Cutthroat Compassion

In the spirit of recent Cracked articles that have been passed around the blogosphere of late, I’m going to help you stop wasting your time. I’m going to keep you from continuing in that worthless and ineffective method that you have of becoming successful. No more mollycoddling, pussyfooting, or polysyllabicisms! The gloves are coming off here the night before Christmas on Love, Life, Practice.

I’m tired of hearing people say they want to “do better.” I’m sick of the “I’m just not up to it yet…” idea. I’m fed up with this idea that you are somehow not good enough, not worthy enough, not special enough to have a life that is amazing. I’m here from Love Life Practice Corporate headquarters, so to speak, and the main office is not happy with what has been coming down the pipe.

  • You! With the great idea for the website, talking about how you oughta be updating it more, making it more interesting!
  • You! With the few extra pounds around your gut, regretting not doing more of a workout this morning!
  • You! The one who is richer than most of the population of the world, stressing about why you don’t have more money in your pocket!
  • You! Yeah, you’re right, you could have spent more time with that person you say means so much to you. So what?

That’s right, I’m talking to you,* and you better listen up, because there’s only a few more hours left before the biggest holiday in the West takes over all the other messages, so you best listen up, because you only got one more week left in this year to practice this before we are forced to write off 2012 completely.

Knock It the @#$#% Off

Guess what? That whole “tearing yourself down/building yourself back up” cycle? It doesn’t work. Science has proven it. Focusing on your self-esteem, listening to drill-instructor-type voices in your head telling you how you “shoulda done better” and “why aren’t you good enough” is a waste of your time. And since we’re all in this together, with our interconnected overlapping permeable lives affecting each other, it means you are wasting my time too.

You didn’t get it right the first time? Bravo! Welcome to the human race. Now, you have a choice: You can decide that it must be all your fault, and try to let that voice guilt you into doing better. Hey, if positive punishment is your thing, more power to you. I’m not saying it doesn’t work.

"Do not repeat the lies of liars. Do not become like them." - actual quote
“Do not repeat the lies of liars. Do not become like them.” – actual quote

Your second choice is to go the affirmation route, or what I like to call the “Baghdad Bob” method. Look yourself in the mirror, tell yourself how strong you are, how failure is not an option, how winners win and God loves you out of all the special little snowflakes in the world and She wouldn’t let you down. Say anything you’d like, in fact. Just because studies have shown that affirmations can actually be harmful, especially to those with low self-esteem, doesn’t mean that you’re not the exception to the rule.

Then there’s a third choice: you can actually look at the situation, whatever it is, and say “Huh, I can see where I didn’t do so well. I can see how to do it a bit better. Let’s see if next time works better.

It’s called compassion, buddy, and it’s all the rage among a lot of people who like to sit crosslegged and own stock in orange & red fabric manufacturers. In fact, a lot of times they’ve been ridiculed (at best) or shot (at worst) by other people who prefer a different philosophy. However, as it happens, studies seem to indicate that the hippies were right after all, and “takin’ it easy” and “giving yourself a break” actually ends up a better strategy for improved performance. Check out what the artsy-fartsy soft-willed pinko-commie rag called the Harvard Business Review has to say about it:

People who experienced self-compassion were more likely to see their weaknesses as changeable. Self-compassion — far from taking them off the hook — actually increased their motivation to improve and avoid the same mistake again in the future. This increased motivation lead to demonstrably superior performance.

So here’s the deal: if you really want to spend your time using ineffective strategies like affirmations and self-castigation to try an “improve” yourself, go right ahead. It’s sexy, it makes for impressive monologues, and it’s much easier to sound tough and strong when you’re filled with catchy slogans and simple 6-step programs to self-improvement.

Me: I want to make art that is about happiness!
Professor: Bah! Happiness is OVERRATED!
Me: Yeah? Well, misery is EASY!

— 1997 Conversation at the UW-Madison Dance Department

Problem is, both of those are based on lies. Looking at yourself in the mirror and saying something that doesn’t feel true? What’s that really going to accomplish, besides making you better at lying to yourself?

The other voice, the one that says you’re not enough, that you could have done better, that you should have – that’s a more insidious lie. Because the fact is that any of those things might be true. You’re not strong enough. You’re not as thin as those pants want you to be. You don’t make as much money as that person over there who’s the exact same age. All of that and more is probably true.

The lie comes with the idea that there is something wrong with any of those truths. You’re not thin? So what, neither are a lot of people. You don’t have as much money as them? Neither do a lot of people.

Who cares either way? Are you happy with the work you’re doing? Then who cares about money? You want to make more money? There’s a whole lot of ways to do that, all of which will demand something from you. Telling yourself you will make more money, or that you should make more money is going to do anything. Feeling bad about the number on the scale or refusing to look at the scale won’t change how your body feels.

Reality does that. Reality is that you’re human, and the sooner you accept that, with all the foibles, faults, mistakes, and setbacks that entails, the sooner we can get on with the truly important thing: living the life you have. It’s a simple equation, bucko: suffering is precisely equal to the difference between life the way it is and life the way you think it should be.

So change your thinking. Or change the universe. Just do it effectively, with compassion, rather than trying to bully either one.

You got a week left in 2012. How you gonna do it?



* Note: all three of these were direct quotes from my inner monologue
directed at myself. Nobody else.

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