“I’m too old not to be on my own side.” (Maya Angelou)
Nor are you ever too young to be on your own side. Developing self-compassion offers far-reaching benefits.
1) For instance, you might think that taking a stern approach with yourself about your smoking habit would help to achieve your aim. However, a recent study revealed that smokers who offer themselves self-compassion rather than self-condemnation were able to reduce their smoking more than control subjects (Kelly et al, 2010).
In fact, those individuals who weren’t particularly ready to decrease their smoking or who were especially self-critical actually showed the most rapid reduction in their smoking after practicing self-compassion. So, if you think that you’re not “motivated” enough for self-compassion to work, or if you tend to be extremely hard on yourself, take heart — self-compassion may make a huge difference in your life, and more quickly than you expect.
2) Self-compassion may lessen the tendency to put off important tasks. Among college students, one study found that a high level of self-compassion was associated with less procrastination and higher motivation to complete assignments (Williams et al, 2008). Given that college is often the training ground for patterns later on in life, this is significant.
3) Increasing your level of self-compassion may help you get your creative juices flowing. According to a 2010 study (Zabelina & Robinson), self-judgmental individuals demonstrated greater “creative originality” after practicing self-compassion exercises than in the control condition. What with the various curves that life throws our way, being inventive and flexible in our responses is essential. So, chalk another one up for self-compassion.
4) Self-compassion enables us to roll with the punches and determine the next indicated action to take, while accepting ourselves and the current reality. Having compassion for one’s self does not mean that we deny our contribution to an undesirable situation, but that we aren’t consumed by negative feelings (Leary et al, 2007).
Therefore, you might want to take stock of your current level of self-compassion. The following items are taken from Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion Scale (Neff, 2003):
- I try to be understanding and patient towards those aspects of my personality I don’t like.
- I try to see my failings as part of the human condition.
- When I’m feeling down I try to approach my feelings with curiosity and openness.
- I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies.
- When I fail at something that’s important to me, I tend to feel alone in my failure.
- When something upsets me I get carried away with my feelings.
The first three items are indications of your levels of self-kindness, recognition that we’re all only human, and mindfulness. So, if you’re generally in agreement with these statements, you’re fairly high in self-compassion.
The last three items reflect attitudes of low self-compassion that are likely to contribute to serious and chronic emotional discomfort. Self-judgment, a sense of “terminal uniqueness”, and a tendency to be hijacked by one’s feelings aren’t pleasant in the long run — or even in the short run, in most cases.
Try a meditation exercise in which you repeat phrases like the following to yourself:
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be peaceful.
May I be healthy.
May I be kind to myself.
May I live with ease.
May I accept myself as I am.
You can mentally repeat these phrases to yourself in a quiet, seated meditation or as you go about your day. We tend to radiate to others what we feel about ourselves. So, by developing more positive self-regard, you will not only benefit yourself but also those around you.
Adams, M.R., Tate, E.B., Adams, C.E., Allen, A.B., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 92(5): 887-904.
Kelly, A.C., Zuroff, D.C., Foa, C.L., & Gilbert, P. (2010). Who benefits from training in self-compassionate self-regulation? A study of smoking reduction. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 29(7): 727-755.
Neff, K.D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self & Identity, 2: 223-250.
Williams, J.G., Stark, S.K., & Foster, E.E. (2008). Start today or the very last day? The relationships among self-compassion, motivation, and procrastination. American Journal of Psychological Research, 4(1): 37-44.
Zabelina, D.L., & Robinson, M.D. (2010). Don’t be so hard on yourself: self-compassion facilitates creative originality among self-judgmental individuals. Creativity Research Journal, 22(3): 288-293.