A Kinder New Year’s Resolution: Self-Compassion
It’s a tradition to make ambitious resolutions for the new year. This year has been especially tough, with so much stress and uncertainty, and we all want next year to be better. With that in mind, I’m making a different kind of pledge to myself: to work on practicing self-compassion.
We are too hard on ourselves
All too often, we are our own harshest critics. Fail to meet your resolution to exercise EVERY day (Just ignore the pain! You can push through it!) or to completely revamp your diet (NO sugar EVER), and the criticism begins: I’m so lazy, I have no will-power, I’m such an awful person. We are so much harder on ourselves than we would ever be on anyone else. If your friend calls, beating herself up after skipping her workout, you show her some support, right? Remind her that she has made other good choices, that one bad day doesn’t mean she’s a failure, that tomorrow is a new day to begin again. You’d never tell her that bailing on her morning walk makes her a loser. But this is what we often tell ourselves.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion means treating oneself with kindness and acceptance in times of failure and difficulty.1,2 It is a practice that helps us stop the self-criticism, and instead to be more supportive of ourselves. People who practice self-compassion have less stress, depression, and anxiety.3 Young women who did a short practice of self-compassion became more accepting of their bodies.4 People who act with more self-compassion also tend to be better at coping with long-term health problems like inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and chronic pain.5
Where do I start?
Ok, all of that sounds good. We all want less stress! But how do we get there? How to stop the mean voice that starts when we’ve messed up? Is this something we were born with, or can we learn it? Dr. Kristin Neff is one of the leading researchers on this topic, and her work indicates that this IS something we can learn to do better.4 She describes self-compassion as having three interconnected parts:
Mindfulness is step one: simply being aware of our own difficulties, and our tendency to be self-critical, so that we can instead offer kindness to ourselves when we are having a hard time. Self-kindness is a tendency to be caring and understanding to yourself, rather than being harsh and judgmental. Common humanity means recognizing that we are all human. As humans, we all make mistakes and experience challenges. We are not alone in this—it applies to us as well as all other people.
Dr. Neff provides some techniques to help. Her website shares detailed practices (at no cost) to increase our ability to show compassion to ourselves, such as journaling exercises to decrease self-criticism, and to create a more supportive inner voice. She also offers guided meditations like a Compassionate Body Scan and Self-Compassion Break.
The world could use more kindness and generosity. Let’s start by extending those gifts to ourselves.
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