There are a lot of buzzwords swirling around these days about self-care, self-love and mindfulness. You may have some idea of what these words can mean, but you also may find yourself letting them go in and out of our mind as you are busy and don’t have time for one more thing. Trust me, I get it. The last twelve months have been intense, and for many, they continue to be with high demands of your time, effort, and energy. You may find yourself feeling pulled too thin or even feeling frustrated with yourself as you work to keep pushing through unrealistic expectations. This is where the concept of self compassion comes into the conversation. Dr. Kristin Neff is a pioneer in the field of mindfulness and has studied self-compassion extensively. From her definition, self-compassion focuses on self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness, while asking you to ask yourself, “how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?” It works in contrast to self-criticism and research in the field of self-compassion has found that it can increase happiness, improve how we see ourselves and even decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression in some cases.
With that said, I still recognize that we all may be functioning at capacity right now and not have a lot of extra time or energy to dedicate to this practice of self-compassion. Like many of the mindfulness tools I share, I like these concepts because they are simple, can be easily reflected in your current routine and can be practiced as you think about them rather than anything you “have” to do additionally in your day. Here are 3 self-compassion exercises that you can explore this week, and you can find more tools including guided meditations on Dr. Neff’s website:
- Talk to yourself like you would a friend. In this exercise, Dr. Neff asks us to think about a situation in which we are frustrated or speaking/thinking negatively about ourselves. Then she shifts and asks us to think about how we would respond to a friend going through the same situation. Often we find that our response to a friend is less harsh, kinder and more understanding. If you find yourself beating yourself up this week, take a pause and ask yourself, “how would I respond to a friend in this same situation?,” and then give yourself space to practice a gentler, more compassionate response to yourself.
- Notice and change negative self talk. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) we hear about positive and negative self talk as we consider the narratives and messages that we allow into our minds. Within mindfulness, this is a recognition and reflection of the inner critic that can speak negatively to us, about us, and for many has become so commonplace in our minds that we don’t even recognize when it is happening. We may feel the after effects of our inner critic shaming and blaming us, but the act of speaking negatively to ourselves has almost become habit. The exercise of “changing your critical self-talk” is one that you can practice daily although it is a longer term exercise to change your habitual, repetitive self-talk over time from that of criticism to compassion. Practice noticing your self-talk, “catching” when it is critical and when possible, rewrite these messages in a more positive, affirming way.
- Write it out. When you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or self-critical, it can be difficult in those moments to flip the switch from critical to compassionate. Journaling can be an opportunity to practice self-compassionate thought, positive self-talk and explore some of the messages that your mind is telling you in a more neutral space. Giving yourself even 5 minutes a day to write in a journal, reflecting about your day, writing some of the ways that you have talked to yourself in that day, exploring upcoming worries or tasks that feel daunting. All of these are ways that you can nurture self-compassion and build a set up practices that can then kick in the next time you catch your self-critic judging you or you find yourself not talking to yourself as a friend. Non-judgemental acceptance is a concept within mindfulness and I would encourage you to write without judgement. Don’t worry if you are doing it correctly, or even if your penmanship should be better. Whatever you write is the right thing and however you choose to do it is the best way for you in that moment. This tool can help you organize your thoughts and emotions which can help you feel more prepared to use them in your day to day life.
Even as you practice these exercises, give yourself space to not be perfect. Give yourself room to be confused or unsure if you are doing it correctly. Practice encouraging yourself as you would a friend. You may notice, there is quite a bit of overlap in some of these skills and that is because practicing mindfulness and self-compassion are just that, practices. These skills are not a one time occurrence and then you “have it”, but rather an encouragement of simple practices to bring to your mind throughout the day and you work to be more present and tuned in to your mind. This week, as you notice thoughts or feelings come to your awareness, you can check in with yourself and ask, “am I being kind, or am I being critical”, “how would I respond to a friend”, or “what is the message here and how can I change it?” If you have a hard time, give yourself compassion and encouragement to try again with the next thought or situation. I’ll leave you with this, from Dr. Neff’s book Self Compassion: Stop Beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind where she says, “try to feel compassion for how difficult it is to be an imperfect human being in this extremely competitive society of ours. Our culture does not emphasize self-compassion, quite the opposite. We are told that no matter how hard we try, our best just isn’t good enough.” With that in mind, I encourage you to practice the radical act of self-compassion and the counter-culture belief that you are good enough.