3 Strategies to Cultivate Self-Kindness
I thought about cultivating self-kindness after I wrote an article about reducing negative self-talk. I realized that although those strategies were effective for limiting negative self-talk, they didn't address a more fundamental issue. For many people, it is a lot harder to show kindness to ourselves than to other people. I think part of this occurs because we have access to every thought and emotion in our lives, and since we know that our experiences are not always wholly positive, we feel that this makes us less deserving of love and compassion. This mode of thought is reinforced frequently in society and seems to be built off the general idea that we begin our lives blameless but can lose our innocence over time. Although it is easier to classify ourselves and others using binary categories like "good" and "bad," these classifications are ultimately not accurate representations of ourselves or others.
And yet, thinking in this way can have profound consequences for our mental health. If we think of every mistake we make or every negative thought we experience as a sign that we are "bad," then our potential to be kind and compassionate becomes increasingly constrained by this idea that a negative label has been applied. The natural consequence of a categorical judgment like this is that we begin to define ourselves by these events and in many cases conform future behaviors to align with the label. For example, if I had assigned a "bad" label to myself regarding my math ability, then anytime I experienced struggles with math, my belief in this label would be reinforced and would ultimately inhibit my ability to learn and improve in the subject. This can apply to our self-talk as well. When I behave in a way that matches a negative label I have, I tend to beat myself up about it rather than looking for opportunities to improve. Conversely, when I consider my experiences without imposing a global judgment on myself, I can focus on ways to improve instead.
Cultivating self-kindness can be challenging, but it begins with breaking the negative labels we believe apply to us. Below I share three strategies I use to dispose of my labels and treat myself with compassion.
How to Cultivate Self-Kindness
- Think ownership. When something negative happens, it can be hard to accept that it's happened in the first place and that we are responsible for it. Counterintuitively, I think we use negative labels to absolve ourselves of ownership because when we give ourselves a negative label, we're basically saying "This is something about me that I cannot change". It's the ultimate cop-out. To avoid this labeling trap, we have to go in the opposite direction by taking responsibility for what happens in our lives. I don't mean we should beat ourselves up about mistakes we make, but instead, we have to acknowledge that the only way things will improve is if we take steps to change.
- Think adaptive. Thinking in terms of negative labels can be a difficult habit to break, but one way I've used that works well is to shift to thinking in terms of whether an action is adaptive or not. This builds on taking ownership of our experiences, and so rather than asking yourself whether what you did was wrong or bad, instead ask whether your response to that event will be adaptive -- whether it will actually benefit you or others. For example, if you're engaging in negative self-talk because you forgot to attend a meeting, instead of focusing on your mistake, ask yourself whether that self-talk is going to make things better or worse. This strategy takes your focus away from the mistake and moves it toward your goals and what you can to attain them instead. This is a fantastic way to reduce label-based, negative thinking that also improves your ability to focus on positive change.
- Think slow. The last piece that has been crucial for me is acknowledging that change takes time and I can't expect myself or my circumstances to change quickly. When I don't act in the way I want to or expect myself to, I want to stop doing that as quickly as possible, but that imposes an unrealistic standard on myself. What I can do is take small steps every day to find ways to improve, but how long it takes for change to occur isn't entirely in my control. Giving ourselves the time and space to create positive change is a necessary precursor to sustainable, positive change, and is an invaluable component of self-kindness.
I hope this article will help you cultivate self-kindness in your daily lives and reduce how often you allow negative labels to define you. We can always improve, but that doesn't mean we are inadequate in this moment.
What other strategies do you use to cultivate self-kindness in your life? Share below.
Abitante, G. (2019, March 24). 3 Strategies to Cultivate Self-Kindness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2019/3/3-strategies-to-cultivate-self-kindness
Author: George Abitante
This is such a beautiful point to make: "If we think of every mistake we make or every negative thought we experience as a sign that we are "bad", then our potential to be kind and compassionate becomes increasingly constrained by this idea". How true this is. It is so much easier to show kindness to others because, even those we know very well, we don't know to the extent that we know ourselves. It's easier to see good or "give them a break", but we don't extend that same space to ourselves. I love your tips. Self kindness is truly such an important thing, and of course as we show ourselves more kindness we are even more capable of sharing that kindness with others. Everyone wins <3
Thanks so much for your comment! You bring up an awesome point that I hadn't considered enough, but you're right that self-kindness makes it much easier to be kind to others.