Winter Wellbeing Challenge, Day 2: Be a little kinder to yourself
We live in a pressured world, and while most of us understand the idea of showing kindness and compassion to others, we are far less likely to show compassion to ourselves. We’re often highly self-critical without realising it, which can have many harmful effects such as making us feel down or having low self-worth, or making us too scared to reach for our dreams.
The good news is that, with a little practice, we can learn to be a lot kinder to ourselves and break out of destructive thought patterns at the same time. Today’s activity is to spend ten minutes trying a self-compassion exercise.
Self-compassion is a way of being kinder, gentler and more accepting towards ourselves. It can be especially helpful if you’re criticising yourself a lot, or being down on yourself, or feeling that you don’t compare well to the people around you. These are all things that can get you down during the long, dark and cold month of January! Taking a moment to be a little kinder to yourself allows you to slow down and give yourself a break.
To try it by yourself, here’s a simple exercise. Find a time when you won’t be disturbed for at least ten minutes, switch off your phone and unplug your landline. Get comfortable and sit upright in a high backed chair, let your hands rest gently in your lap, and focus on your breathing for a few minutes until you start to feel calmer and more relaxed, just paying attention to the natural rise and fall of your breath.
Next, put your hands on your heart, or give yourself a gentle hug, whichever you prefer. Spend a minute or two experiencing any sensations, thoughts or emotions this change in physical position creates in you. Finally, spend two to three minutes sending yourself some feelings of compassion or kindness.
Give it a try today, and see how it makes you feel.
If you’d rather do a guided compassion meditation session instead, download the free 7-day trial of either Headspace or The Mindfulness App by MindApps, as both have compassion related content. You can also play one of the free Self-Compassion MP3s by Kristin Neff.
Invest in your future happiness
Many self-help gurus recommend we should use affirmations such as ‘I love myself’ or ‘I am an amazing human being’, and to repeat these phrases over and over again until we start to believe them. However, many of us find this very difficult, and let’s be honest it just isn’t very British to use this kind of self talk, is it? It’s too much of a stretch for a lot of people and it can feel culturally inappropriate, big headed or even fake or dishonest, which can then have a negative effect on our state of mind because it reminds us very unsubtly that we don’t feel good about ourselves right now.
Self-compassion is something that’s more manageable to try, it’s easier to start doing and maybe making some progress. It’s not about being self-indulgent or letting yourself off the hook, far from it. It can be a great help in helping us to stop beating ourselves up, and it can also allow us to handle difficult emotions more effectively, appreciate our good points, motivate ourselves in a healthy way to reach goals and seek out new experiences, and generally improve wellbeing.
It can feel strange to try a simple meditation directing your feelings of kindness inward, but it feels good to try it and that then makes it easier to share the compassion outward towards others. Many experienced meditators and mindfulness experts say compassion for others begins with compassion towards the self.
If you’re having severe problems with self-criticism or finding it very difficult to be kind to yourself, you might like to try regular loving-kindness meditations, or to look into Compassion Focused Therapy.
Further reading ideas
Mindful Compassion by Professor Paul Gilbert and Choden, Robinson, £12.99 (ebook £5.49). Buy here.
Self Compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind by Kristin Neff, Yellow Kite Books, £16.99 (ebook £9.99). Buy here.
How are you going to be a little kinder to yourself today?