New Years is the perfect time to reflect on the symbiotic relationship between goals, growth and grace. January provides us a blank slate, a fresh start, a chance to reflect on what’s been and get clear on what we hope to see in the future. Many folks start the year off with ambitious goals to get healthy, save more money, travel the world or start their own business. Unfortunately, according to Forbes.com studies have shown that approximately 80% of all New Year’s resolutions fail. 1 Whether your goal is to be happier, grow healthier/wealthier/stronger/more successful/more fulfilled, to achieve those goals you have to become someone who is different from who you are today. And let’s face it folks, change is HARD! So, what can you do to set yourself up for success?
Renowned author Emily Ley says this regarding success when approaching major life transformations:
“I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.” 2
But what does it mean to hold yourself to a standard of grace? In this instance, grace is the act of offering to yourself the same kind of love, care and kindness—especially during times of stress and struggle—that you would freely offer to a friend, a dear colleague or a loved one. For many people this type of grace and care for others comes naturally, but we may have a really hard time giving it to ourselves. Giving yourself the gift of grace means that you honor and accept your humanness. You understand that some things will most definitely not go the way you want them to. You acknowledge that you will absolutely encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes and you will inevitably fall short of your ideals on more than one occasion. THIS is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. We are perfectly imperfect!
The first step towards giving yourself grace and thereby changing the way you approach your goals and personal growth is to notice when you are being self-critical. This sounds simple…right? The answer is yes and no. For many people, our self-critical thoughts are so “normal” that we fail to notice when we indulge in them. To improve our internal dialogue and give ourselves grace, first start by noticing what you’re thinking when you’re feeling less than stellar about something related to your goals. Are there key phrases that come up over and over again? What is the tone of your voice – harsh, cold, angry? Does the voice in your head remind you of anyone in your past who was critical of you? Listen to your inner self-critic. Try to understand where he/she/they is coming from. Listen to your self-critic like you would listen to a close friend who was going through something painful. Approach your self-critic with grace and compassion. Acknowledge the underlying feelings, reframe the critical observations and make note of how you can handle the situation in a positive manner in the future.
Because this self-reflective, self-compassionate process requires taking the stance of an ‘‘other’’ towards oneself, the gift of grace to oneself avoids several of the problematic aspects of what many people call self-pity. Self-compassion [a.k.a. grace] operates as an effective emotional regulation strategy, by neutralizing negative emotional patterns and focusing more on positive feelings of kindness and connectedness. 3 Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable. They have less fear of failure and show greater confidence in their abilities to grow and reach their goals. People who practice self-compassion also tend to have more intrinsic motivation and don’t need as many external rewards in order to move toward their goals. 4
Individuals with a strong sense of grace as it relates to personal growth and goals also recognize that the human condition is one of inherent connectedness. We, as a soulful species, thrive when we are actively engaged in healthy, nurturing relationships. Whether your goal is to be happier, healthier, wealthier, stronger, more successful or more fulfilled, to achieve those goals you have to become someone who is different from who you are today. To do that, outside support is incredibly helpful. The right kind of helper encourages you to see what you cannot see about yourself and to connect with the highest version of who you are and who you can be; they are also able to objectively point out where you may be sabotaging your own growth. 5 The gift of grace allows us to see that we don’t have to achieve our goals alone. When we accept that help in the form of accountability and objective observation is fundamental to sustained growth, we set ourselves up for success. The right accountability partner believes in you and your big goal before it’s “hatched.” This person or group of people serve as an honest and true mirror that reflects back to you how you’re currently approaching things. A quality accountability partner helps you expand your toolbox and capabilities so you can react to challenges differently, and in a more intentional, empowered way.
When we acknowledge that neither we, or our goals, exist in a vacuum, we increase our likelihood for success because we mindfully create an ongoing accountability structure to keep us on track, gift us grace when we are too hard on ourselves and provide encouragement when we need it most.
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