Life can sometimes be exhausting, and sometimes I’m reminded of that when I scroll through my social media feeds. From seeing others’ successes to being reminded by “motivational” Instagram posts that I’m not working hard enough, there is never an end to the number of ways to make yourself feel like you’re not good enough. And not feeling good enough has created multi-million dollar self-help industries, fueled consumerism and created a cycle of inescapable debt for some. I often get caught up in the “never enough” cycle as well.
There are times in my life where despite how well things may be going and how much progress I have made, I still feel this inner voice criticizing me. I’m sure many of you can relate, and despite our abundance, we still focus on what we lack, either materially or emotionally.
But here’s the good news, the cure for “never enough” brain is simple: It’s self-compassion. More than a buzzword and overnight fix to your problems, though, learning how to cultivate self-compassion is a daily, proactive process.
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What is Self-Compassion?
Before we can get into self-compassion, we need to understand what compassion is. Compassion is a term we hear often, but can we truly articulate what it means?
I urge you to think back to a time when you saw someone in need, heard about a tragedy, or when you saw a loved one suffering. What do those moments have in common? More often than not those moments moved you to have your heart respond to the pain of someone else’s suffering. Moreover, the word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” Compassion is showing kindness, love, and forgiveness even when someone makes a mistake. It is also a way of embracing human imperfections.
Self-compassion is just that but directed towards yourself. Often when we face difficulties or become more attuned to our insecurities, we tend to double-down and become very self-critical. When we face challenges, we tell ourselves that it’s because of our lack of aptitude or strength that prevents us from overcoming obstacles. When there is a lack of self-compassion, we belittle, blame, criticize, or accuse ourselves of our failures. What self-compassion does is to reframe the perspective of “Toughen up,” to one that says, “This is a difficult moment for you. How do you care for yourself?” Self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence. The goal of cultivating self-compassion is not to ignore the pain but rather to embrace and soothe yourself.
How to Cultivate Self-Compassion
As I mentioned earlier, self-compassion is the cure to the “never enough,” mentality that plagues our social media timelines and alone time. While the answer is simple, the practice of self-compassion is a daily one.
There are many ways to cultivate self-compassion and what works for one person might not work for another. Below are a few suggestions to help you embrace rather than accuse yourself.
1. Be More Grateful
It is easy to focus on what you lack, and a gratitude journal helps you to take stock of the things that are going well in your life. From the mundane to the sublime, everyone has something that they can point to as a source of gratitude. So even something as small as writing in a gratitude journal as little as three times a week can not only boost your mood, but it can also increase your compassion for yourself.
2. Embrace Imperfection
Part of the human experience is being imperfectly perfect. I think in theory that people know it’s okay to be imperfect, but in practice, we spend so much energy masking our vulnerabilities to no avail. When our loved ones make mistakes, we are quick to forgive them or embrace them with kindness, because after all, they’re only human. Embracing imperfection is doing the same for ourselves. It is reminding ourselves that life is not about perfection but doing your best given your capacity and giving it your all. An excellent way to practice this is by thinking of what you would say to a good friend if he or she was facing a difficult situation and then direct these compassionate responses toward yourself. Some days we succeed, and other days we fail, and the quicker we embrace that attitude, the more love we’ll give to ourselves.
3. Remember: We’re All In The Same Boat
Often our egos can get the better of us and tell us that we’re the only ones in the world suffering or going through our set of seemingly unique problems. More often than not, though, millions of other people around the world can relate to whatever we’re going through. That’s not to say your problems aren’t important, but it is a reminder that, in fact, you are not alone. When the inner critic in us gets into accusation mode, we begin to feel isolated and unworthy of human connection. The quicker we accept that no one is perfect and that other people are suffering as well, the quicker we recognize our shared humanity and find belonging with others.
4. Comfort Your Body
When we are stressed, many of us often turn to food, alcohol, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms to meet our needs. Personal experience and research have demonstrated that anything we can do to improve how we feel physically, from eating better, getting a massage, or being physically active can give us a boost of endorphins and boost our self-confidence.
Learning to cultivate self-compassion comes naturally for some, but for many, it’s a learnable skill. Self-compassion allows us to have greater connectedness with others because if we hold ourselves to impossible standards and never embrace compassion towards ourselves, chances are that we will have difficulty doing so for others. Additionally, self-compassion is correlated with less mental health distress and greater overall life satisfaction.
At the end of the day, self-compassion is accepting our humanness. Although things will not always go the way we expect and mistakes will happen, rather than criticizing ourselves for shortcomings we embrace our imperfections and remind ourselves that it is okay.