Psychology and Relationships

'Healthy embarrassment' can help you reach your goals next year—here's how, from a Zen teacher

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Every New Year's Eve, millions of people make resolutions to read more, to spend less or to form some new habit that they are just sure will lead to a more satisfied or productive life.

But when they sleep in instead of going to the gym, or impulsively purchase a pricey coat, they can feel defeated and disappointed.

Instead of feeling paralyzed by shame, we should strive to experience a sort of "healthy embarrassment" Koshin Paley Ellison, a Zen teacher and the co-founder of New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, said on the podcast Ten Percent Happier this year. 

"It's really important to have a humble, healthy embarrassment to realizing how while most of us know what we value and care about, we very rarely actually are behaving in those ways," he says. 

Having healthy embarrassment can help us reach our goals in a way that shame can't.

Shame feels 'so personal'

Ellison had this revelation about embarrassment while practicing Buddhism's Noble Eightfold Path. One of the eight paths is called Right View. This is a practice in which you try to understand that suffering is a universal experience, and one that we often bring upon ourselves when our actions don't align with our beliefs.

Let's say your family has a history of poor cardiovascular health and so you resolve to run twice a week. When you opt to sleep in or watch TV, instead, you might feel like this is a distinctive failure.

"In shame, it's almost like it becomes so personal as if there is something wrong with me personally," Ellison says. 

But in reality, humans have always had a hard time carrying out goals no matter how gratifying they might seem. 

"The Eightfold Path was started to be taught almost 2,600 years ago," he says. "So people have been working with this same gunk for at least that long, probably much longer. There is something so freeing just to realize, 'oh, I'm having my experience of distraction just as that last 88 generations have worked with their distractions.'"

Being self-centered 'exacerbates the suffering'

By getting comfortable with your mistakes, you can help yourself grow from them. 

"We have to have a new relationship to our mistakes," Ellison says. 

Instead of "over-personalizing" them, give yourself some grace. You are not the first person in the world to act in a way that doesn't serve them, and you're not going to be the last. 

"The embarrassment  is delightful and humbling to realize we are all going to fall down and get up," he says. 

Understanding this can make you not only more self-aware, but compassionate toward others. 

"When we get so caught up in our own self-consciousness and our own self-centeredness, it exacerbates the suffering," Ellison says. "If we can stay with the embarrassment in a healthy way then we can widen our awareness."

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