A Surprising Way to Accomplish Your Goals

This blog post first appeared over at www.allisonvesterfelt.com - you can read more about Allison there! 

I’ve been trying an experiment lately. It’s really off-the-wall. Truly. It goes like this: I’m being nice to myself. And it’s having some really surprising consequences (at least surprising to me).

I’m accomplishing more.

Photo Credit: Oleh Slobodeniuk, Creative Commons

I figured the opposite would be true, honestly. I figured, if I was nice to myself, I’d probably accomplish less. I’d probably end up laying around all day eating Bon-Bons or something. But the longer I conduct this experiment the more I realize I was wrong.

The nicer I am to myself, the more I get done.

The idea for the experiment came from a realization I had recently that, if a friend treated me the way I treated myself, I would not be friends with her anymore. Honestly. I would ditch her in a heartbeat. And yet I continued to treat myself like that, day after day—chastising myself for not achieving more, never being satisfied with my own accomplishments, rarely allowing myself permission to rest or relax.

When I asked myself why I talked to myself this way, the thought that quickly came to mind shocked me. it went like this: “If I don’t talk to myself like this, I’ll never get anything done.”

Really? I didn’t even realize I thought that, but I suppose I did.

The way I figured, if I was nice to myself—if I just let myself “go with the flow” so to speak—I would  never work out, never get much work done, never clean my house, and just generally end up living in squalor. It might sound ridiculous to you, but I was pretty convinced of it.

So, just to test it, I decided to do this experiment.

It’s nothing earth-shattering. In fact, I didn’t even tell many people I was doing it. I just decided that, when my alarm went off at 5:00am to do my work, if I didn’t want to get up, I wouldn’t do it. When it came time during the day to go for my usual run, if I didn’t want to go, I wouldn’t do it.

And at several points during the day, I would tell myself nice things I thought about myself, like, “you should be proud of yourself for writing 2000 words today. That’s a huge accomplishment,” or “Good for you for taking the day off of running. Your body probably needed the rest.”

When I wasn’t sure what nice thing to say to myself, I imagined what my husband would say to me, what my mom or dad would say to me, or what my friends would say about me if asked to say something nice about me off-the-cuff.

I even congratulated myself for being nice to myself.

And you know what has happened? It’s the strangest thing.

Most days, I went running anyway. Most days, I woke up at 5am anyway (I’m a morning person). Some days I didn’t, but most days I did. And on the days I didn’t, I allowed myself to really relish the opportunity to sleep in a few extra hours. I curled up close to my husband, and cherished those moments.

On the days I decided not to go running, I didn’t punish myself with harsh words or counting calories. Instead, I ate cake. Or whatever I felt like eating, until I was satisfied. I enjoyed every minute.

The world didn’t fall apart. Even my life didn’t fall apart.

Somehow my work all got completed—sometimes not as quickly as it would have before, but sometimes even more quickly, and almost always better quality.

It turns out the fear and shame-based tactics I was using on myself weren’t as effective as I thought.

It’s funny. We recognize these tactics as destructive when they’re inflicted by other people. I mean, they work for awhile. This is why we use them. But after some time passes, resentment builds and and anger grows and, even if our behavior is “obedient,” our hearts are rebellious and hard and we don’t reap any of the fruit of our seemingly noble actions.

Still, these are the tactics we use on ourselves.

I can’t help but wonder: why?

Usually, I have some elaborate New Year’s Resolution—something big I hope to accomplish.

And actually, this has worked out well for me in the past. In 2011 I wanted to run a marathon, and I did it. In 2012, I wanted to launch Prodigal Magazine, and I did it. In 2013, I wanted to write a book, and I did.

But this year, I’m doing something different.

This year, I just want to be nice to myself.


I don’t really care what I accomplish. I mean, I do care. But I care more about how I treat myself. And I think treating myself well might just be the road to accomplishing more than I ever dreamed or imagined.