Imagine that one of your friends called you feeling bad about themselves because they hadn’t been able to make it to the gym as much as they had planned. Would you tell them that they’re a failure and they might as well give up now because they’ll never reach their goal? Absolutely not! But how often have you spoken to yourself that way? Often we’re our own worst critics and that can really hold us back from the changes we’re trying to make. So how do we work on silencing that negative voice in our minds? One way is by practicing more self-compassion.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion consists of the following three components:
Self-kindness. Self-kindness means being supportive and understanding towards yourself, just as you would be to a friend. Instead of being critical, recognize that you’re doing the best you can in a given situation.
Common humanity. Common humanity means recognizing that everyone fails or gets it wrong at some point. When things aren’t going well, we often think we’re the only person struggling, which leaves us feeling isolated. Recognizing that we all struggle allows us to feel less alone when we’re going through difficult circumstances.
Mindfulness. When we are mindful of our negative thoughts we notice them, without judgment and can keep from getting caught up in an adverse reaction. Mindfulness also helps us keep confusing these negative thoughts with our identity. For example, you may feel bad about not going to the gym but that doesn’t make you a failure as a person.
Now you might be thinking that practicing self-compassion means you’ll end up unmotivated because you’ll stop putting pressure on yourself to succeed. Actually, research shows there are benefits to this practice. Self-compassion actually helps build emotional resilience over time and makes you happier, more productive, and more confident. Think of it as being your own coach rather than a critic.
Here is an exercise to help you practice more self-compassion by looking at how you talk to others compared to how you talk to yourself. You can find this exercise and others at www.self-compassion.org. I think this is a great way to look at how you talk to others and show compassion to them versus how you talk to yourself. Take out a sheet of paper and answer the following questions:
- First, think about times when a close friend feels really bad about him or herself or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation (especially when you’re at your best)? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you typically talk to your friends.
- Now think about times when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you talk to yourself.
- Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?
- Write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.
The next time you feel the critical self-talk coming on, why not try treating yourself like a friend instead.