When you make a mistake, how do you treat yourself?
When you look in the mirror, do kind thoughts arise?
It’s important to be mindful of that inner voice. Unfortunately, more often than not, we let our harsh inner critic prevail. These habits of talking ourselves down have been shown to increase stress and anxiety, decrease motivation, and significantly impact our well-being.
Being more self-compassionate, on the other hand, has been proven to increase happiness, optimism, and general well-being. Research shows that self-compassion also moderates reactions to distressing situations involving failure, rejection, embarrassment, and other negative events.
I have listed below some of my favourite exercises and resources that I normally recommend to my clients for cultivating self-compassion.
Self-Compassion Exercises and Resources
1. Talking to your inner child
We tend to meet others or ourselves with the harshest criticism when we feel hurt. This is where self-compassion becomes crucial.
If a small child you loved were in pain, would you tell them to “toughen up” or “shut up now and stop crying”? No. So why do we say these things to ourselves? Because we think vulnerability and pain equals weakness. And this can’t be further from the truth.
It’s easy to project and blame others, but owning our pain and showing vulnerability is so much more courageous.
This exercise is simple and extremely effective: be mindful of your inner critic, observe it, and then try to soften it. Talk to yourself as you would to a child you love dearly. This is similar to the exercise “How would you treat a friend?” by researcher Dr. Kristen Neff.
2. 100 Successes Exercise
Another great exercise for acknowledging our efforts and giving ourselves credit is the “100 Successes Exercise.” Open a Word document and start listing your successes. Try your best to come up with 100. You can do it progressively over the span of a week if you like.
Now you have to look at accomplishment and success from a different perspective and not only include achievement as seen by the harsh eye of your inner critic.
Lower your standards. A success can even be making a great meal or actively making an effort to spend quality time with your children. Give yourself some credit. You deserve it.
3. Loving-Kindness Meditation
As most of you probably already know, meditation has a long list of benefits, from reducing anxiety to improving your immune system and even reducing the effects of chronic pain.
Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM) involves mentally sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth toward others by silently repeating a series of mantras. The LKM was extensively researched by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, and she found that it has a direct effect on increasing positive emotions and cultivating compassion toward ourselves and others. (You can listen to my guided loving kindness meditation on Insight Timer here.)
Finally, there is a variation of the Loving-Kindness Meditation developed by Dr. Kristen Neff that gives extra emphasis on self-compassion. You can find the recording here.
4. Self-Compassion Affirmations
Initially, I was skeptical about the use of affirmations. I started incorporating them nevertheless into my personal spiritual practice and was blown away by the results. Besides the fact that we are reinforcing certain beliefs, words carry vibration, and the vibration of positive affirmations in itself can be very healing. There is also research rooted in Hope Theory, supporting the power and benefits of positive self-talk.
When you notice that you are judging yourself, silence the negative self-talk and replace it with a self-compassion affirmations instead. Here are some examples:
>> “I choose to release all judgment toward myself and others.”
>> “I’m not the first person to have felt this way, and I won’t be the last, but I’m growing every day.”
>> “I choose to forgive myself now. Mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth.”
>> “It’s safe for me to show kindness to myself.”
>> “I release all comparison with others and the high expectations I have for myself. I trust the timing of my life.”
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, the three pillars of self-compassion are mindfulness, common humanity, and words of kindness. You can read more about this here and use these pillars as the foundation for creating your own affirmations.
5. Words for the soul: Live Awake podcast
Something that has always gotten me through tough times is Sarah Blondin’s amazing podcast called Live Awake. She offers 10-minute recordings of beautiful words of wisdom. It’s not your typical meditation, but more words of love and encouragement. I feel deeply nourished and at peace when listening to her beautiful voice and insightful words. My pick for the topic of self-compassion is the following (but by all means checkout the whole series): “I Know Sometimes.”
I encourage you to try out the exercises that resonate, and I would be happy to provide some guidance where needed. Just leave your comments below.