Cultivate self-compassion and change your life for good

When we’re trying hard to change, the path is easier when we back ourselves. You can be your greatest ally, advocate and cheerleader by practising the art of self-compassion. We’ll show you how. 

Negative and destructive thoughts, feelings and behaviours can dash our hopes of changing our lifestyles, letting us believe we’re not good enough. But we can challenge them and train ourselves to respond differently to difficulties we face. Learning self-compassion is the first step. 

Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the kindness, respect and patience that you would a friend or loved one. It’s a powerful motivator that generates good feelings. The process isn’t about sugar coating uncomfortable truths, it’s about promoting acceptance of yourself wholly, for who you are, body and mind.  

Aim to be a friend, not a foe, an ally, not an enemy

Self-loathing and self-criticism trigger our sympathetic nervous system to react. This is known as our fight or flight mechanism, a system designed to help us deal with physical danger. It’s activated just as readily by emotional attacks from ourselves or others. Our brain signals for increased blood pressure and the release of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to enable the strength and energy needed for survival. Living in this mode for prolonged periods of time can cause chronic health issues like obesity, stress, anxiety, depression and cardiac complaints.  

Self-compassion triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which plays a vital role in maintaining physical and mental health. Known as the ‘rest and digest’ system, it lowers the heart rate and sends energy to the digestive tract and promotes a sense of wellbeing. Oxytocin release makes us feel calm and loved and reduces cortisol. Habit change is more likely to happen, and stick, in this state. Whereas shame and negativity breeds further bad feeling.  

Tips to practising self-compassion 

  • Aim for progress, not perfection. Being able to fail and understanding that not only is it ok, it’s a natural part of learning and growing that is helpful. 
  • Focusing on the journey, not the destination. The path to change isn’t linear, there will be ups, downs and obstacles along the way. We need to anticipate, accommodate and accept setbacks and roll with them. Learn to enjoy the wisdom you gain and the lessons you learn on the way. 
  • Reflection. Look at events when things didn’t go to plan or when expectations weren’t met. Did certain thoughts, feelings, emotions or physical states make you vulnerable to doing something impulsive or self-sabotaging? Are there learning points you can take for the future? 
  • Be aware of the words you use, both in your head and out loud. Our words play a part in constructing our reality and saying things like ‘I’m a greedy pig’ and ‘I’m a fat cow’ aren’t true and don’t serve a purpose. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, why say it to yourself? 
  • Make small, sustainable choices. These add up. Remind yourself that each positive choice you make takes you in your chosen direction and every time you do so, your brain finds it a little easier each time. Over time, your choices will become habits you won’t even have to think about. Not everything has to change at once for positive changes to happen. 
  • Practicing daily positive affirmations such as:  ‘I am learning to accept myself as I am in this moment’. 

Remember the age-old analogy for motivating the donkey with a carrot or a stick? In this instance, the stick is self-loathing/judgement/criticism/hatred, and the carrot is self-compassion/esteem/belief/acceptance and more.  

Aim to be a friend, not a foe, an ally, not an enemy. Plenty of carrot and banish the stick. It’s vital to motivate yourself with kindness, plus carrots can help you see in the dark.