Self Compassion and Where to Find it: One of my Strategies for Sustained Academic Performance
Imagine yourself as two people. One is the tangible you: the one who gets up, eats, speaks, and works through the day. The person that people see. The other is your internal commenter: the monkey on your back that analyzes, criticizes, and has the power to control your emotions. The person that people don’t see. How does your commenter treat you? Is the dialogue kind and empathetic, or is it presumptuous and judgemental? If your commenter were a real person, would you want to share a relationship with them?
The Toxic Relationship You Can't Drop
If you’re anything like me, the natural tendency is for the commenter to dish out a steady stream of criticism. If there was any person in our lives nearly as harsh and negative as our commenters, we’d cut them out immediately. Like any toxic relationship, this caustic internal dialogue causes stress, dominates daily thoughts, and undermines positive experiences. Layer this with an imperative to learn bookfulls of information every week, and you have the perfect recipe for the mental suffering that I and so many students like me have experienced. The negativity drains motivation to study. The lack of studying harms results. The results compound the negativity. You know the drill.
Mental turmoil is certainly exhausting, but it’s not all bad. In fact, it might be an indicator of untapped potential. Obviously there are numerous factors that contribute to mental health, but research consistently shows that more intelligent people are more likely to experience mental struggle. Just as an athlete who begins with genetic potential and must groom their body for years to reach peak performance and efficiency, so too a great mind must be tamed and perfected before it can be used constructively and not destructively.
An Old Tool that Still Works
No matter how many times we hear worn out remarks like ‘be easier on yourself’ from friends and family members, the bad behaviour of the commenter seems outside of any control. Training and improving the body has never been more popular, but tools that tame the psyche which have existed for thousands of years are just beginning to be used by the wider society. I was introduced to meditation several months ago, and the results of a simple ten-minute practice every evening have surprised me. To me, meditation is about two things: objectivity and kindness. Being objective can release you from your commenter and the opinions of others. Fostering a kind approach, both towards yourself and other people, gives positive emotions the opportunity to root themselves in your daily life.
Silencing, Observing, and Existing
Like exercise, meditation takes regular practice, and the results appear slowly. Unlike exercise, meditation only works when you release the idea of an end goal and simply exist in the present for a short while. In our technologically saturated world, I think blasting the latest hit in our headphones and hitting the treadmill comes more naturally than taking away all stimulation and gently observing our thoughts. As difficult as it may seem at first, slowing down in this way every day is the best strategy I’ve found to quiet the chatter and begin to direct the whole of my mental power into everything I do.
Guided mediations are how I started a daily practice. I began with Headspace Guide to Mediation on Netflix. It incorporates real-life stories and the science behind meditation along with a guided practice at the end of each episode... a great place to start if you're interested!