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It is second nature to be critical of ourselves and even feel shame or guilt about our choices. After all, that voice in our head telling us we can do better is often what helps us learn and improve. 

But when criticism and judgement take the drivers’ seat of our psyche and are unregulated by self-compassion and kindness, we can develop unhealthy habits and mindsets. 

Author and researcher Kristin Neff has this to say about self-compassion: 

“By giving ourselves unconditional kindness and comfort while embracing the human experience, difficult as it is, we avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation.”  

Self-compassion is like a muscle that needs to be exercised and strengthened. By making intentional efforts, we can train our brains to respond with kindness and acceptance in the midst of challenging circumstances. Here are three ways to work the muscle of self-compassion in your life.

  1. Practice awareness without judgement. When we are simply aware of our experiences and our pain without judging them as good, bad, right, or wrong, we can begin to develop more acceptance of ourselves and our situation. Mindfulness practices such as meditation are one way to practice this awareness. 
  2. Look for underlying needs. All emotions and actions are a result of underlying needs and desires. These needs—such as safety, respect, and connection—are universal and are neither good or bad; they simply exist. By identifying our core motivations, we can build appreciation for ourselves and understand that in any scenario, we are always doing our best. 
  3. Know you’re not alone. In her book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Dr. Kristin Neff says that a sense of common humanity is one of the most important parts of self-compassion. By recognizing that you are not alone in your suffering, you can relieve judgement and develop more acceptance for yourself and others. 

For more self-compassion tips and exercises, visit Dr. Kristin Neff’s website.