The biggest disease in the 21st century is not diabetes or cancer – but rather, your self-loathing. Jack Kornfield once reported that the Dalai Lama did not understand the idea that one could dislike oneself. Cultivating inner peace is supported by self-compassion. Buddhists talk a lot about the importance of compassion and you must care about yourself before you can really care about other people. That advice probably sounds familiar from all the airplane safety announcements!
Self-compassion involves becoming aware of the presence of suffering in our bodies, emotions, thoughts, and actions, and then taking steps to diminish the suffering. Kristin Neff, a psychologist, was the pioneer in defining self-compassion as kindness toward self in good times and bad; being gentle, supportive and understanding even when we make mistakes. When you embrace self-compassion, you understand that your self-worth is unconditional. People who are self-compassionate have a greater social connectedness, emotional intelligence, happiness and overall emotional well-being. Nurturing self-compassion allows people to flourish and appreciate the richness of life, even in the hard times. When we consciously choose to soothe the mind with self-compassion, we can orient ourselves towards joyful moments.
Even though research supports the claim that showing self-compassion promotes greater health and wellbeing, for many, self-compassion carries a whiff of many bad labels. Selfish, self-centered, self-serving – and let’s not leave out self-pity. Our culture promotes blame and shame as though it wins us awards. There are many misgivings about the idea of self-compassion, as many do not know what it looks like, let alone how to practice it.
Self-compassion holds wisdom that many do not see. There is a commonality across humanity that every individual is flawed and imperfect. Brene Brown reminds us in The Gifts of Imperfection that every person experiences misfortune, though that’s something we often forget.We take on the burden of feeling things “shouldn’t be happening”, which stirs feelings of shame and isolation and drives us to bury ourselves further in our own suffering.
So, what is the answer? Stop judging, being critical, labelling yourself as entirely good or bad. Remove the blame-filled self-evaluation altogether. Open your heart and treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion you would show another human being.
Neuroscience suggests that self-criticism shifts the brain into a state of self-punishment that causes us to disengage and stops us from acting. It leaves us in a cycle of procrastination, rumination and self-loathing. When we tap into our self-compassion we break the patterns of self-criticism, acknowledging our fears and allowing our compassionate voice to rise to the occasion as a wise and supportive mentor.
Dr Kristin Neff describes three core qualities of self-compassion – self kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Collectively, these elements help reduce our levels of stress and self-doubt by allowing ourselves to see doubts for what they are: Stories created about things we fear, and not the truth about who we are or what we are capable of.
Our culture is currently experiencing an epidemic of self-criticism. To survive in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous) world, most people have become adept at self-criticism. We tell ourselves off for our failures, for not working hard or smart enough. And if that’s not enough, we pound ourselves day in day out to the point where people lose the will to get out of bed.
The antidote is self-compassion. If you tend to dwell on mistakes and subscribe to the mantra of ‘never good enough’, you could benefit from practicing a little more self-compassion. Let me show you six simple ways to tune into your self-compassion.
Self-compassion can also be trendy
Pulling up your socks and maintaining a facade of “toughness” is ingrained in our culture. Harsh self-criticism is common – do you call yourself names? Replay mistakes in your head like a record player? Beat yourself up for mistakes and punish yourself for failures?
Rather than hosting a pity party, self-compassion creates a space to view through a lens of gentler words, that failure is a universal experience and that suffering is a choice. When we step into self-compassion, it increases your motivation to recover from failure, enhances your self-worth, and increases your resilience against adversity.
Picture your best self
Imagine your life five years from now. Write a letter capturing where you will be in 5 years as if you’re already there, describing your life in detail. Where you are living? What are you doing? Who is in your life? What is the taste of the food that you are eating, or the view from your house? Who are you sharing the experience with? Identify small actions that you can take to bring you closer to this vision. When you bring awareness and intention to who you want to be, you can shift your focus on cultivating your “beingness” from a place of kindness and self-care.
Deepen your connection to yourself
Sometimes in life, we need to press pause. Notice your emotions and how your body feels. Your body is a messenger bearing a lot of important information, and you should practice listening to it. Get in tune and become aware of sensations without labelling your emotions as good or bad. Speak to yourself like a trusted friend. When you are trying to recover from setbacks, saying kinder things will make you feel better and help you perform better.
When you are in the moment, be aware without judgement. Allow your feelings their moment in the spotlight. Don’t give them a microphone or hide them in the corner. Be loyal to each feeling, allow it to rise, and then without attachment, let it go.
The beauty of self-compassion is that anyone can learn to do it. There is an exercise that can be used in everyday life when you need self-compassion the most, called the Self-Compassion Break.
Notice victories, no matter the size
There is a lot of strength in appreciating what we have right now. Gratitude helps you move from noticing the gaps, toward celebrating both big and small wins. When we notice the victories despite the size or magnitude, an internal message is reinforced that the journey is more important than the destination. Try writing a gratitude journal, focusing on blessings and the beauty within the world. The results may surprise you.
Re-connect with your truth
We live in a world where ‘should do’ or ‘have to do’, where some things simply need to be done. Making a list of priorities is a way to stay focused when everything on the list is out of alignment with your values. Review the list, identify your priorities, ask for help with tasks, change your perspective towards the task, or simply let it go.
Accept that you are not perfect and when you are confronted with your shortcomings, remind yourself that you are valued by your friends for who you are, not because you are faultless. You do not need to be a certain way to be worthy of love.
Tapping into the inner child
Nourishing your heart and mind by reconnecting to child-like qualities inspires creativity and makes us more productive. Find a new café for an afternoon treat, take a pole dancing class, or invest in charcoal drawing. Engage in an activity that warms your heart and brings out your sense of curiosity and wonder.
It’s time to remind yourself that you are human. So, when you do not meet your standards, take a moment, be grateful for the opportunity, commit to your persistence, pick yourself up and go again. Celebrate that you are not perfect. You are imperfectly flawed and that is fabulous.
(Editor’s note: Our Make Your Mark Journal and ‘Phenomenal Woman’ Planner guide you through many similar exercises, to help you become the phenomenal woman and leader you truly are!)
Angela Kambouris is a highly-valued leadership coach and business leader having spent over 20 years in the field of vulnerability and trauma. She is super-passionate about unlocking human potential to deliver extraordinary results and has spoken on stages and worked with thousands of people in the areas of self-development, leadership, mindset, human behavior and business. She has master-minded with leaders and expert authorities in personal development and business all over the world.