Self-compassion is a habit that allows us to be kind to ourselves when we make a mistake, fail or feel as though we are falling short of our own expectations.

Before I learned about self-compassion, I was like many other ambitious and competitive people. I thought that scolding myself was okay and normal. I thought it would, in turn, lead me to achieve greater success down the line.

Little did I know I was wrecking my own life with my thoughts, and actually impeding my ability to grow and achieve my goals.

Psychologist Kristen Neff, tells us to turn to ourselves with tenderness and kindness rather than harsh criticism. 

Life presents many challenges, and achieving your dreams is so often about having the confidence and self-assurance needed to take risks. If you’re constantly beating yourself up for perceived or potential failure, you’ll end up talking yourself out of those risks before you even get a chance to take them.

Self-scolding stops self-growth in its tracks, and I learned that first-hand.

There are many ways self-compassion helps to cultivate success and happiness, and here are a few of those lessons I have learned along the way.

1.  Being kind to yourself boosts your self-esteem.

If you tell yourself that you’re not good enough, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say something over and over again to yourself, the reality of your words eludes into reality. So if you use the word stupid to describe yourself, you’ll learn to believe it. You will behave and act out in ways that align with how you feel. 

The words you voice to yourself have power because you know the deeper meaning behind those words. And then you internalize these words to mean something about yourself. 

When you’re sad, your body loses “happy hormones.” Remember what it is like when you have to study, but you don’t feel like it. This is because your body has no energy or motivation. Your body needs cortisol to feel comforted.  If you apply words of self-compassion in times of failure, cortisol gets released. Cortisol helps calm the body and it makes you happy. And when you are happy, your mind is boosted from a state of helplessness to having the willpower to strive for success. 

2. Self-compassion is actually healing yourself as a mother does. It’s training your brain to love and forgive, even if you may not have learned that as a child.

Research shows that children who get warmth and attention from their mothers are less likely to develop a learning disability or have behavioral problems. Harsh scolding and verbal abuse would make a child likely developing anxiety or low self-esteem. 

This psychological imprint, from how a child was treated, evolves into adulthood. And it plays a huge role in how worthy and capable a person feels. So if your mom is not around to console you after a failure, or even worse, if your mom was harshly critical, you need to be that kind mother to yourself. 

Tell yourself kind gentle reassuring words. It may be awkward to speak to yourself as you would to a small child but the act of speaking kindly to yourself will make you feel better and more empowered. When you comfort yourself, say the words in your head with as much tenderness as you can. This may seem weird at first, but your mental state would calm if you do. Nobody will hear your thoughts anyways, and this practice is healing. Trust me, the more pleasantly you can speak to yourself, the more powerful the effect. 

3. Harsh self-criticism will only hurt you in the end.  

shallow focus photo of woman in beige crew-neck T-shirt

What would happen if you yelled at yourself in ugly mean words? Your temperament is then reduced to hopelessness, your self-esteem is dropped and your energy would be drained. How can you improve, to win, if your mental state is so low? 

Therefore, don’t choose hateful mean words. Find words of kindness and understanding. Here are some examples:

  • I’m making progress.
  • I can handle this.
  • I’m strong enough to be willing to try.
  • I am in control of this.
  • I am excellent at … writing/singing/problem-solving. 
  • I have a fantastic … mind/talent/ability with people. 
  • I persevere and keep trying.
  • I’ll be successful and get it one day.

4. Part of understanding self-compassion is recognizing that you’re only human, and so is everyone else.

person holding white ceramic mugs

As Kristen Neff puts it, the definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to just “me” alone.

We Americans are by nature competitive. People typically only feel adequate if they are perceived as well above average. But what if circumstances hindered your growth to becoming the ideal you? Then practice self-compassion religiously. 

5. Self-compassion can and should become a habit.

person holding pen above white open notebook page

On a sheet of paper. Fold it in half. On the left side write what you normally say to yourself when you fail. Then list the loving kind people in your life. This may be your encouraging friends, family, teacher or mentor. Think of what they would say to you in regards to this failure. “You’re so smart. You’ll do well next time. I believe in you. You deserve success.” 

Then change the “you” to “I.” Use those kind words as if you’re saying it to yourself. “I am smart. I will do better next time. I believe in myself. I deserve success.”

Self-Compassion: In the Eyes of a Loved One

What I Say to Myself When I FailWhat My Loved Ones Would Say
I am stupid.You are smart. [I am smart.] 
I hate myself.I love you no matter what. [I am still lovable no matter what.]
I should give up because I can’t do this.If you reach out for help, you will do better next time. [I plan to reach out to help to reach my fullest potential.] 

And the next time you find yourself voicing mean things to yourself, change the person talking. Look at the right side of that chart and voice what your loved ones would say to you as your beliefs. Get into the habit of catching the words you use to describe failure, and re-wording it positively and kindly as a loving person would. Directing this kindness to yourself will help you embody victory.

Keep working earnestly to pursue your goals and aspirations. 

Keep looking for ways to advance and tackle challenges. 

And when you fall short, pull out that self-compassion chart with the positive beliefs. Exercise self-love. Voice encouraging words to yourself.

Then, stand back up and keep trying. Keep loving. Keep going.

You deserve it.

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