Weaving the practice of self-compassion into your life

Self-compassion can help improve your health and happiness.

“I didn’t warm up enough.” “My voice feels shallow.” “Everyone can SENSE how nervous I am.” These thoughts used to run through my head before every performance.

Maybe this thought process sounds familiar to you. It’s a self-antagonistic mental cycle of self-doubt and self-criticism that I have frequently experienced, and thankfully pushed through, when getting up to sing in front of an audience. Only after years of practicing yoga, meditation, mindfulness and breathing techniques, have I come to understand another way. What if I take a different approach to my “self” when nerves, fears or critical eyes arise? What if, at my most vulnerable moments, I practice self-love and tenderness instead of self-loathing and doubt? What if I completely turn this inner dialogue around? Creating this new tone comes with practice.

Compassion, according to Merriam-Webster, is expressed as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress...with a desire to alleviate it.” Compassion toward others comes naturally for many. It often is experienced when a close friend loses a loved one; a child becomes ill, or when a spouse expresses embarrassing moments or anxieties from work. “Self” compassion is practiced when you focus this sympathy inward as an exploration of self-inquiry and of the utmost importance, unconditional love, when we are feeling exposed, vulnerable or upset.

In the social and behavioral sciences, self-compassion is referred as the source of happiness and psychological well-being. According Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion can be divided into three key elements, including self-kindness instead of self-judgement, common humanity instead of isolation and mindfulness instead of over-identification. Neff and her colleague Andrew Costigan argue that self-compassion not only flips the inner-conversation from one of attack to one of acceptance, but it also “involves actively soothing and comforting one’s self in times of distress.” To be self-compassionate, one must recognize that we all share a common human experience and we must be mindful of the present moment. Whether our suffering is self-induced (note my singing story) or caused by external circumstances, self-compassion can be practiced. These researchers argue self-compassion is the way to relate with the self and is a source of well-being.

Establishing self-compassionate self-talk takes practice. To help you interweave this new mindset into your daily life, the Positive Psychology Program (PPP) offers these five steps:

  1. Practice Forgiveness - Be gracious toward yourself when you make mistakes. Instead of punishing yourself for shortcomings, accept the fact that you are not perfect. The PPP further explains, “You are valued by your friends and colleagues for who you are, not because you are faultless.”
  2. Employ a Growth Mindset - This involves embracing challenges and persisting to find meaning in them. Find inspiration in others’ successes instead of feeling threatened.
  3. Express Gratitude - Take a moment to appreciate all that you have right now. Focus on blessings and use a gentle tone of voice. Thankfulness can be expressed a in gratitude journal or on a gratitude walk.
  4. Find the Right Level of Generosity - Are you a giver, a taker, or a matcher? Giving to others is a way of employing self-compassion. Feel out what the right amount of giving is for you.
  5. Be Mindful - Practice staying in the present moment, aware of whatever is happening right now. Let go of judgements and labels. Ride the waves of the moment and then let the experience go.

So, the next time you overeat ice cream, get into an intense argument with a sibling, or think critically or judgmentally of others or yourself, pause. Take full responsibility for your actions and practice loving kindness and acceptance toward yourself along the way. Stay present to the moment and to this vast human experience. Embrace the fact that we are in this together.

To learn more about how self-compassionate you are, you can check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s self-compassion scale by going to www.selfcompassion.org. In addition, Michigan State University Extension offers a course in mindfulness called Stress Less with Mindfulness in many local communities around the state. Visit the MSU Extension website to find out more. 

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