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10 Things You Need to Know About Self-Compassion: Part 1 of the Happiness Lab Podcast Series

I recently listened to Dump Your Inner Drill Sergeant, the first episode of the Happiness Lab’s podcast series, Smarter Strategies for Achieving your New Years Goals. Dr. Laurie Santos, the host, and Kristin Neff, the guest star, pointed out how we are often really hard on ourselves at this time of year. They squashed the strategies many of us use, like setting the bar super high for what we want to achieve and taking part in punishing regimes to reach our goals, stating that these tactics DO NOT work! Instead, they suggested using self-compassion to achieve your goals and spoke about its benefits and how to incorporate this practice into your life.

Here are 10 things I learned: 

1. The boot camp brutality we often use does not help us to kick our bad habits and get motivated.

Self-criticism does not increase motivation, it’s just self-defeating. Simply put, we do not need a nasty inner voice to make positive changes in our lives.

2. When we shame ourselves, we end up threatening our body and sending it into fight-flight-or-freeze mode.

Shame does not make you safe and it prohibits you from making change. Whereas, when we operate using self-compassion we are switching our body from the defence system to the care system.

3. Some of us have wounds from our parents being critical towards us, but as adults, we can be good parents to ourselves.

We can meet our own needs, we can support ourselves, we can be warm, accepting and encouraging to ourselves, even if our parents didn’t model that for us.

4. Self-compassion is the desire to alleviate our suffering and it has 3 parts to it.

  1. Being kind, warm, supportive to ourselves (e.g. treating ourselves like we would a good friend).
  2. Mindfulness
    - Mindfulness is the foundation of self-compassion.
    - It means we are present and aware of any painful thoughts and feelings we are having and we accept they are there.
    - Mindfulness requires us to turn towards our pain, not avoid it, and face our mistakes.
  3. Recognition of common humanity and interconnection
    - Self-compassion is the ability to not feel alone.
    - Although self-compassion has the word “self” in it, it is not self-focused at all - instead, it recognizes how life is difficult for everyone, we all make mistakes, and that we are not alone. 

5. There are 2 sides to self-compassion:

  1. Tender: includes self-acceptance - accepting us as who we are, we aren’t perfect and that’s okay.
  2. Fierce: includes being brave and taking action to alleviate our suffering (e.g. protecting ourselves, saying no to others, setting boundaries).

Achieving a balance between both is most effective! 

6. Self-compassion is really good for you, here’s how:

  • Improves mental health: reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, decreases stress levels; can lead to greater happiness
  • Improves physical health: increases immune function, you will sleep better, have fewer colds/aches, it reduces pain
  • Increases learning: promotes learning and growth goals
  • Reduces procrastination: since procrastination is actually fear of failure, self-compassion makes it safe to fail and it allows you to learn from the failure
  • Increases motivation: since motivation comes from a place of love instead of shame, people try harder, they’re more persistent, more likely to re-engage when they fail
  • Improves relationships: increases your ability to be a good partner, to have more satisfying interpersonal relationships
  • Allows you to take better care of yourself and others: it gives us the emotional resources we need to withstand failure and to be able to give to others

7. There is a difference between self-esteem and self-compassion.

Self-esteem is contingent on success.

  • When we fail, self-esteem deserts us (which is a problem when as human beings we are going to fail).

Whereas, self-compassion is the perfect alternative.

  • It isn’t dependent on success or failure, it’s simply a process of being kind, supportive, and warm to ourselves, as well as remembering that failure is a part of the human condition.
  • It’s not positive thinking, it’s the opposite -- it involves being open to and accepting our imperfections.
  • As opposed to self-esteem, self-compassion makes us want to do better next time.

8. Self-compassion is not selfish, all we are doing is just including ourselves in our circle of compassion.

9. We have the tools to be self-compassionate!

We already know how to be compassionate as we show that compassion to our loved ones and friends.

The hardest part about being self-compassionate is giving ourselves permission to do it, as well as remembering to do it, especially when it is our habitual response to go into defence mode.

10. Having an ally inside of your head will make you stronger than having an enemy. 

How to incorporate self-compassion into your life:

Be compassionate to yourself directly.

  • Imagine what you would say to a friend in the same situation.
  • Imagine what a compassionate friend/loved one would say to you right now.

Practice the 3 components of self-compassion:

  1. Actively give yourself kindness.
    - This can be done through words (e.g. positive self-talk) or even through touch (e.g. hugging yourself).
  2. Practice mindfulness.
    - Validate your pain, instead of trying to suppress your emotions or solve them.
    - Be aware of your emotions and how things may be hard right now.
  3. Remind yourself that you aren’t alone.
    - What you are experiencing is part of being human and other people are going through similar hardships.

These strategies may feel awkward or phony at first, but over time they will get easier. When you see the positive impact they are having on your life, you’ll want to do them again and again! 

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