Some of us thrive in today’s competitive and challenging world and some of us find it too overwhelming. Nonetheless, at some point in life we are all bound to experience doubt, fear and some type of anxiety. We stumble, we fall and we fail – that’s an inevitable part of the deal called life. Yet, in the event of misfortune, how do we calm our inner critic and at the same time take full responsibility for our lives?
To escape criticism — do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. — Elbert Hubbard
Permission to speak: The Lizard Brain
Somewhere along the evolutionary way we’ve also developed a tendency to compare ourselves to others and invent novel ways to beat ourselves up. Imagine this: you’re an amateur photographer and you post a picture to Instagram. Your friends hit the like button, instant gratification kicks in, you read the praise in the comments and then... a stranger criticizes your photo for no reason and throws you off-balance.
There are plenty of opportunities for our lizard brain to speak. This primitive part of our brain, responsible for the fight-or-flight response, is our harshest critic. We slip and eat a piece of cake (or, let’s be honest, we eat the whole cake) while on a diet. We flunk an exam. We self-sabotage our own success because we are afraid of the responsibilities that may come with it. We fail a job interview. A mother at the playground criticizes our parenting style. This is what the lizard brain feeds on. Some of these unfortunate instances are our doing, some of them are completely out of our control, yet your lizard brain will always make you responsible.
In the prehistoric times, it used to protect us from predators. Nowadays, it often feels like the lizard brain has taken the role of the beast of prey, one that we need to tame. How, you ask? Read on.
Why we need a chill pill
It’s far too easy to be hard on yourself and decidedly more difficult to let go. Even though a great deal of our actions are reversible, we still like to overthink things, play out negative scenarios in our head, and relive the tiniest mistakes we made. Losing sleep over a typo? Or that awkward thing you said a couple of months ago? That’s madness, right? And yet here we are.
Self-criticism, that is self-induced stress, causes the lack of sleep, motivation, productivity, and, ultimately, happiness. Not to mention that it might also lead to anxiety and depression. If you are in need of a remedy to self-blame, you are in the right place.
Self-compassion: common misconceptions
Should you be unconvinced, let us clearly state what self-compassion is not. Namely, self-compassion has nothing to do with being weak and vulnerable. It is not self-pity, egocentrism, self-indulgence or selfishness. Self-compassion will not make you lazy, complacent or self-centered, and, please, for the love of your mental health, do not dismiss it as insecurity or arrogance. Self-compassion is not a demerit. It’s an absolute necessity.
The whole truth and nothing but the truth
Self-compassion is a subset of empathy, sometimes also referred to as self-love. According to professor Kristin Neff, a pioneer in academic studies into self-compassion, it consists of three major components:
- self-kindness – treating yourself like a friend – with care and kindness, rather than harsh judgment;
- common humanity – realizing that nobody’s perfect or isolated in the imperfection of being human;
- mindfulness – accepting the present moment, acknowledging the pain resulting from our self-criticism.
Self-compassion is not a single occurrence, not a one-time act. It’s a process of healing that involves forgiveness, pushing through pain, and stepping outside of oneself to assess the damage and repair it.
How to be kinder to yourself
First of all, remember that the relationship you have with you is the most important one. Only when you love and accept yourself can you love and accept others. We’ve been given one body, one mind, and one life (at least to our scientific knowledge) – let’s be thankful for it properly. In order to be good to yourself, try following these basic (not to be confused with easy) rules:
- Understand and accept your past – everything that happened in your life has led you to this moment in time and made you stronger. No regrets, only gratitude.
- Forgive yourself – nobody’s perfect. Whatever mistakes or wrong choices you’ve made, they are your lessons. You didn’t know better then, but you do now.
- Avoid comparison to others – as Theodore Roosevelt once pointed out, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. It doesn’t necessarily like dreams, ambitions, motivation, or inspiration either.
- Have a good cry – it can be a very cathartic experience. Don’t hold it in, let it ALL out. If you don’t feel brand new afterwards, you’ll at least feel a lot lighter.
- Embrace your inner child – kids we used to be still live inside us and they might need a hug. Look inside, find your younger self and embrace them with love.
- Accept bad days – no matter how much we strive for overwhelming 24/7 happiness, sometimes we have to live through darker days to be able to appreciate the bright ones.
- Be mindful of your self-talk – the language we use toward ourselves matters, it can aid or break you. Choose your words wisely and love yourself through affirmations.
- Invest in yourself – devote your time and spend money on what matters in the bigger picture: education, health, dreams and goals.
- Be unapologetically you – find courage to stay true to yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin. As Marie Forleo likes to say, “You are a one-time mega event in the universe” – respect that.
- Do what feels right – and only what feels right to you. Listen to your heart, it will always tell you the truth. Let it speak and follow its voice.
- Enjoy the present moment – as the stoic philosophers like to remind us, we never really know how much time we have left. Every day is a gift.
How to practice self-compassion: actionable plan
You know yourself best and you can probably already tell what works for you. However, if we might, we would like to add a few ideas to your self-compassion practice.
First of all, find a quiet place to sit in peace. Try to reconnect with your inner voice to obtain clarity. The best version of you is right there, inside, even if you are unable to see that right now for whatever reason. Ask yourself: what can I do to help you? How can I love you and support you better?
Remember you are talking to a friend. You’ve been through so much together, no one can understand you better than you do. Relate to yourself kindly, embrace yourself as you are, flaws and all. And then start…
- making more time for self-care;
- celebrating you successes, no matter how small;
- acknowledging progress, no matter how small;
- writing down praise from others;
- journaling about your self-love;
- visualizing your best self and acting from that level;
- doing more of what makes you the happiest.
The passion in self-compassion
Respecting yourself is doing what you know is best for you, even when it’s you against the world (as long as your actions do not put others in harm’s way). Self-compassion is not the path of least resistance – quite the opposite – it takes time, dedication, and work. It requires the kind of strength that we’ve all been equipped with – love. Shush your lizard brain, work to redefine self- compassion in your inner dictionary and make self-care a regular practice. You’ll feel the effects for years to come.
Bonus: Self-Love Affirmations
I am my own best friend.
I choose to speak lovingly about myself.
I respect myself, therefore others respect me.
The more I love myself, the more love I have to give.
I love who I am. I accept and celebrate my uniqueness.
To nurture more self-love and boost your confidence, consider incorporating Mindful Affirmations into your daily self-care rituals and mindfulness practices.