Last week in my blog I talked about the benefits to ourselves and others when we do kind acts. I challenged you to do a kind act every day for a week. This week's blog is in the spirit of inspiration for the kindness challenge, starting with yourself first.
The Buddhist nun Pema Chodrin says “Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.” In western culture, being kind or compassionate to ourselves can be much harder than being kind to others. Just listen to your inner voice the next time you make a mistake. Does it say something like “That’s Ok, we all make mistakes.” Or is it more like “How could you be so stupid, you loser!” I know my inner voice is not always kind and understanding.
One of our biggest barriers to being compassionate to ourselves is that we believe in order to motivate ourselves, to whip ourselves into shape, we need to be self-critical. This is one reason we say things like “how can you be so stupid” when we make a mistake. Underneath this self- criticism is the belief that there is something wrong with me if I fail, therefore I have to do well. In fact, this kind of self-criticism can lead us to lose faith in ourselves, to not want to try for fear of failing, and even to feel depressed.
What is Self Compassion?
Self-compassion is about accepting yourself as you are, with love and kindness. It’s about wanting health and well-being for yourself. Kristen Neff with the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas has spent years doing research on self-compassion. She talks about three components of self-compassion. First, is kindness to yourself, which is about treating yourself with care, and comforting and soothing yourself when you are suffering rather than judging and criticizing yourself. Second, is connecting to our common humanity. Seeing your suffering as part of the larger human experience rather than thinking of yourself as the only one that has done or experienced such a thing. Third, is mindfulness, meaning to allow ourselves to be with the difficult feelings we are having rather than pushing them away or moving into problem solving.
Benefits of Self-Compassion
Kristen Neff reports that research shows self-compassion helps us have more motivation and to be more likely to try again when we fail. It helps us to take better care of our health, to take more personal accountability for our actions, and to be more resilient in the face of challenges. In fact, self-compassion can even improve your relationships! Since you are meeting more of your needs for yourself, you have more to give others and you can be more caring and intimate. That’s a pretty impressive list of reasons to be more compassionate with ourselves!
Tips For Self-Compassion
So how can you be kind to yourself the next time you make a significant mistake?
Think about what you would say to a dear friend who made a mistake, and then treat yourself like that dear friend.
Remind yourself that you are not alone, others are struggling too.
Tune in to what you are feeling. You may want put your hand on your heart, or wherever you are feeling pain and breath into it. This can be soothing, and can allow us the space to be with the feeling.
And if this is hard, be kind to yourself about that. It takes courage to face difficult emotions and with practice we can learn.
I encourage you take the challenge to do kind acts every day for a week, and to start with being kind to yourself. How does it feel to receive and to spread that goodness?
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