5 reasons we should all practice self-compassion
Self-compassion is treating yourself the way you would treat a loved one. It involves being kind to yourself, recognizing that everyone makes mistakes, and being able to gently notice your feelings without exaggerating them.
Imagine if your spouse or friend came to you for support after having a bad day. Maybe work didn't go well, or they just can't seem to quit smoking. As their friend, you would likely listen and provide encouragement. Now imagine you're the one that had a bad day or are struggling to change a behavior. Do you encourage yourself like you do your loved ones? Do you accept the struggles and mistakes in yourself the same way you do in those who are important to you? If not, there is compelling evidence that you need to. Studies have shown that when people accept that no one is perfect, they report less feelings of stress and depression.
Too often, people think that criticizing themselves will motivate them to change, to lose weight or give up cigarettes. But, do you think it is easier to change behaviors when you encourage or belittle your efforts? When you are criticized, the natural response is to feel defensive. In this case, you feel defensive against yourself. But when you are compassionate toward yourself, you break down the defenses and create a safe environment to try something different or to ask for support when you need it. It isn’t that you lower your expectations, you just don’t beat yourself up and are more willing to keep trying.
In the past decade, there has been a lot of research done on self-compassion. The results have shown that people who are self-compassionate are more likely to:
- have healthier behaviors including exercising, eating healthier and seeing their doctor regularly
- cope with difficult situations better including changes at work, dealing with chronic pain and trauma
- take responsibility for their actions and find solutions to problems
- have better mental health
- have greater self-confidence and less fear of failure
So how do you learn to be more compassionate to yourself? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Pay attention to your internal messages. Every time you have a negative thought about yourself make a mark on a piece of paper so you see how much it is happening. You will likely be quite surprised at how harshly you "talk" to yourself.
Give yourself encouragement. Think about what you would tell a friend in your situation and direct those compassionate responses now toward yourself.
Observe without judging. Consider your own thoughts, feelings and actions without criticism. When you can look at a process without judgment or emotion, it is easier to find a solution. Be patient with yourself. Changing your thought process and behaviors takes time and effort. With practice you will more naturally provide the support you need to live a healthier life.