Give yourself a break. Stop judging yourself harshly and setting impossible standards you can’t meet. Why wouldn’t you allow yourself the same loving support you give your BFF? Some people resist treating themselves with kindness because they think they don’t deserve it or don’t know how to do it. Despite many people’s worries that self-compassion may also undermine their motivation to work hard and succeed, studies have shown the opposite.
You’ll become stronger and more resilient if you show yourself some love, according to psychologists who have been studying mindful self-compassion for the past decade. You’ll be happier and more self-confident. You’ll suffer from less stress and performance anxiety. Your satisfaction with your body will increase along with your immune function. You’ll be easier to live with.
Kristin Neff, one of the field’s leading researchers, says most of us don’t naturally view ourselves with compassion. “The good news is that it can be learned. It’s a skill anyone can cultivate,” said Dr. Neff, a professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas at Austin.
The first step to learn self-compassion is mindfully acknowledging our pain in a nonjudgmental way. Second, each of us must recognize that we are not alone in our imperfection and that we share our flaws with all humans. And, third, we need to give ourselves the kindness and support we’d give a close friend.
Dr. Neff and her colleague Chris Germer have mapped out steps to learning self-compassion in a workbook published last summer by Guilford Press. Their blueprint, “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook,” outlines an approach to breaking free of harsh self-judgments and impossible standards. The workbook offers guided meditations, informal practice and writing exercises to cultivate emotional well-being.
The workbook is a condensed eight-week mindful self-compassion program that Dr. Neff developed in 2010 with Germer, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. A 2012 small clinical trial demonstrated the program’s effectiveness. The study divided 27 participants into two groups. Half took the course and the other half did not. Improvement in self-compassion, mindfulness and well-being was significant among those who took the course compared to those who didn’t. Even one year after the class ended, they still reported seeing those benefits.
Dr. Neff knows that learning self-compassion takes practice. She’s provided guided meditations and exercises on her website to help you get started. Here are three of those exercises.
How would you treat a friend?
Ask yourself how you treated a friend who was feeling down and discouraged. Maybe she lost a job. Perhaps he failed a mid-term. What did you say to that friend to give them comfort? Next, think about the last time you were struggling. What did you say to yourself? Comparing the two responses will give you a glimpse of how you treat yourself.
Write a self-compassion journal
Write about a problem that’s troubling you. First, write about the painful feelings you’re experiencing. Next, think about someone else who is going through the same struggle. Lastly, write what you would say to a friend going through this same problem.
Give yourself a self-compassion break
Think of a moderately stressful problem. Acknowledge the pain or discomfort the situation is causing you. Remind yourself that you are not alone in struggling, and reach out to a friend or family member for help if needed. Give yourself a mental hug, and give yourself words of encouragement. You deserve it, and you can do it!