Are you very good at being very hard on yourself? It’s not just you. In the US, work culture often emphasizes achievement, self-criticism, and comparison. You may be in an organization that stack ranks employees annually and your compensation depends on climbing the ladder.
As we start the new year, I encourage you to consider starting a practice of self-compassion and kindness. Self-compassion is medicine for the stress and anxiety you may experience day to day. It’s an essential, though often overlooked, part of mental and emotional well-being.
Self-compassion means treating yourself with the same care that you might offer to a dear friend or a child who is struggling. It involves acknowledging your own suffering without judgment or criticism and responding with empathy and kindness. I like to think of it as “being friendly to yourself.”
Years ago, I adopted a practice from Dr. Kristen Neff’s book, “Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” When I am suffering, I repeat this mantra over and over: “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is a part of life. I can be kind to myself and others at this time.”
This mantra requires that I first acknowledge that I am suffering. This hasn’t always been easy for me. I often tell myself to suck it up and get going again — though that is not what I would tell a friend who was hurting. So, stopping to acknowledge that I’m hurting is step one.
Then, normalizing it. “Suffering is a part of life.” I’m human. I suffer. Others suffer.
The last line in the mantra is the one that saves me: “I can be kind to myself and others.” With that conviction, I can then figure out what I need to do or not do to practice kindness. It’s a game changer.
As part of this process, I often think of the acronym HALT, asking myself, are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? A lot of times, I just need a snack or a rest. Or a good conversation with a friend or colleague. All of this can restore me to being my generous, good-natured self again.
The Building Blocks of Self-Compassion
Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneering researcher in the field of self-compassion, has identified three key components of self-compassion:
- Self-Kindness: Instead of berating yourself for perceived failures or shortcomings, self-compassion encourages you to be gentle and understanding, as you would with a friend facing a similar challenge.
- Common Humanity: Recognizing that suffering is a universal human experience, self-compassion reminds us that you are not alone in your struggles. This fosters connection and empathy with others.
- Mindfulness: Self-compassion involves a sensible awareness of your emotions, neither suppressing nor exaggerating them. Mindfulness helps you approach your feelings with clarity and acceptance.
As mentioned above, practicing self-compassion can have a profound impact on mental and emotional well-being. Research bears this out, and it also shows that self-compassion is connected to lower levels of stress and anxiety. When you treat yourself with kindness and understanding, you are less likely to fixate on negative thoughts and more likely to engage emotional resilience, enabling you to bounce back from setbacks and failures more quickly. Self-compassion is also associated with higher self-esteem. By accepting your imperfections and being kind to yourself, you develop a more positive self-image.
Here are three simple steps to get started on the road to a healthier, kinder, and less stressful year:
- Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Notice when self-criticism arises and gently redirect your focus toward self-kindness and understanding.
- Replace harsh self-talk with words of encouragement and support. Treat yourself with the same compassion you would offer a close friend.
- Prioritize self-care to cultivate physical and emotional well-being. This might include exercise, eating well, and taking time for things that bring you joy.Bottom of Form
Now’s the perfect time to begin a practice of self-compassion. Our world is hurting right now. Be a part of the kindness revolution.