I was 20 – an ambitious, hard-charging-perfectionist – when I was given a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. MS is a neurological disease whose symptoms may include fatigue, tingling, and paralysis. My initial response was to try to be “more perfect” in order to “beat” the disease. I went on a strict diet, tried to meditate, exercised carefully, and attempted to avoid stress. All of those might have been healthy responses except for the spirit in which I did them. My already Hulk-like inner critic (sometimes I call it “my monsters”) got louder and harsher.

After 10 years of (metaphorical) self-flagellation and running from the disease, I exhaustedly gave up. I turned toward the disease and began to discover how I might best live in my changed body. Self-compassion was the key.

Crafting a kind promise

One of the tools I use for practicing self-compassion is the “kind promise.” it’s a simple phrase that I can use to remind myself of a gentler choice I can make. It’s a way to relax and disarm the inner critic. It works like this:

First, notice a repeating situation that bugs you and activates those negative voices that run you down. My most recent example of this is feeling tired and disheartened. My monsters started right in: “it’s your own fault. If you had any imagination, you find a way to pull yourself out of this slump. Stop being so self-absorbed!”

Ask yourself, “how would I like to respond in moments like these? Who do I want to be?”

The format of the promise is “I will [action word] [adverb or descriptive phrase].” For example, “I will forgive with wild abandon,” or “I will love without keeping score,” or “I will ask for and accept help gracefully.” Other examples are on the Kind Promises page

When I am feeling forlorn and uninspired, I want to give my mind, body, and spirit some TLC and gently rekindle my energy flame. (I’ve been exploring the “how-to” possibilities here and here.) So…

I will nurture my energy tenderly.

I considered a variety of words. “Cultivate” seems good, because I liked the image of a patient gardener, but it seemed a little too structured. I also thought about “nourish.” It seemed to focus on adding something, when I wanted to think about recognizing the ebb and flow of energy.

I used the adverb “tenderly” because I don’t want to criticize myself when my energy dissipates. I want to do what I can to maintain and enjoy it, while loving and understanding my body as it lives with the shadow of illness.

Now, when I feel like I’m in the doldrums, I can bring this promise to mind and respond with compassion.

What recurring message do you hear from your inner critic? How can you respond to it with compassion? What would your kind promise be?