fundamentally good and worthy of love and health and joy even if you snapped at your spouse again. You are enough — even when you feel you haven’t done enough — you, yourself, are more than your last achievement. It’s okay, really.

Compassion for yourself is the best companion for mindfulness and change. The safer you feel in yourself, the easier it will be to face those things that seem hard to change.

Self-compassion and Self-confidence

Be kind to yourself

Be kind to yourself

Do you beat yourself up when you make a mistake? Feel horrible when you’ve asserted yourself?

The truth I’ve learned is that I am often a lot harder on myself than I really deserve. In some cases, I might not have made any mistakes, just taken a risk–like speaking up in class–that is outside my normal comfort zone. In other cases, I might believe I have imposed on or hurt someone’s feelings, but end up feeling bad to a degree out of proportion with what actually happened. While shame and guilt are useful for guiding us, when they take control of our lives they tend to impair our ability to live better.

For a long time, the accepted way of counteracting excessive feelings of shame or inadequacy has been self-esteem building affirmations and exercises. Recently, however, research on self-compassion mediation is showing that forgiving ourselves and sending goodwill towards ourselves is actually more effective than self-esteem building. This takes practice, like so many meditative and mindful activities, so I recommend guided audio such as those created by Rick Hanson.

Here’s a short test on how self-compassionate you are.

And here’s an article by one of the primary researchers in the field.

Be brave. Be safe. Be seen.

– Alan