With Valentine’s Day later this week, we often think about being kinder and more loving towards our partners, friends and family members. But, we rarely think about including ourselves on the list. In fact we are often more critical and rejecting of ourselves and our bad qualities and habits than anyone else in our lives. Chances are that if you’re criticizing yourself for where you’re falling short and telling yourself that you’re failing, improving your health and well-being will be much harder.
Why is this? Because studies show that feeling someone is cheering you on or being encouraging of you, makes it more likely that you will be inclined to stick to the changes you’re trying to make. We know that feeling supported is key in helping us adjust to changes in our lives including new parenthood or moving to a new city. Still, many of us are automatically self-critical and feel negatively towards ourselves without even thinking. To help you be kinder and gentler to yourself and more likely to continue with taking steps to stress less and live better, try these 3 tips.
- Befriend yourself. Instead of being self-critical, think about the words you would say to a good friend who was trying to change something about his/her life. You would never say to them like you do to yourself, “You’re a loser. You never finish anything you start. You’re just lazy, etc, etc.” Instead, you’d more likely be comforting and reassuring, even encouraging. Pretend you’re talking to them and use the words you’d say to them. It will help you feel better and improve your chance of succeeding at the changes you’re making.
- Make self-criticism less automatic. Often we don’t realize that we’re thinking negatively about ourselves until we start to pay attention to it. What we tend to notice first is that we’re feeling bad or down or not motivated. Start asking yourself what thoughts you’re having when your mood changes and becomes more negative. Many of my clients are surprised how frequently they have self-critical or self-rejecting thoughts when they keep track of them. Several who have been addressing this in counseling, told me recently that the more they replace these negative, self-critical thoughts with what they’d say to a friend, the better they feel, so give it a try.
- Practice self-compassion. In fact, the definition of mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement. I say “with self-compassion.” This means that you extend the same lovingkindness to yourself that you do all your loved ones. One of my favorite ways to do this is to repeat to myself this lovingkindness meditation from Dr. Joan Borysenko that goes, “May I be at peace. May my heart remain open. May I know the beauty of my own true nature. May I be healed. May I be a source of healing to others.” Say this once or twice a day especially if you’re having a hard time with self-criticism. It works!
More resources on self-compassion: