People sometimes say, “I understand what self-compassion IS, but I don’t know how to DO self-compassion.” Self-compassion is not generally something that you physically do (although it can be sometimes}. Self-compassion is more of a way of thinking … it is a positive attitude that you have towards yourself. You will find that many self-compassion practices require only your mind and your heart. Below is one way in which you can develop more self-compassion:
Identify Harmful Self-Talk
We all engage in dialogs in our minds. Some people are self-critical and hard on themselves. A good way to adopt self-compassion is by not talking harshly to yourself. Self-criticism is destructive and self-defeating. Are you usually hard on yourself when you make a mistake, don’t do what you intended to do, or things just don’t go how you had planned? Here are some examples of negative, defeating self-talk:
How could I be so stupid?
I can’t do anything right!
Why didn’t I do something different?
I’m not good at anything.
I should have known that it would never work out for me!
Replace Negative Self-Talk with Positive Self-Talk
Adopt self-talk that is encouraging, understanding, supportive and kind. When you catch your internal dialog rambling in a negative direction, stop what you are thinking and replace those thoughts with encouraging remarks:
I’m human and I made a mistake, what can I learn from this?
I am generally good at what I do, and I usually try my best.
I can’t blame myself for unforeseen circumstances.
This is so disappointing!
Develop Awareness of Your Thoughts
Before you can change what you are thinking, you must become aware of how you are thinking. Become more aware of your thoughts by thinking about what you are thinking about. Catch yourself at negative thinking or self-talk. Before any emotional experience, thoughts have occurred. We are apt to notice feelings more so than our thoughts. Feelings are a gateway by which you can become more aware of your thoughts. If you are feeling a negative emotion, there are negative thoughts in your mind. Identify thoughts by asking yourself, “What am I feeling, and why do I feel this way?” You will discover that you are creating negative feelings by the way you are talking to yourself in your mind. This will take practice and patience. When we have been running on autopilot for years, thought changes cannot happen overnight.
Develop positive phrases to replace the negative thoughts. Begin with the positive list above. Customize it, add to it, and make it specific to your life and your circumstances.
#1. I’m feeling lonely and down on myself. None of my friends like me. No one calls me, and no one asks if I want to hang out. (Pause, become aware of negative thought pattern, decide to be more of a friend to yourself.) This way of thinking is only making me feel worse. My friends have busy lives; we all do. Maybe they are so busy they haven’t had a chance to call. They might be lonely too. Friendships are two-way streets so I think I’ll give my friends a call and try to arrange a time when we can get together.
#2. I am so stupid! I left the milk on the kitchen counter all night and now it’s spoiled. What an idiot!! (Deep breath) What would I say to a friend? You are human and you make mistakes. This happens to many people and it’s not the end of the world. I’ll try to take a quick look in the kitchen each night before I go to bed just to double-check that nothing perishable has been left on the counter. I can pick up some fresh milk on my way home from work today. Maybe I’ll get some cookies to go with it!
Be Your Own Best Friend
The basic approach to self-compassion is treating yourself like you would treat a friend. If what you are saying in your mind is not something you would say to another person, then it’s certainly not going to be helpful for you to say it to yourself.