There’s something meaningful about giving ourselves a second chance at the beginning of each year. To be a better version of ourself and feel a fresh motivation for life.
This January, as you are looking ahead with hope and wonder about what the new year holds, it is my hope that you will have the goal to strengthen your emotional health. I believe that if this goal took priority in our lives, our other goals would fit more comfortably into place. The alternative to this, that I often see, is closer to people putting goals above their emotional health. Which usually ends in people feeling like they are “not enough” and turning to punishing themselves for their humanness. It’s a bit like shooting ourselves in the foot half-way through an important race and then wondering why we couldn’t make it to the finish line.
What emotional health looks like
My definition of emotional health is a combination of being aware of how we treat ourselves, learning to forgiving ourselves for the mistakes we make, and changing our shame based narratives to one that celebrates our growth.
The first part of this important change is to simply tune into how you treat yourself. Are you kind and forgiving? Or are you regularly hard on yourself for your mis-step? If we don’t tune into this inner voice, I believe the default outcome is that we will believe it. No matter what it is saying. For example, if my unconscious response to myself saying or doing something that I see as a mistake is, “you always do this, you are awkward and incapable,” then I am at risk of believing that. Even though I have supporting evidence for the opposite, that I am capable and trying and successful. So to start this journey, listen to what your inner voice is saying, especially after a less than graceful experience.
If you find that your inner voice is harsh or critical, take a deep breath and realize that it’s actually very common. Have you heard the phrase “we’re our harshest critic?”, well now you’re seeing how that can apply to you. The next important step is to forgive yourself for not being perfect. We were never intended to be perfect beings. We hope for achievement and success, and the reality of that journey is actually very messy and full of setbacks.
I like to think of the metaphor of a child learning to walk. It’s a journey that’s made up of small parts: rolling over, crawling, and eventually, after a lot of falling down, the child takes those first steps.
We would never be critical of a child falling, it’s part of the process. In fact, under the surface, it is strengthening the child’s muscles and preparing them to walk and run. Our lives are like that too. We will fall. But the falling actually holds meaning and prepares us for what’s ahead.
Changing the Shameful Narrative
When we see our difficult experiences as meaningful, and ultimately helpful, it allows us to change our shameful narratives to positive ones. I recently had a very difficult conversation with someone that left me feeling small, confused, and inadequate. My initial instinct was to equate my discomfort of the conversation to my own inabilities. When I shared this experience with a friend, including the shame I was feeling, their response was, “Wow, that was so brave of you!”
Hearing their response helped me change the narrative of that situation for myself. It was still a difficult conversation to have had, but the fact that I decided to have it in the first place was brave. I pushed myself in a really important and meaningful way. The shame I felt from that experience lifted and I no longer think about that conversation as negative. I also face upcoming difficult conversations or experiences with the same powerful narrative, that I am brave for engaging with others and with life, especially when it’s difficult.
When we love ourselves and put our emotional health first, we open up opportunities to grow. That specific growth will support us through all other challenges and goals that we face. Instead of shooting ourselves in the foot as we run, we’re putting on our best pair of running shoes and running toward the finish line of small and big goals.
May your new year be full of growth and emotional health!