Self-compassion is an important part of overcoming addiction, losing weight, or making any kind of change in your life. American culture tends to emphasize self criticism; we’re driven to be hard on ourselves in order to make lasting change instead of approaching change from a place of self-compassion. People may mistake self-compassion with self indulgence, pity, or overly permissive behavior where making excuses is prioritized over taking responsibility. Research from neuroscience, however, shows that people who practice self-compassion get more done and are able to sustain their work better than those who don’t practice self-compassion.
So what is self-compassion? Dr. Kristen Neff identifies three parts of self-compassion. The first part is self-kindness or the act of being kind to yourself. This includes being understanding and nurturing instead of harshly critical and judgemental of yourself. You are honest and clear about your faults but accepting and tolerant of them while seeking to do better. Self-kindness should not be confused with destructive pleasure seeking. When you are kind to yourself, you don’t engage in behaviors that don’t nurture the body or soul. You choose things which truly make you feel better and support you during dark times.
The second component of self-compassion is common humanity or the realization that it’s not just you–everyone makes mistakes and feels inadequate at times. If you see yourself as part of the whole instead of a isolated outcast, you are less likely to engage in the “poor me” pitfall of self indulgence.
Mindfulness makes up the third portion of self-compassion. Mindfulness is a state of non-judgemental awareness and self observation. How does one develop mindfulness? A great way to become more mindful and tuned in is to spend 3-5 minutes a day working on deep belly breathing in a quiet relaxed state, allowing your mind to focus on nothing more than the breath. This allows you to tune in to your body.
Start to note your internal dialogue, which is the voice in your head running commentary all day long. Is your dialogue helpful? Or is it overly critical and and telling you that you are “screwing up”? How can you change the dialogue to serve you and not cut yourself down? One way is to focus on the process of what you’re trying to accomplish instead of the desired outcome. Instead of being overly critical if you don’t achieve your expected reward, honor your deeper values and accept that the process is rarely, if ever, perfect.
Self-compassion is not an excuse to let yourself off the hook, ignore real problems, or be overly self-centered. People who integrate self-compassion tactics during life changes find they can regulate their feelings, experience less stress, and have less reactive behavior. To quote John O’Donahue, “when you are compassionate with yourself, you trust in your soul, which will let you guide your life. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny better than you do.”