When I first heard the term self-compassion popping up, just like mindfulness and meditation before it, I wasn’t so sure what it was all about, but I was curious. According to Dr Kristin Neff, the preeminent researcher on self-compassion, it “entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.” Easier said than done. I’ve always focused on the things I haven’t achieved and the mistakes that I’ve made. I remember being told that I can do everything, so I feel terrible that I haven’t. I’ve lived in London, one of the greatest cities on earth. I’ve had a great job. I’ve travelled around the world. I’ve written professionally. But I haven’t got a husband, a house, or children. I haven’t published a novel. Does that mean I’ve failed in life? I could have had it all, and I haven’t managed it.
I’m still working on being more compassionate toward myself. It’s a process – and I’m being kind to myself about getting there.
Here are a few practical steps I’ve completed on my path to self-compassion:
I realized other people make mistakes, too
One of the aspects of self-compassion is the idea of “common humanity.” It’s important to recognize that all humans are vulnerable and make mistakes. You will struggle and not everything will work out perfectly. One of my best friends confessed to me the horror she felt every time she had to give a presentation. I always saw her as one of the most confident people I know. Realizing that even she felt this way taught me that I didn’t have to put such pressures on myself. I didn’t have to be someone or something different, infallible and unable to make an error. When you’re feeling low, it’s easy to isolate yourself, but there’s nothing like getting out and connecting with people to understand that we’re all in this together.
I started to write it down
Every day, I try to write down the things I’m grateful for. Following a gratitude practice helped me to identify the positive things in my life and recognize the good I do. One great way of doing this is to identify your values, and every day, record how you’ve lived up to them. Mine are creativity, connection, communication, and curiosity – and I try to live these every single day. I might write down how I’ve created a delicious dinner, I’ve connected with my mom over a cup of coffee, I’ve written a blog post, or indulged my curiosity by reading an interesting article.
I recognized my spheres of influence
I can’t control everything. At low points, I used to blame missing the bus on karma’s revenge for eating the last brownie three days ago, and then I would be mean to myself for the entire day. No, sometimes things just happen. Rather than identify everything as related to me and my actions, I saw what I actually have an influence over, and what I don’t. I then try to just let the rest go.
I slowed down and was present
I’m not great at meditation, but I’ve found practicing mindfulness works better for me. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the world and being present in it. When I feel stressed, I try to pay attention to where I am, and notice three things I can see, three I can hear, and three I can smell. Being more aware of the world lets me slow down, which has a physical impact on the nervous system and offers me space to size things up and think rationally.
I remembered that this wasn’t selfish
Initially I was doubtful about self-compassion, seeing it as a means of being overly sensitive, fuelling your ego, or letting yourself off the hook. Instead, it’s about recognizing that we all make mistakes and learning to be more rational in my response. Acknowledging that it’s a practical way to act rather than a “soft” approach was hugely important. I let go of the idea that self-compassion is selfish or a sign of giving up, but instead, it’s exactly what I would recommend to others.
Not having that nasty voice in my head telling me that I’m failing or doing something wrong is enormously liberating. When I’m kinder to myself it’s like I’m in the company of a friend who cares. It means that I can take small risks without the fear of beating myself up. I’ve found myself having deeper conversations with friends, unafraid to reveal my vulnerability. I’ve slowed down and enjoyed the world around me, spotting birds and flowers that might otherwise go unnoticed. Ultimately, self compassion makes my life a nicer one to live.