How To Build Self-Kindness: 4 Best Exercises and Tips
You know that little voice in your head? The one that tells you that you are not doing good enough and won’t amount to anything. The one that tells you that you are the only one who doesn’t know what they are doing? Basically, that little voice that tells you that you are just not good enough and a failure. I have got a voice like that too. I like to call it my inner critic.
Most, if not all of us, are more unkind to ourselves than those around us. Can you imagine saying things like “you are not good enough” to those around you? If we did, I doubt we would have anyone be okay with such statements, let alone stick around. So why is it that we are so harsh with ourselves? And, how can we become our very own friends? Let's find out!
What is Self-Kindness?
Kristen Neff, an expert on self-compassion and all things related, has highlighted that self-kindness is one of the three elements of self-compassion. In that light, she defines self-compassion as “being warm and understanding to ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism”. Being imperfect is inevitable and part of being human. Accepting this reality with kindness leads to more mental tranquillity.
Why is Self-Kindness Important?
Self-kindness is an important part of our wellbeing. Without it, we cannot properly make meaningful connections with ourselves, and even others. With it, we are happier and more connected to those around us, and the world. We are less bogged down by the negativity and disappointment in ourselves. We open ourselves up to what the world has to offer.
The key: self-kindness allows us to accept ourselves. Acceptance allows us to be at peace.
Are Self-Kindness and Mindfulness Related?
Mindfulness is an integral way of developing self-kindness. Mindfulness is having a non-judgmental mental state where we observe ourselves (our thoughts and feelings) as they are, without getting caught up in them.
Being mindful of our self-critical thoughts is the recipe to being at peace with ourselves. It is vital to allow these negative thoughts and acknowledge them as they are. Suppressing them only causes us to be more attentive to them. It is also not helpful to get caught up in the negative comments we tell ourselves.
Can I Be Kind To Others If I Am Not Kind To Myself?
“You can’t love others fully until you love yourself”. How true is that statement? Simple answer: not likely. Love starts with yourself.
When you observe someone else in pain, you are more likely to feel compassion towards them. You feel the desire to help. Compassion requires understanding others despite the mistakes they make, without being disappointed and having harsh judgments against them. But how likely are you to do this successfully when your only reference point is judging and criticising yourself harshly?
The best way to be kind to others is to practice being kind to yourself.
Why Is It Hard To Practice Self-Kindness?
If engaging in self-kindness is so good for us, why don’t we do it? There are three reasons that can explain why being kind to ourselves can sometimes prove to be a challenging task.
1. Thinking that self-judgment is helpful to us.
Most people incorrectly believe that by engaging in self-judgement, we will protect ourselves against the harshness of other people’s judgement and rejection. We believe that criticising ourselves will make us more resilient against criticisms from those around us. Instead however, we tie our own hands, and prevent ourselves from moving forward.
2. Fear of the unknown
Alternatively, it’s scary. We have spent our whole lives with this negative voice in our head. We have grown used to it. Introducing a kind voice is an unknown experience. What will it be like? Will we be good at it? Interesting… sounds like the inner critic at work again, right? Practising self-kindness is like trying a novel activity. It can be scary to try something new.
For some, self-kindness can be seen as a weakness. “Sure, life is hard, but there’s no need to cry about it”. Depending on a person’s life growing up, being kind to yourself can be viewed as unnecessary and a weakness. “You should toughen up”. “Be a big girl/boy”. Viewing self-kindness as a weakness can hamper our willingness to practice it in a major way.
The Dangers of Not Practicing Self-Kindness
5 Benefits of Self-Kindness
1. Feelings of happiness and optimism.
Being less occupied by the negativity, we have more space for happiness and satisfaction in ourselves, our lives, and those around us.
2. More curiosity.
We have more time to be curious about the world around us. Being less self-aware, we have more time to look out into the world. We are more willing to learn more about what is around us.
3. Decreased feelings of anxiety and depression.
We are less likely to feel down because we pay less importance to our inner critic (that negative little voice in our heads). By paying less attention to these negative thoughts, we spend less time ruminating and obsessing over our “downfalls” and “insufficiencies”.
4. Less feeling like a failure.
Without the incessant and nagging negativity of our inner critic, there is less of an opportunity to feel inferior and like we are worth less. We have more resilient feelings of self-worth.
In addition, given that feelings of failure are linked to social comparison, having more self-kindness means there is less of a chance that we are likely to engage in social comparison and feel self-conscious.
5. Reduced perfectionism.
With less self-criticism, comes less perfectionism. We are less likely to be hard on ourselves whenever we are unable to meet the high standards and expectations we set for ourselves. When done correctly, we are able to enjoy the journey towards goal achievement rather than focusing only on the achievement of the end goal. The key: We are accepting.
How To Practice More Self-Kindness: 4 Activities & Tips
So, how can we begin fostering this healthy and beneficial practice? Let's discuss some strategies and tips that will help you become kinder towards yourself.
1. Practice Mindfulness
The first step to practicing more self-kindness is to be able to recognise when those self-critical thoughts are coming up. Mindfulness helps you stay more connected to what you are thinking and feeling. With this, you can recognise your inner critic from yourself. Recognising and differentiating yourself from these thoughts will help you to see when you are going down the rabbit hole of self-hate. Explore the different types of meditation practices and find one that you feel related to you best.
2. Do Affirmations
A nice way to strengthen your self-kindness voice and to drown out your inner critic is to prepare some self-compassion phrases and repeat them. The more we repeat something, the stronger it gets wired into our brains. This is what we call neuroplasticity in psychology. Our inner critic is strong now because we kept “practicing” those negative thoughts, making ourselves more likely to believe them. Now, we want to make our self-kindness stronger. Therefore, repeating kind phrases to ourselves will keep them more at the forefront of our minds. Whenever we have recognised your negative self-talk, start reframing those thoughts into positive statements. And repeat those positive statements regularly.
Remember: Given that we have heard negative phrases from our inner critic for so many years, we need to keep practising our positive, compassionate phrases regularly.
3. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend
How would you treat a friend in need? Probably by being empathic and understanding, right? Allow yourself to do that for yourself. If you saw your loved one being upset, you might hold their hand or even give them a hug. This comes from a place of empathy, compassion, love and kindness. Allow yourself to do that for yourself.
4. Be forgiving with yourself
Embrace yourself despite your flaws. Remind yourself of your strengths. Remind yourself that both your strengths and weaknesses are not what makes you who you are. It is your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and values that make you who you are.
Also, try not to judge yourself too quickly. Give yourself time and reflect on your behaviour from a birds eye view. Remember to weigh out the evidence for and against your thoughts about yourself.
Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting to set yourself standards and expectations for success. However, if you get trapped into continuous self-criticism about achieving those goals instead of accepting and enjoying the journey, no matter what your aim is, you will feel as though you will never be enough. The solution is to practice self-kindness.
Remember that it’s okay. Accept that the chips will fall where they may. Embrace your imperfection. Be kind to yourself as you would to others. You are not alone!
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE.