Be kind to yourself: How self-compassion can improve your resiliency
Medically reviewed on December 29, 2016
Self-compassion means accepting yourself as the imperfect person that you are. When you embrace the idea that you'll never be perfect, you can accept that mistakes are an important part of your life's journey that contribute to who you are. Being kinder to yourself also boosts your resiliency and makes you kinder and more compassionate toward others.
The average adult brain creates approximately 70,000 thoughts each day. If you could pay attention to all of them, what would they say? Chances are your brain doesn't tell you how fantastic you look in those jeans, how brilliant your presentation was or what an amazing parent you are — that's not how your brain is designed. The brain is designed to seek out threat, keep you safe from danger and protect you. As a result, your brain focuses on the negative:
- It seeks out what's wrong instead of what's right.
- It holds on to negative events and feelings more than positive ones.
- It tells you that if you were just this or just that, if you could try a little harder, then things would be better.
How can you counteract this natural tendency toward the negative? One answer is self-compassion. This takes intention and effort. Try these three key concepts identified by self-compassion researcher Kristin D. Neff, Ph.D.:
- Be kind in the face of your own suffering. Being nice to yourself is especially important when you are suffering, feeling inadequate or are disappointed in yourself. Some people believe that negative self-talk — such as telling yourself, "you are such a loser" — will somehow motivate them to do better next time. In fact, it does just the opposite. Talking to yourself in a positive way during difficult times can make you more resilient and better able to tackle new goals instead of wallowing in your failures.
- Acknowledge your humanity. Recognize and accept that everyone suffers — it's a part of the shared experience of life and of being human. When you understand this, you have less of a tendency to think that you are the only one who faces difficult times. Adopting this viewpoint will help you recognize that you're not alone in your suffering. This will open you up to showing compassion toward others.
- Practice mindfulness. Notice your own suffering. In today's world, it's easy to be a master of distraction, turning to television, music, cellphones, alcohol or drugs to quiet any internal suffering. However, suffering doesn't leave when you put a mask on it or stuff it down beyond your awareness. Being mindful and acknowledging your struggles — without judgment — allows you to find compassion for yourself.
Loving kindness meditation
If you're not sure how to practice self-compassion, try a loving kindness meditation. Here's one you can do alone or with a partner. Set aside five to 10 minutes each day to practice. Start by choosing a verbal affirmation that is meaningful to you. Here are some examples:
- May I be happy.
- May I be healthy.
- May I be kind to myself.
- May I experience love and joy.
- May I live life to the fullest extent.
- May I accept myself, just as I am.
- May I feel peace and contentment.
Next, sit comfortably in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Allow your spine to grow tall toward the ceiling, then relax your shoulders. Place your hands in a comfortable position that feels supportive. Take a few deep breaths. With full intention, repeat your chosen affirmation.
As you continue to practice, feel free to extend these well-wishes to others. It may feel awkward or even silly at first, but allow yourself to explore the idea.
Spend some time this week reflecting on the concept of self-compassion. Whether it's a new concept for you or something you actively practice, there's likely room for improvement. What challenges do you have? At what points in your life has it been particularly difficult to be kind to yourself? How can you prepare yourself to be more self-compassionate in the future?