Many of us can be very hard on ourselves when we fail or make mistakes. At the very moment we are feeling bad, a critical voice kicks in and makes it worse. But research is showing that people who learn to be more self compassionate towards themselves are happier, more optimistic, more resilient and more helpful to others. Research is also showing that high levels of self-criticism contribute to depression, stress, and a reduced ability to cope with life’s difficulties.
Self-compassion means being supportive and encouraging to ourselves in the face of life’s difficulties. It means being caring towards ourselves in the same way we would naturally be caring to a close friend, a child, or a beloved pet who is suffering. It means understanding our common humanity and that all of us make mistakes and fail sometimes. Self compassion reminds us that while suffering is a part of life, so is caring. Caring about someone who is suffering (including ourselves) evokes compassion.
Some people are afraid that if they stop being critical with themselves they won’t be motivated to change or improve. But the curious paradox is that when you start accepting yourself just as you are, you are better able to change and improve.
Just imagine that you had a choice between hiring one of two trainers in the gym. One is always pointing out shortcomings, calling names, looking at failures, judging, and criticizing you. The other is looking for strengths and capabilities, building on strengths, and supporting and encouraging your growth. Which would you chose? Unfortunately for many of us, our default setting is the critical coach. Self compassion is a way to hire the better coach to work with us.
Even if we grew up in a very critical household or aren’t naturally self compassionate, it is possible to learn. If we want to be happier, we can start being kinder and friendlier to ourselves right now.
Happiness Practice 1: The Self-Compassionate Letter.
People are more experienced at being kind and accepting to friends, so writing the letter as though it was from someone else makes it easier to do. And stepping aside from the first person (“I”) into the third person (“you”) helps us find a more balanced perspective. It’s as though we are looking at ourselves from the outside.
- Choose something that’s caused you difficulty or makes you feel insecure, not good enough, or embarrassed. Perhaps a regret from the past of something you did or didn’t do.
- Set aside some time and write a letter to yourself as though you were a wise, caring and compassionate friend. Imagine being a kind, compassionate, loving and generous friend while writing this letter to yourself.
- Remember that others have shared similar difficulties at times, and you’re not alone.
- Consider the difficulties you’ve gone through in your life.
- Remember that we all make mistakes as we’re learning
- In a caring and loving way, see if there are things you can suggest that could help you improve and grow as you move forward.
- After you’ve written your letter, put it away for a little while. Come back to it later and read it as though it’s a letter that you’ve received it from someone else. It may be helpful to read it whenever you’re feeling critical of yourself.
Happiness Practice 2: A Self Compassion Break
- Think of a situation in your life that is causing your stress, anxiety or difficulty in your life.
- Put a hand on your chest or heart. Validate the difficulty. “This hurts. This is painful. This is suffering”
- Feel the warmth of your hand Offer yourself warmth and compassion. “I care about this pain. I care about this suffering. I’m sorry I’m hurting. May I care about, love and accept myself just as I am.”
Research shows that it is possible to change our brains for the better, and that we can increase happiness, kindness and connection in our lives through small, repeated exercises and practices. These two simple self-compassion exercises are a good way to start right now. Try them out as an experiment and see how they work for you.