With one year wrapping up and a new one having just begun, you’ve probably thought to yourself at some point in the last month ‘I’ll do better in the New Year’ or ‘this is the year I’m going to …’ or ‘this year there won’t be any …’ You might have even made it a New Year’s Resolution! Messages like these seem to come at us from every angle in late December and then it finally is the New Year and you find yourself doing what you normally do, resolutions be damned! Then, you start to beat yourself up for not achieving what you set out to achieve, breaking a new diet in the first week, or picking up just one more bargain in what was supposed to be ‘no-buy January’.
We put so much pressure on ourselves in day-to-day life. Pressure to be a good spouse, parent, employee, neighbor, family member, netizen, member of our community, or even citizen. We have so many responsibilities, so many balls in the air, that it can be almost impossible to keep them all going all of the time. Sometimes we drop the ball. Sometimes we drop all the balls. Sometimes we lose our cool and throw the balls in every which direction, screaming at the top of our lungs, metaphorically speaking. Sometimes someone close to us drops the ball and instead of being the eye of the storm we see the tumultuous chaos from outside.
But let’s take a minute. Pause. Take a breath. A deep breath. Breathe in through your nose, feel your belly expand, pause a heartbeat, then slowly let it all out through your mouth. You feel better, don’t you? It clears the mind a little and fills your brain and body with the necessary oxygen. In this state, I’d like you to think about the days when you or someone close to you dropped the ball. Not about the issues of the day, but how you felt when you laid down that night after you’d resolved whatever the crisis was. When you laid down and had a moment to think about what had occurred, and more importantly, what you had learned from the day. That’s what sticks with us going forward, not the meltdown or the chaos, but how we resolved it, what we realised about ourselves or others that day, and how when similar situations arise, we can put to good use what we learned.
That’s why failure is such an incredible teacher. Yes, that’s right, failure is actually your friend and ally because you learn so much more from it than from success. As a creative person who dabbles in many crafts, I can tell you far more about the projects that were a bugbear, that required going back to the drawing board, that required iteration, that had multiple setbacks, that had failures. Some projects went into the naughty corner and never emerged, but I still learned from them. I learned to drape my own sewing patterns after trying five times to adjust a historical flat pattern for a woman’s bodice to fit my then-six-year-old daughter. I tried over and over to adjust it, and after five failed mock-ups I grabbed an old sheet, a sharpie, and had my daughter stand for ten minutes whilst I drew the shapes of the pattern on the sheet whilst it was on her. The next mock-up was a perfect fit and required no adjustment! I have since employed that skill regularly and it is SO much easier for me than flat patterns. Without those five failed attempts I wouldn’t have attempted to drape that first time, and I wouldn’t have learned such a valuable new skill!
There’s a lot of science already which explains why New Year’s Resolutions are doomed to failure, so I’m not going to go into that here. Instead, I’m going to focus on how you treat yourself when you do fail. When the people you love fail, how do you treat them? Do you scold them? Scorn their efforts? Of course not! You see the good in that they tried, point out the things they can learn from this failure, and help them to see that in the bigger picture, it’s not a big deal. How about from here on we endeavor to treat ourselves with that same love and compassion? Be gentle with yourself. Be your own friend. That might sound silly at first but genuinely, be your own friend. What might it be like to go around with an inner voice that is kind and compassionate to you like you are to your best friend? I’ve adopted this practice, and whilst I don’t always succeed in being loving to myself in my own mind, I am most of the time, and it feels amazing. I feel so much better prepared to tackle any situation.
So, no more beating yourself up over failures or broken goals. When you stumble and drop the ball, just take a breath, give yourself a kindly smile, dust yourself off, and start again. It’ll be fine, you’ve got this.