If you ever heard someone say the following out loud to someone else, they'd be considered a huge jerk, right?
"You're an idiot."
"I can't believe you messed up again."
"You've gotten fat."
"Why are you so lazy?"
But how often do you say things like that... to yourself?
If that is something you do, why do you talk like that to yourself? Maybe you’re scared that if you don’t, you’ll never live up to your full potential. Or maybe you think you deserve it.
Is that really true? And what would life be like if you were as compassionate to yourself as you are to people you care about?
What self-criticism really does to you
At first glance, self-criticism might seem to work really well in the short-term. When you make a mistake and you punish yourself for it, your disappointment prevents you from making that mistake again. Success.
But what if you’re in the middle of a big presentation and you make a mistake? Self-criticism keeps your attention on the mistake as you’re trying to move forward. When your focus splits like this, the more likely it’ll be you’ll make another mistake, which splits your focus even further. It’s a downward spiral that’s difficult to escape. And it can happen in any area of your life, not just work. Imagine this happening on a first date or in the middle of your workout class.
Even worse, it’s not just limited to one area of your life, even if it starts out that way. The more you tell yourself you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough, talented enough, good enough, etc., the more that gets ground into your subconscious.
Your subconscious mind is responsible for up to 95% of what the brain processes, including making sure your actions are consistent with your thoughts. So by telling your subconscious mind you aren’t good enough too many times, you start to act that way as well in all areas of your life.
So what’s the alternative?
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is the practice of seeing yourself the same way you see your friends and family: as a person who deserves empathy, love, and care despite your flaws and mistakes.
In other words, stop judging yourself so much!
It sounds so simple, but it’s hard for us to overcome the fears that keep us tethered to self-criticism, like:
I’ll screw up more if I let go of self-criticism
Perfectionists often believe that with a little more effort, they can be perfect. But that’s just not possible. So let go of that idea. All the energy and focus you put into being perfect is suddenly freed up for what you’re actually doing, which makes it likely that over time you’ll perform better. If nothing else, you’ll enjoy what you’re doing more, so you’ll focus on how much you love what you’re doing rather than on potential mistakes you’re making.
Putting myself first is selfish or narcissistic
Giving yourself what you need and putting up boundaries allows you to do your best work and take care of the people you love more easily. It’s just like using an oxygen mask on an airplane. If you put the oxygen mask on yourself first, you’ll be conscious to put masks on other people who might need your help. If you put the mask on others first, you’ll pass out and be left without oxygen.
I’ll become lazy if I’m not criticizing myself
Practicing self-compassion means recognizing what you need. And part of what humans need is to feel like they’re fulfilling their potential. It’s difficult to do that while binge-watching TV. There might be periods of more rest and less doing, but at some point you’ll want to get back up and start accomplishing again. You might even push yourself more when you practice self-compassion because now you don’t have a voice in your head telling you you’re not capable.
The most important thing to remember is that self-compassion is a process. It’s not something that happens overnight, but a series of lifelong practices that are applied over and over as you continue to grow and become more confident.
The benefits of self-compassion
The biggest benefit of self-compassion is that you’ll find yourself a healthier, happier person. And it’s not just because you’re not telling yourself how terrible you are anymore.
When you start to focus on your needs and desires first, you see how much impact you can have on the world. You spend more time on what you care about and the things that make you feel great and less on what you’re “supposed to do,” which makes you feel accomplished and engaged on a regular basis.
As you focus on your own needs and progress, you also spend less time comparing yourself to others. You realize that focusing on whether someone else is happier than you or more successful than you is only adding to your sense of lack. Self-compassion helps you focus on how much you’ve grown rather than how amazing you could be if only you were more like someone else, which will never happen.
Show yourself some compassion
As good as all that sounds, transitioning to a self-compassion mindset can be a scary process if you’re used to clinging to self-criticism. So how do you make that transition for yourself?
1. Recognize the moments when you’re being harsh toward yourself
Most people don’t realize how critical their inner dialog is because they’re so used to it, they assume it’s normal. When you actually voice those thoughts, that’s when it hits you how harsh those thoughts are. So write down your thoughts and read them out loud as if you’re reading them to a friend. Even when it’s pretend, it’s hard to believe the words that are coming out of your mouth. Seeing that is the first step to changing how you talk to yourself.
2. Change the message
Through a vision statement or daily mantras, start to change the message ingrained in your subconscious. Use the thoughts you wrote down to find the messages your subconscious needs to hear: I am worthy of love, I use my mistakes to learn and grow, I am beautiful, I am capable, I am enough. You might not believe the mantras at first, but the more you use them the more they seep into your subconscious, replacing your self-critical thoughts. It helps to say them out loud or write them down for 1-2 minutes every time your self-critical thoughts come up until you start feeling like they’re true.
3. Take time for yourself everyday
Whether that’s five minutes or an hour, make sure you take some time to connect with yourself, what you want, and how you want to feel. Practices like meditation or journaling can help you dig into your needs, as can meditative movement like yoga, tai chi, or walking in nature. Take note of areas of self-care you’ve been ignoring, actions you’ve been taking that don’t feel congruent with who you are, actions you’ve been wanting to take but haven’t, and areas of your life where you need to set up boundaries.
4. Start taking care of yourself
Take action on the items you’ve noted during your reflection time. The key is to start small. Unless radical change is absolutely necessary, implement one or two things on your list at a time until they start to feel routine. Then implement the next one or two things on your list. Small steps build up your confidence and make the changes in your life less overwhelming so that you’re more likely to build them into habits you’ll use all your life.
We want to support you on your journey to self-compassion, and the best way we know how is to help you nourish your body with whole foods. Giving your body high-quality protein and vegetables helps you perform at your best. And having meals pre-made means you can give yourself the best food and free up your time for more self-care.
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