In case you haven’t noticed, you have an inner voice that is talking endlessly.
And if you’re like most people, that inner voice can be incredibly mean.
It can routinely tell you things like:
- “You’re so lazy.”
- “You’re so bad at this.”
- “You’re such a failure.”
It can be like having a bully inside your head who constantly harasses you.
And if left unchecked, that bully can start to really bring you down.
Self-Criticism Isn’t Helpful
We understand that heavy criticism doesn’t work when it comes to motivating other people.
But when it comes to motivating ourselves, our intuition is different.
For whatever reason, we tend to think we have to be hard on ourselves to get things done.
And that’s a big problem, not only because it can make us feel terrible but also because it makes us way less likely to achieve our goals.
It’s simply not helpful to stack insults, shame, and guilt on top of a setback.
If anything, it makes it even harder for us to bounce back.
So, if your inner voice tends to put you down, it’s important to change what you’re communicating to yourself.
Instead of criticizing yourself, you need to offer yourself compassion.
The Science of Self-Compassion
Dr. Kristin Neff is one of the world’s leading experts and researchers on self-compassion.
She defines self-compassion as1: “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering”:
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.
According to Neff’s definition, self-compassion consists of three elements:
- Mindfulness — Holding your painful thoughts in mindful awareness rather than over-identifying with them.
- Common humanity — Seeing your fallibility as part of being human rather than as personal shortcomings.
- Self-kindness — Being kind and understanding to yourself rather than self-critical.
By being mindful of painful thoughts, recognizing that everyone makes mistakes, and treating yourself with kindness, you can create a more supportive inner dialogue.
And that, in turn, can have some genuinely life-changing effects.
The Benefits of Self-Compassion
Studies by Neff and other researchers have found that self-compassionate people experience a ton of benefits. Here are some examples:
- Less anxiety and depression — Self-compassion reduces self-criticism, and self-criticism is a big predictor of anxiety and depression.2
- Increased productivity — A high level of self-compassion is associated with less procrastination and more motivation.3
- Greater creativity — Self-judgmental people demonstrate greater “creative originality” after practicing self-compassion exercises.4
- Better self-regulation — Smokers who offer themselves self-compassion are better able to cut down on their smoking.5
- Improved relationships — Self-compassionate people are described by their partners as more emotionally connected.6
I could go on and on with examples here, but you get the point.
Self-compassion can improve many aspects of your life.
How to Develop Self-Compassion
Here’s a simple two-step process to start changing the contents of your inner voice in a more self-compassionate direction.
Step 1: Create a Self-Compassion Mantra
This should be a statement that guides you through the three elements of self-compassion (mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness)7. For instance, you could say to yourself:
1. “This is a moment of suffering.”
That’s the mindfulness element. Other alternatives are:
- “This is painful.”
- “This is hard.”
2. “Suffering is part of life.”
That’s the common humanity element. Other alternatives are:
- “Other people also feel like this.”
- “I’m not alone in this.”
- “Everyone feels this way sometimes.”
3. “May I be kind to myself.”
That’s the self-kindness element. Other alternatives are:
- “May I give myself the support I need.”
- “May I accept myself just the way I am.”
- “May I forgive myself for this.”
These sentences are just suggestions. Use them as inspiration to create a mantra in your own words.
Step 2: Make an If-Then Plan
Once your mantra is ready, you need to start using it habitually in your everyday life.
And the best way to do that is by implementing an if-then plan, such as:
“If I have a self-critical thought, then I will mentally repeat my self-compassion mantra.”
By stating your intention clearly like this, you’ll be much more likely to actually use your mantra.
And that, of course, is where all the magic happens.
Be Your Own Best Friend
You’ll inevitably experience challenges, setbacks, and losses throughout life.
And the way you respond in those situations will determine how you think, feel, and act going forward.
Self-criticism will bring you down. Self-compassion will lift you up.
So, instead of being your own worst enemy, be your own best friend.
It will make everything in your everyday life easier and much more enjoyable.
- Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff
- Self-Compassion: What it Is, What it Does, and How it Relates to Mindfulness
- Start Today or the Very Last Day? The Relationships Among Self-Compassion, Motivation, and Procrastination
- Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself: Self-Compassion Facilitates Creative Originality Among Self-Judgmental Individuals
- Who Benefits from Training in Self-Compassionate Self-Regulation? A Study of Smoking Reduction
- The Role of Self-compassion in Romantic Relationships
- Self-Compassion Break