Nearly every moment of every day your mind is a chatterbox. It is always thinking, judging, feeling, reflecting, pondering, or analyzing ….whether you want it to or not.
This self-talk is often judging the world around us and more often than not judging ourselves. And for the most part, this self-talk isn’t terribly kind. Are you hard on yourself? Are you your own worst critic? Do you beat yourself up for not achieving this, that, or the other thing?
I used to regularly beat myself up for so many different things. More on that below! But then I learned a new way to related to myself -self compassion- which frankly transformed how I looked and interacted with the world around me. Read on to understand the science behind it and how you can establish your own practice in a matter of minutes.
Self-compassion is related to your well-being
Maybe you put pressure on yourself because you think that is the way to get things done. How you “talk” to yourself (that internal dialogue) is terribly important to how you feel.
This might surprise you but self-compassion (aka treating yourself like a good friend) can reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, there is a strong relationship between self-compassion and well-being. There are nearly 1000 studies at this point showing the health benefits of self-compassion. They show that the practice of self-compassion leads to less anxiety, less depression, more happiness, greater happiness, and greater coping skills.
Don’t confuse self-compassion with self-pity. Self-pity reinforces our victimhood which brings more hopelessness and action. When we pity ourselves, our options seem more limited and we are focused on the past and how it can define our future.
Why aren’t we more self-compassionate?
Unfortunately, our culture creates one of the biggest blocks to self-compassion. The research says people think self-compassion will somehow undermine our motivation. In other words, if we are kind to ourselves, things won’t get done. Guess what? The research shows the exact opposite.
When we are hard on ourselves, this leads to performance anxiety which leads to failure and giving up.
Instead, researchers have found that if you have a mindset that embraces, “It’s human to fail, it’s part of the experience” you are more likely to pick yourself up and try again.
But too often, we shame ourselves and blame ourselves when things go wrong. We are often some of the most compassionate people to others but not ourselves!
My own self-compassion story
When I was young, I used to be painfully shy. I grew to be extremely tall at a young age and was embarrassed about my body. In many ways, I hated what I looked like and eventually became my own worst critic. Along the way, I developed a harsh attitude toward myself. And yet, I could be incredibly compassionate toward others. That harsh attitude made me ambitious and so I thought it was a practical part of my “success.”
Outwardly, I appeared confident and together. But inwardly I was constantly beating myself up for not being good enough.
It has only been within the last 10 years, that I have realized how important self-compassion is to my well-being. Now that I treat myself like I would a close friend, I feel better and am still successful and ambitious.
Building a practice of self-compassion.
OK, so maybe your thinking, “This is all fine and good but what does it mean to practice self-compassion?”
Anyone can learn this skill. Guess what? Self-compassion is a portable therapy!
Dr. Kristin Neff who pioneered the research into self-compassion lays out 4 key components:
- Treating ourselves with kindness
- Being actively motivated to help ourselves.
- Recognizing that we and all people are imperfect.
- Having the courage and presence to be with our difficult emotions.
Want to know how self compassionate you are? Take this test.
Three simple steps
When you have that moment of feeling pain, struggle, discomfort, anxiety, or frustration, pull out this handy list:
- Become mindful of how your feeling and acknowledge what is going on. Remember to say, “I’m really struggling. I’m having a hard time right now.” Just notice what is happening. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Don’t fight those feelings. When you allow these feelings, you can process these feelings and move to acceptance.
- Remind yourself you are human. This is normal. You aren’t alone. This is part of life. How you feel is how so many other people feel.
- Say a few words of kindness to yourself. Actually treat yourself as you would a friend. In your mind, you can actually use supportive language. If things are really bad give yourself a hug (really!). This transforms your relationship with yourself.
Here is a short meditation you can actually say to yourself to do Step #3 above. I was incredibly surprised when I actually said these words aloud to myself and how it evoked a surprising amount of emotion within me. Try it.
May you live with ease
May you be happy
May you be free from pain
Tools for you
Virtually everything you need can be found for free at Dr. Neff’s website: Self-compassion.org. Here you can find:
A free video series – The Power of Self-Compassion – that walks you through everything you need to know.
- Eight different exercises that will help you more deeply explore the practice. For example, this incredibly helpful exercise where you write a letter to yourself as if you were a supportive friend
- Guided meditations
- And finally, if you want to know how self-compassionate you are, you can take this test.
A final word. There might be a little voice within you that is saying this is a waste of time or that you aren’t worthy of self-compassion. Let me suggest that maybe if you are still reading this that you should at least try this super easy practice out.
Remember that to transform ourselves to feel better, we need to understand ourselves first. This is the ability to be with ourselves as impact human beings.
What is your story on self-compassion?