Self-compassion exercises soothe your inner critic and help transform your overall health and wellness. When practiced correctly, it will lead you to a healthier and happier version of you. Self-compassion in itself is a better and more effective path to happiness than its counterpart, self-esteem.
It’s that best friend who steps in when you are at your weakest and lovingly guides you out of the darkness. Practicing self-compassion exercises can serve as a foundation for healthy growth and an improved sense of self-worth.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion expert and author Dr. Kristin Neff explains that self-compassionate people lead healthier and more productive lives than those who are self-critical. When you are compassionate toward yourself, you can let go of the debilitating self-critical behaviors. It helps to heal emotional wounds and sets the stage for a positive approach to life and toward yourself.
There are three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Common humanity translates to an understanding of connectedness to others. It’s the ability to recognize that you are not alone. When we can understand that others have shared the same experiences, we are more likely to believe that we can overcome life’s challenges.
Mindfulness is taking a balanced approach to your negative emotions. You want to find a healthy middle ground between being totally consumed by your self-critical behaviors and pretending that nothing is wrong. When you practice mindfulness, you come at yourself from a place of compassion instead of judgment.
Self-kindness is about being kind to yourself when faced with adversity or failure. It’s your willingness to respond to your mistakes by providing compassion and a sense of understanding. Self-kindness requires you to forgive and uplift—not tear yourself down.
How can I practice self-compassion?
Compassion for others may come naturally to some, but for others, it may be challenging when applying that same compassion to oneself. Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. If you see someone experiencing a difficult time, your instinct may be to help.
Did you know that the desire you feel to help others is driven by your ability to feel compassion? At that moment, you are subconsciously recognizing that we are all human beings just trying to make it in this world. Instantly, you transform from observer to healer as your mind incessantly searches for solutions to help the person in need.
Self-compassion is taking those selfless acts of kindness that you show to others and turning them on yourself. Every single time you find yourself struggling, you must consider looking at yourself through the lens of a wise and caring friend. Someone who genuinely cares for you and your overall well-being.
Instead of being self-critical and judging yourself on your failures or shortcomings, you seek first to comfort and understand. It means honoring and accepting your humanness. Viewing yourself through the eyes of compassion means you are better equipped to find, resolve, and reduce self-critical behaviors. When you reframe the way you think, you will make choices that lead to a healthier and happier you.
How can I use self-compassion exercises to nurture a compassionate lifestyle?
Self-compassion is not about making the bad feelings go away. It’s about accepting your flaws, seeing past your insecurities, and learning to embrace all your imperfections so you are better able to give yourself the support and comfort you need to endure the consequences of adversity and pain.
Self-compassion is a new and different approach to relating to yourself. And like any newly learned behavior, practice makes habits stick. Self-compassion exercises are a fabulous way to reinforce self-compassionate behaviors. These exercises will help promote and nurture acts of self-kindness.
Here are samples of three self-compassionate exercises that will help you foster compassionate behaviors toward yourself:
1. Change critical self-talk
For some people, positive self-talk may come naturally, but for others, it requires learning and nurturing a new behavior. This can be a daunting task if you’ve become accustomed to negative self-talk. The first step in changing this narrative is to learn how to recognize the behavior. Here are some tips for calming that critical inner voice.
When are you most likely to be self-critical? Once you can identify when negative self-talk begins to play a starring role in your mind, you can find ways to dispel the negative narratives.
Create and practice exercises that reinforce self-compassion
Consider the language you are using. Do you find yourself repeatedly using negative phrases? Find ways to reframe those thoughts.
For example, when you tell yourself that you are not enough, consider the response you would give to a friend or family member. How would you respond to a loved one? How would you approach the situation? What advice would you give them?
2. Take a self-compassion break
This next self-compassion exercise uses a meditative format. Meditation is a great way to gain clarity. Call to mind a difficult or painful situation that causes you to stress, pause for a moment and tune into your body.
Allow yourself to feel all your emotions, take a breath, and practice the use of mantras to emotionally support and uplift. Self-compassion experts suggest reciting the following phrases because they help reinforce the three elements of self-compassion.
From a place of introspection and self-analysis, begin by saying: “This is a moment of suffering.”
Next, proceed with compassion and recite: “Suffering is a part of life.”
Finally, hone into your body and its sensations, open your heart and mind to all that you are feeling and repeat: “May I be kind to myself.”
3. Explore self-compassion through writing
For those who need to move the conversation from the mind to paper, writing in a journal can be a favorable alternative for exploring emotions. During the self-compassion break, we asked you to call to mind the challenges you are facing. In this self-compassion exercise, we ask that instead, you pen these thoughts to paper.
Here are two writing exercises to (1) help you delve into why you may be your worst critic and (2) how to improve your attitude toward your perceived flaws and inadequacies.
Write a letter to yourself
First, begin by identifying the unhealthy self-evaluative thoughts. Now that you’ve noted the things that make you feel most insecure, you can begin to draft your letter.
When you draft your letter, begin to look at yourself through the eyes of the most compassionate and loving friend that you can conjure up. This friend is all-knowing of your past, your strengths, and your weaknesses, including the insecurities you just noted. As you compose this letter, make sure to come from a place of selfless nurturing, great strength, and deep love toward yourself. The words you write should serve as a powerful message meant to motivate and inspire you to be better today than you were yesterday.
Save this letter and read it often to help remind you of your greatness.
Start a self-compassion journal
We are often times wisest in moments of retrospect. How many times have you looked back on a situation and wished you’d done things differently? The great news is that those moments of introspection allow us to grow and fail forward.
The next time you find yourself wishing you’d handled a situation differently, stop for a moment and write about what you are feeling. For example, “I couldn’t find a way to express my emotions to my partner. Instead, we argued incessantly and talked in circles. I grew angrier the more I realized my partner just didn’t understand.”
Next, write about how your experience is connected to the larger human experience. This might mean acknowledging that you are not perfect and that others have similar experiences.
Finally, be kind to yourself and write something encouraging. For example, “It’s okay that I felt the way I did. Next time I will try to gather my thoughts first before speaking from an emotionally charged state.”
Self-compassion exercises may be difficult at first, but with practice, you will be able to effortlessly be kinder toward yourself. Intentionally cultivating a lifestyle of self-compassion will improve your overall health and wellness. Most importantly, it will lead to an instinctual desire to make the choices that lead you to a happier, healthier, and more productive life.
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