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How do you talk to yourself when you make a mistake, or when things aren’t going to plan? When you’ve gone off-track, or you’ve not fulfilled an expectation?
We all have that inner voice, ready to let us know when don’t measure up. How does your inner voice talk to you? With self-compassion, or with self-criticism?
You may think you need to be hard with yourself in order to get motivated to do better or to get back on track. However, when things don’t go to plan, scientific evidence shows that talking to yourself with self-compassion is much more beneficial than criticising yourself.
Dr Kristin Neff, a world expert and pioneer in the field of self-compassion has established through her research that practising self-compassion will improve your health, relationships, and help you reach your goals.
self-compassion is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being and contentment in our lives.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion means applying the same understanding and kindness we have for other people in the world to ourselves. Because everyone is worthy of compassion.
When you have self-compassion you are kind and forgiving of yourself. You cut yourself some slack, and are gracious and generous to yourself.
You acknowledge that no one, including you, is perfect, and you don’t judge or criticise yourself for failure, shortcomings or inadequacies.
Dr Kristin Neff has identified three essential elements of self-compassion – all of which are equally important.
When you practice self-kindness you:
- talk to yourself with kindness rather than harshness, the same way you would talk to a good friend
- give yourself encouragement, understanding, empathy and patience
- understand your quirks and shortcomings rather than criticize them
2. Common humanity
This element means you recognise that you are human, just like everyone else. You recognise that every other human experiences failure, make mistakes or feels inadequate at times.
You accept that you are not perfect, nobody in this world is. And you accept that you will, along with everyone else, make mistakes. You accept that these experiences connect you with others, rather than isolate you.
Through practising mindfulness, you recognise and accept your feelings as they truly are in the present moment – you don’t ignore them nor do you exaggerate them.
You recognise that what you are feeling in the present moment are just thoughts and that your thoughts will pass on, and that you don’t have to believe or respond to every thought that you have.
Mindfulness helps you put distance between thoughts and actions. It gives you breathing room to think about how you are going to respond. It lets you take a step back and respond to failure, a mistake or setbacks with kindness rather than criticism.
Self-compassion is different from self-esteem
Self-esteem refers to how confident you are in your own abilities. It’s to do with your opinions and beliefs, and how satisfied you feel about yourself and your abilities.
Self-esteem is based on self-evaluations. It can fluctuate, depending upon what’s going on in your life, which means your self-esteem is often determined by your latest success or failure.
The problem with self-esteem is that when you fail or experience a setback, it’s very likely your self-esteem will desert you.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, is always there for you – it’s there to support you through tough times. It doesn’t desert you in times of stress, disappointment or failure like self-esteem can.
self-compassion provides the same benefits as high self-esteem without its drawbacks. – Dr Kristin Neff
Self-compassion is not self-pity
Self-pity is a passive, isolated state where you believe no one else understands or has problems like you. When you practise self-compassion you take a step back and look objectively at your situation. You feel connected with others, that you are “only human after all” and you proactively take steps to improve your wellbeing.
How self-compassion will improve your life
There are so many benefits to being kinder to yourself.
Studies show that people who respond to their own setbacks with compassion rather than beating themselves up about it have better mental and physical health. They also tend to be more resilient – they can bounce back more quickly from stress and challenges.
People who practice self-compassion have:
- less depression
- less anxiety
- less stress
- less perfectionism
They make healthier lifestyle choices and experience more feelings of happiness and life satisfaction.
When you treat yourself kindly, rather than being critical of yourself, you are MORE LIKELY to meet your goals.
You don’t need to criticise yourself or beat yourself up in order to motivate yourself. When you encounter obstacles or setbacks being self-compassionate makes you more likely to get back on track, and more motivated to do better next time.
In contrast, negative self-talk or being hard on yourself will make you more likely to procrastinate, feel stressed and ruminate on problems or failures.
Criticising yourself over your failures or setbacks won’t make you a better person, and it won’t make you feel more motivated. Instead, criticising yourself is likely to make you feel more insecure and more inadequate.
Why? When you criticise yourself you undermine your motivation because you feel threatened. Your body releases cortisol which over the long term can have a negative impact on physical and mental health, draining your motivation even further. You’ll also be less likely to take risks, as you’ll be more afraid of failure.
However, when you give yourself compassion you reduce cortisol and release oxytocin – the feel-good hormone. This helps you feel safe and comforted and puts you in a positive mindset, where you are able to do your best, and achieve those goals.
Want to learn more?
Dr Kristin Neff’s book Self-compassion: stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind is a wonderful resource. It’s an easy and engaging read, with practical examples, downloads and actionable exercises to help you develop self-compassion and become happier, healthier and more effective.
You’ll also find lots of great resources on Dr Kristin Neff’s website self-compassion.org
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