Last week we explored noticing the mode we are in during moments of our day. What did you discover?
You may have noticed that noticing can be a challenge. Especially when there is some form of mental or physical discomfort, it doesn’t take too long to look for a distraction. The second part to mindfulness, kindness and compassion, provides a valuable resource for staying mindful through it all.
Being kind and compassionate to others comes easier than giving it to ourselves. Yet, to truly practice mindfulness, we also need to practice self-compassion.
Over the past decade a strong body of research has shown self-compassion is linked with:
- less anxiety and depression
- emotional intelligence, wisdom and life satisfaction
- feelings of social connection
- happiness and optimism
- curiosity and creativity
- enthusiasm and inspiration
- help in dealing with chronic pain
- help with coping in difficult times
- adopting and sustaining healthy habits
That last benefit, as you can imagine, really captured my attention. Research shows practicing self-compassion resulted in more personal initiative to change for the better and boosts confidence in ability to sustain change. Self-compassionate people have less fear of failure, but when they do fail, they’re more likely to try again. Self-compassion research on specific health behaviors shows it helps with sticking to one’s diet, reducing smoking, and exercising regularly. I have yet to see one article that self-criticism provides all of these benefits.
Being kind to ourselves is no easy task. Our brains have a negativity bias to keep us safe – looking for what is wrong is the default. Self-compassion is made more challenging in a culture where we see it as selfish and weak. Our culture even promotes self-criticism as a way to motivate.
How is it working for us? Think about a person critical of you. Then think about someone kind to you. Who are you more motivated to help when they need it?
It’s time we let go of the idea that self-criticism is a way to motivate, that self-kindness is selfish, wimpy, weak or a cop-out. Let’s drop the ‘no pain, no gain’ approach and start practicing what is proven. The research on self-kindness and compassion is clearly telling us there is a better way of approaching healthy changes.
How do we turn the tide? We already have the skill of being kind and compassionate to others. The practice, then, is to turn that inward to ourselves. It is common to find this uncomfortable at first, so give yourself time and support.
One proven tool for developing self-compassion is loving kindness meditation. This is a very simple mindful self-compassion practice. There are many variations, so I encourage you to adapt this to what brings you a sense of ease with caring for yourself. Below is a short version to try:
Activate It: Continue noticing which mode you are in this week, adding the layer of self kindness and compassion. When the alarm mode kicks in, try imagining how you would be with a good friend who is going through the same thing. When possible, place a hand on your heart and simply say to yourself “I wish you well.” Writing down what you notice is a tool for support in this skill as well.
May You Be Well,
Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC