By Elior Moskowitz
There’s one person who has more influence over you than anyone else. This person can be your biggest advocate or your biggest obstacle. With their encouragement, you can reach new heights. But without their support, it’s almost impossible to thrive. This person shapes your decisions and determines your self-worth. Who is this person? It’s you.
You face a choice every day: You can be your own worst critic, like so many of us tend to be—or your biggest fan. The key to becoming the latter? Self-compassion.
Self-compassion is defined as awarding yourself the same warmth, care, and understanding as you do others, especially when you make a mistake, fail, or experience a setback. It’s all about accepting that you’re imperfect—in other words, human—and still worthy of kindness. In fact, research shows that taking an approach of self-compassion leads to higher levels of wellbeing, optimism, and happiness and lower levels of anxiety and depression. World Mental Health Day is this Tuesday, October 10th, so it’s the perfect time to commit to your own mental and emotional health by pledging to show yourself the support you deserve. Here’s how:
1. Challenge Your Inner Voice You may think what you say to yourself and how you say it doesn’t matter. But it does. You develop your inner voice in childhood, and while it may go unnoticed as you go about your day, this voice plays a large role in how you feel about yourself and how you interpret the world and those around you. Make sure it’s lifting you up, not dragging you down. Start to pay attention to how your inner voice sounds: What trends do you notice? Do you use a certain tone? Do you overgeneralize, telling yourself that you always mess up? Do you personalize, defaulting to thinking every situation is your fault? Call that voice into question.
2. Love Unconditionally… It’s easy to love yourself through the wins—aced presentations, promotions, or parenting highs—but what about the lows? A major component of self-compassion is self-acceptance, which means standing by yourself with love when times get rough. The bottom line is that you are deserving of your own unconditional love, not just if you behave a certain way or when you achieve a certain goal. Think about your best friend: They know that you are deserving of support through thick and thin—not just when it’s convenient for them or when you’re doing well. Being a friend to yourself works the same way. When you establish this baseline level of self-compassion, you can love yourself everyday no matter what kind of day (or month, or year) you’re having.
3. …But Don’t Overindulge When you feel down, it’s easy to resort to self-soothing mechanisms like vegging out on the couch, treating yourself to a new purchase, or letting yourself off the hook in general. But self-compassion does not equal self-indulgence. Loving yourself means pushing yourself to face adversity and take on challenges. The occasional lazy day is fine, but pushing yourself to skip that extra hour of TV for a workout instead, for example, is true self-compassion.
4. Make Mistakes When you only focus on your successes, you create a relationship with yourself that makes you hide from your mistakes. Think of a child whose parent is only happy if they get a good grade. Pretty soon, that child is going internalize that it’s not acceptable to make mistakes—and they learn to hide their bad grades from the parent. When perfection is the bar, you’ll inevitably try to cover up your mistakes, which stops you from learning from them. Develop a mindset of realistic optimism by taking accountability—with yourself and others—when you know you’ve made a mistake, so that you can move on, grow, and improve. Bonus? Once you accept yourself, flaws and all, you stop expecting perfection and can more easily accept others.
5. Focus On You(r Progress) Be honest with yourself about where you’re at and where you’re going. Your only metric for growth should be your own, so set your goals based on what you want to achieve, not what you think you should achieve by any one else’s standards. Take the viewpoint of the “compassionate other” and regard yourself the way you would a child who is still growing and developing. To judge your progress against others is to sell yourself short of your own unique capabilities. What’s important: Doing the best you can do.
Elior Moskowitz is the Content Coordinator at meQuilibrium. She is a frequent Cup of Calm contributor and writes about leadership, lifestyle, and wellbeing. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and English from the University at Albany.