How to Choose Self-Compassion

When we listen to the nagging, negative voice inside our heads, we push ourselves too hard—and we push ourselves away, too. When you learn to love yourself, your relationships will improve for the better. 

Try a loving-kindness day: pick a day, don't schedule anything, and just see what you want to do. It could be reading a book, writing, or spending some time in nature. Photo: mnikolaev/Dollar Photo Club

I recently taught my annual women’s meditation retreat in Mexico. Every year at the retreat is beautiful and has its own flavor. This year’s retreat brought out the powerful themes of self-love and healing. The choice to take a week to slow down, really listen, and turn toward oneself when we often want to run or flee is an act of self-love, and in my opinion, courageous.

We often distract ourselves with negative habits that leave us depleted instead of nourished. At these times, I have found that the thoughts we feed our minds are directly linked to how we take care of ourselves.

It is not easy to be a human being. We have sensitive and often reactive nervous systems that are easily agitated by the constant ups and downs of life. Among the joys and sorrows, and the pleasure and pain, we are often faced with discomfort and uncertainty. When life gives us lemons, we can often push ourselves too hard, be overly critical, and distract ourselves with negative habits that leave us depleted instead of nourished. At these times, I have found that the thoughts we feed our minds are directly linked to how we take care of ourselves. We can feed our minds with sweet and loving phrases or sour and judgmental ones.

But, we are not our thoughts and we can start talking back to the negative and insensitive thoughts now.

Here is an exercise I invite my students and clients to practice: Identify five non self-nurturing thoughts and five self-nurturing thoughts.

Non self-nurturing thoughts might look like this:

  • I have no one in my life who truly loves me.
  • I will never lose the weight, so why try anyway.
  • I am not smart.
  • My belly is too big and it will never change.
  • Nothing in my life ever goes right.

Self-nurturing thoughts might look like this:

  • I am loveable.
  • I love and accept myself as I am right now.
  • I am smart and have multiple intelligences.
  • My belly holds my power and intuitive center and I am grateful for it.
  • My life has ups and downs just like everyone and I have enough right now.

When you read through the non self-nurturing thoughts, how do you feel? Sad, angry, hopeless? Does that make you want to reach out for some comfort like a big bowl of chocolate ice cream? That is a pretty normal reaction. We all want comfort when we are blasted with critical words.

How do you feel when you read through the self-nurturing thoughts? Empowered, happy, confident? YES!

Over the last decade, I have been practicing loving-kindness and compassion toward myself. It has been incredibly transformative in my life, but I also see how effective these practices have been in my students’ lives. Research studies are documenting these benefits as well. In a study observing the long-term benefits of loving-kindness meditation, it found an increase in positive emotions, greater self-compassion, and less depressive symptoms.

The cultivation of love and kindness toward oneself allows one to offer greater love and compassion to others. Self-love isn’t always easy. It requires one to love and hold all of yourself with compassion, even the not so “pretty parts.”

For the month of February, I invite you to take a Self-Love Challenge! Here are some tips below to get you started. Pick one of these practices to try once a day for the next four weeks. If you like what you are feeling, then keep going. It may become a wholesome habit of the mind.

Be Your Own Best Friend

What does this look like? Love hanging out with yourself. I like to call these my loving-kindness days. I pick a day, or even a night (if you can’t give yourself a whole day), and I just slow down. I don’t schedule anything and I just let myself see what I want to do. Sometimes I read a book, write, spend hours in nature, eat exactly what I want and I am craving (and savor it!). After a day like this, I always feel rejuvenated and that my love bucket is full.

Love All of Yourself

This means saying phrases toward yourself such as, “I love and accept myself as I am.” Be loving and accepting of your strengths and weaknesses, your pretty parts and not so attractive parts. Forgive yourself for actions you may have taken due to not knowing better. Bringing compassion to ourselves is the greatest motivator for real change.

Take Actions Guided by Self-Love

Repetitively make positive affirmations to yourself such as the phrase: “I am deserving of kindness.” Support these thoughts with positive actions such as giving yourself more space in the day, patience, and creating better self-care practices.

Surround Yourself with Loving People

When you start to show up for yourself with more love, you may decide that you want and deserve more love from those around you. A few years ago, I created compassionate boundaries in my relationships. This action resulted in my not investing time and energy in relationships and people that were only capable of being there for the “good times.” I wanted friends who were authentic, loving, supportive, and dependable because that is what I was giving out. Today, I have a beautiful, loving, and supportive community that I spend my time giving to and receiving from. As your self-love grows, you may re-assess the relationships in your life and move some out of your inner circle, in order to surround yourself with people who are the most loving.

“I choose me.” When you love yourself, your relationship to your body, your mind, your heart, and others will improve for the better. This is what I have been teaching and practicing for the last nine years in my Stanford and online course, Mindfully Nourished. Enrolment for the 2016 course starts in March.

What committed choices will you make this month to better take care of yourself, to honor yourself, to support yourself, to heal yourself, and to love yourself?

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