The Art of Cultivating Authentic Growth in Life

A deeper look at why we need to replace the pursuit of self-confidence and healthy self-criticism with self-compassion?

Photo by Gary Meulemans on Unsplash

“We cannot change anything unless we accept it.” — Carl Jung

Nature greets every one of us with open arms every morning. The trees bathing in light — echoing breeze — chirping birds and thus in all moods of nature we glimpse the lessons yet to learn.

There’s no such thing as figuring out all about life and our fellow beings, as long as we’re alive, there’s always something to learn.

A worth living life lies in pursuit of these lessons.

Some lessons that come easily such as the ones we learn from the people we meet, or from the observations.

While other lessons knock at our doors as our biggest mistakes — as our personal failings — and sometimes are harder to digest.

Growth depends on opening ourselves to alternatives. As Benjamin Barber said,

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures, those who make it or those who don’t. I divide the world into learners and non-learners.”― Benjamin Barber

The one relationship that defines all about your life:

Life has a few simpler rules; it revolves around the same feelings. Isn’t it odd we always show up in different scenarios?

Life uses its creativity to offer us a new experience from the things we already knew.

We, for example, know too well how it feels to be misunderstood or hurt but every new experience brings brand new feelings.

And to effectively respond to them, we, too, need to tap into the depth of our creativity.

Our personal and professional lives thrive on creativity and creativity comes when we penetrate into mysteries of our inner being.

When we deepen our connection with our inner guidance to know our why (motive), we choose the life we want to live.

Mistakes, however, are a pesky part of being human.

But we fall prey to them whenever we lose connection with our inner being — whenever we have had an abstract why.

That’s probably why Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero says,

“No one can give you wiser advice than you can give yourself: you will never make a slip if you listen to your own heart.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero

Which, of course, isn’t an art to master overnight; it may take a lifelong practice. But, that’s all there is.

The pursuit of high self-confidence for a better life:

Self-confidence is a beautiful thing, and without it, nobody ever would be able to choose himself.

85 percent of people suffer from low self-esteem and so the ones with the unique ability to pull themselves together (despite the inner battles) make a difference.

And, probably that’s why our world is obsessed with self-confidence.

In his book Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, psychologist Albert Bandura explained that it is confidence, more than any other quality, that contributes to positive outcomes when pursuing goals.

Lack of self-confidence attracts complications like a magnet. The pursuit of self-confidence, for that matter, is pertinent to success but now research findings are more inclined in the opposite direction.

Self-confidence itself is a slippery thing because of life’s ever-changing direction.

When everything follows a process, it is natural to feel more secure and confident about our undertakings but it comes with an equal price.

Studies show while relying on self-esteem, we unconsciously put many important things on the backburner — without even realizing it.

I’m pretty confident about myself but not in an extroverted way. Whenever I tried to fake extroverted confidence to blend in with the crowd, my performance wasn’t up to the mark.

The reason, as now researches tell, is, the miscalibration of our true potential and lack of inner guidance.

A little self-doubt, on the other hand, results in better dedication and motivation to the task ahead.

Similarly, in our interpersonal relationships, high self-confidence is a facade — a mask that does not allow us to seek help from inner guidance and make the choices and decisions we want to make.

We can succeed (in anything) without high self-confidence but we can not succeed with miscalibrated self-confidence. Neither can we achieve any great thing without inner guidance.

To improve our connection with those who matter, and to choose the life we want to live, it’s the inner guidance and dedication that matters which, of course, has nothing to do with self-confidence.

To balance our self-confidence with inner guidance, it’s time to stop chasing it.

“Move into yourself. Move into your human unsuccess. Perfection rapes the soul.” — Marion Woodman

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Chasing healthy self-criticism for success:

Self-criticism, in a healthy dose, welcomes improvement and self-assessment. It’s almost impossible to imagine progress without healthy self-criticism.

But just like self-confidence, it is a complicated thing and depends on the scenario we’re showing up.

I don’t know about you but whenever something odd happens, the first thoughts clawing a way out of my mind aren’t about what I could do, they’re about what I’ve done.

Intrinsically, our brains are wired to promote self-criticism.

In a daunting situation, our mind loves to work in the backward direction.

The event that just happened is a familiar zone for the mind as it offers an opportunity to avoid lingering uncertainty.

When we rely on healthy self-criticism — which has more permeable boundaries than we think, we put a restraint on our present and future.

We allow our mind to ask again and again, what you have done!

Self-criticism creeps its toes out of the healthy boundaries, and one of two things happens: either we numb our pain and disappointment to focus on the present, which only intensifies these emotions, or we attach vulnerability and regret to our memories by veering in the loops of a mistake, choice, or situation.

And, that’s how our memories are formed.

As in his book, The Past is a Foreign Country, author David Lowenthal noted,

“Memories are not ready-made reflections of the past, but eclectic, selective reconstructions based on subsequent actions and perceptions and on ever-changing codes by which we delineate, symbolize, and classify the world around us.”

Our outlook on an incident sears the emotions in our memories. When we wallow in the same picture of a situation, we subconsciously help it to sink deeper into our minds.

“One should never criticize his own work except in a fresh and hopeful mood. The self-criticism of a tired mind is suicide.” — Charles Horton Cooley

As the quote above tells, self-criticism does not guarantee anything as we always approach it from the wrong direction — with a distressed mind.

It only intensifies emotional pain and vulnerability which is the last thing we ever wanted.

So don’t you want to part ways with a thing that does more harm than good?

Self-compassion — the only secret to a better life:

Self-compassion, in essence, is the only way for choosing growth but I learned it the hard way —just because of its rather misinterpreted definition.

Self-compassion may gentle it but it isn’t about being kind and gentle to ourselves; it is about having the heart to face our true selves — to make amends.

To quote self-acceptance from the book The Courage to Be Disliked,

“Accept what is irreplaceable. (…) And have the courage to change what one can change. This is self-acceptance.” Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

And, any investment that takes courage, isn't gentle.

The research findings of Dr. Kristine Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, show the vast majority of people in today’s world are significantly kinder and more compassionate to others than they are to themselves.

For women, it’s 86 percent, and for men, it’s 67 percent.
She noted,

“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

The reason is the opaque and ever-changing definition of self-compassion.

Much of the time we perceive it as being too gentle and soft on ourselves, but how a thing that takes every ounce of courage is soft and kind?

To show compassion as a second part observer is one thing, but to dodge the belittling voices inside our head is completely another — it takes the heart to face and experience difficult emotions — to learn lessons and make amends.

When we face the emotions rather than numbing or encouraging them — we open our hearts to changes — that we need to confront challenges.

When we focus on what we can control, we approach self-reflection in the right direction.

Why do we need to practice self-compassion right now?

Self-compassion especially offers unconditional solace and growth when one is guilt-prone — when one is victimized — when life shows its tainted side.

It glues the chunks of our hearts and lives by filling them with light and love but the bitter truth is: it is difficult to practice self-compassion when life turns us upside down especially if self-compassion hadn't been a part of someone’s inner world.

Self-compassion is not only a way through grief, it is a way through life, for that matter.

It does not require feelings of guilt, loneliness, disappointment, or aloofness. It only needs the courage to choose ourselves.

And, the universe in its subtle signs asks for it, too.

A survey revealed average person will make 773,618 decisions over a lifetime — and will come to regret 143,262 of them. Which, in other words, confirms that you and I make mistakes every day.

Much of the time, we suppress or repress our feelings to clear away the fog around the mind and focus on the moment, but as Daniel Dennett said,

“The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself.” — Daniel Dennett

When we’re conscious to see our mistakes as they are, only then embrace self-improvement and growth; we take responsibility for ourselves and our circumstances to make amends wherever we can.

The Universe offers ample opportunities to practice self-compassion and embrace growth in trivial mistakes you and I make every day.

Unprejudiced self-compassion deepens the connection with our inner being and we know the why of our undertakings.

And, all philosophies of life revolve around defining our why.

Final Thoughts:

No matter how trivial or daunting a situation is, there’s always something that is within our control — the thing that might help to change the track of the situation when we dare to take responsibility.

Self-compassion is all about facing our true selves and situations. When we’re comfortable in uncomfortable zones, we cultivate an authentic growth mindset.

So, now is the best time to practice self-compassion. As John F. Kennedy said,

“Time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” — John F. Kennedy

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