giving yourself grace

Are You Making Space for Grace in Your Own Life?

“Hi friend. Hope you are well. I’d appreciate your thoughts on how to be kind to yourself. How does one take the bad or the old tapes and replace them with new ones? As I get older, I go back to the old tapes. Am I alone in wanting to give myself some grace? Being kind to others must start with showing kindness and forgiveness for yourself.”

I recently received this email from a friend. The timing was serendipitous as I had been contemplating a recent experience when I failed to show myself kindness. Giving ourselves a hard time seems to be a common reality for many of us. What about you? Are you making space for grace in your own life?

A Recent Lack of Kindness

Hopefully, you already know that I was interviewed on a podcast in March. (If this is news to you, check it out here!) It was both exciting and stress-inducing as it was the first time I had ever spoken on kindness as an “expert.” Obviously, I was keen to provide quality content.

The interview was a delight. Shannon Cassidy, the R.O.G. podcast host, was an experienced, active listener and immediately put me at ease. When we ended the call, I was excited and proud of myself. It was released on March 26, and I received a lot of positive feedback.

So, on March 26, when I listened to those 30 minutes of solid content, why did I focus on the parts that I would have preferred to say differently? They weren’t glaring errors. I didn’t say anything horrifically regretful that would get me cancelled. But, instead of choosing to celebrate a success, my first reaction was to worry about the flaws.

I’d like to say that I snapped myself out of the vortex of disparaging thoughts. But honestly, it took my 17-year-old son saying, “Mom, why are you doing this?” to bring me back to a positive state of mind. It was a wake-up call: what kind of role model was I being for him?

Are You Too Hard on Yourself?

Being unkind to yourself can manifest in many ways. Do any of these resonate with you?

  1. Are you hyper-critical or expect perfection?
  2. Do you keep replaying the “old tapes”–constantly reminding yourself of past mistakes or regrets?
  3. Are you “should-ing” on yourself? I should spend more time with my family. I should have exercised this morning.
  4. Do you undervalue yourself? I’m going to stay in this bad relationship/job/situation because I probably can’t do better.
  5. Do you feel like an imposter? Sure, I’m successful at my job, but it’s just luck. I was never the smart one in class.
  6. Do you fail to prioritize your health? I don’t have time/money/energy to get enough sleep/exercise/healthy food.
  7. Are you doing too much? Do you say “yes” too often or fail to delegate to others because you think it’s just easier to do it yourself?

Grace vs. Grit

One thing I struggle with is knowing how much to push myself. When is it too much? Or am I just making excuses to quit because I don’t want to fail? Afterall, pushing through something difficult is a key component of growth. It’s a fine line to walk, especially when you’re taking on any kind of big challenge like starting a new business, doing a triathlon, or moving to a new city.

How do you know if you’re better served by grace or grit?

And do they have to be mutually exclusive? Unfortunately, there is no magic answer. It will depend on who you are and where you are in your journey. Taking time to pause, asking yourself some hard questions, and being honest with yourself can help you understand what is right for you. Sometimes, just switching to smaller, more incremental steps will get you to your end goal while being gentler and kinder to yourself.

Some Guidelines for Giving Yourself Grace

So, how can we be kind to ourselves and replace the “old tapes” with new ones? Here are some ideas that resonated with me.

1. Remember: your thoughts are just thoughts.

First and foremost, accept the fact that you may be thinking unkind thoughts. Afterall, they’re just thoughts. What really matters is what you do with them.

One of the things I’m constantly working on is my tendency to be judgmental. On the positive side, I’m very good at evaluating and figuring out how to fix things. But the flip side is that I can be hypercritical and assume my way is best.

I’ve searched for ways to decrease the frequency of these automatic, critical thoughts. The most common advice I’ve heard is to simply acknowledge the thoughts and move on, instead of judging myself for having them.  Be curious instead of critical. Somehow, it seems to help. And, at the least, it’s a kinder way to manage myself.

2. Focus on the present moment.

Ruminating on the past and worrying about the future is enticing. But we will never be able to change what has happened or control what is ahead by the thoughts playing on repeat in our heads. They only take us away from what is happening at that very moment.

“The capacity to be present to everything that is happening, without resistance, creates possibility.”

Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility

3. Manage your expectations and soften your feedback.

If the roles were reversed, and my 17-year-old was the one who had just been on a podcast, I would NEVER consider homing in on those small flaws. So, why was I doing it to myself?

Ethan Kross, author of “Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters and How to Harness It,” found an interesting way to address this issue in his research:

“When people used the word “you” or their own name instead of saying “I,” and started observing their feelings as though they were an impartial bystander, it “was like flipping a switch.” It resulted in an internal dialogue that was more constructive and positive than that of the people who spoke to themselves in the first-person.”

-Christina Caron

4. Prioritize your health and self-care.

It never fails, life gets busy, I cut out my workouts, and my mood and physical health exponentially plummet. Making time for fitness, sleep, hydration, and healthy food is not an indulgence. It’s a necessity for a robust and productive life.

Additionally, self-care and time for restorative activities have begun to receive more support. Taking breaks for our brain to “rest” with engaging activities like playing with our children or pets, puzzling, or even meditating have been shown to increase our overall wellbeing and performance levels.

5. Celebrate your wins.

We do a really good job of celebrating when we’re young. Graduations, birthdays, first days of school, even one-month anniversaries! When do we stop doing that as adults and why? I created a bigger hullaballoo for my dog’s 2nd birthday than my own graduation from the program in positive psychology.

mila birthday
Mila on her birthday – Photo courtesy of Lorraine Gates

Next time, when you finish that race, complete that project, or meet that milestone, take time to properly savor your win and celebrate with your friends and family. It’ll be fun for everyone.

6. Try an Act of Kindness.

Take your mind off your own concerns and give yourself a mental boost by making a positive impact in someone else’s life. Or the next time someone offers you a hand, try letting kindness in. You don’t have to do it all on your own.

“Doing a kindness produces the single most reliable increase in wellbeing [for the doer] of any exercise we’ve tested.”

-Dr. Martin Seligman, Founder of Positive Psychology

Making Space for Grace

I think the following excerpt from the article, “What Giving Yourself Grace at Work—and in Life—Really Means,” is a beautiful guiding principle for all of us:

“You likely have heard the so-called golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In my opinion, giving yourself grace is all about the reverse: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. Or in other words, practice self-compassion—aka having understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness of yourself.”

-Erayna Sargent

Giving yourself grace is a journey of discovery: it will vary person to person and day to day. Whether it’s playing the “new tapes” in your head or choosing to focus on the things you said right, each of us should experiment to find ways to relieve our burdens and bolster our resilience. I hope you can prioritize making space for grace in your life.


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