Every so often I realise that I’ve started evaluating myself against a set of standards that a saint would find it hard to match – and I’m no saint! I don’t think I’m unusual in this. We all fall into the trap of expecting ourselves to be perfect – whatever that means for us – and then berating ourselves for not matching up to that ideal. It’s very unfair – we wouldn’t do that to a friend.

There’s nothing wrong with having high standards, an ideal of how we would like to live our lives, how we’d like to be. In fact, it is part of how we motivate ourselves, and clarify whether we are making progress in our lives. The ideal picture gives us something to aim for and helps us to know what we really want life to be about.

However, it is not motivating to criticise ourselves for not being there yet, and anyway, if we were, we would disappear in a flash of white light, because we would have reached perfection!

The measure of our progress is not in what we haven’t yet achieved, but in what we have put into our lives that moves us towards that ideal. What encourages us to keep going is the recognition that we are gradually making progress, rather than noticing where we’ve slipped or failed or got stuck.

That means that we tell ourselves that we’re pleased with ourselves when we do those stretching exercises, rather than berating ourselves for not doing it today. And we don’t expect ourselves to do it every day, if we are having a go at doing it more often. We start with being pleased at once a week, and when that has become habitual, maybe three times a week. It means we give ourselves credit for all the times we deal with others and their moods compassionately, instead of beating ourselves up for a moment of temper or meanness with someone.

The question is not, ‘Have I done it perfectly?’ it is, ‘Am I doing a bit better on this aspect of my life than I was?’ or ‘What have I done well today towards my ideal picture?’ And if you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, then maybe you need to lower your expectation of yourself for a while, to begin to make progress – you’ll move more easily then.

This approach is not only kinder; it’s also more effective. None of us respond well to being criticised or made to feel like a failure, so why the hell would we do it to ourselves? Give yourself credit for what you do well, according to your own standards, and it gets easier to bring more of it into your life.

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