Compassion is a word we hear a lot in relation to our meditation and mindfulness practices. How can we transcend our ego-driven grudges and learn to forgive? How can we come to better understand the emotions and actions of those around us? By cultivating compassion.
Yet many of us are hesitant to direct that warmth and understanding toward ourselves.
The Evolutionary Path to Self-Criticism
We might set goals for self-improvement and self-care, but these are frequently meant to address a sense of lack: I am not good enough right now.
This is due to our habit of visiting the past and predicting the future, which can prompt a completely normal - perhaps even unnoticeable - period of negative thinking. Even those who consider themselves happy and positive have a negativity bias.
Humankind has simply evolved this way. What separates us from other species is the fact that we classify our behavior in order to learn lessons. The negativity bias suggests that negative experiences have a larger psychological impact than positive ones.
For example, did we say something hurtful to a loved one? We’ll put this in the “bad” box, and make a point of being more careful with our words in the future. We’re going to change for the better by being kinder.
But in the meantime, our mind wanders back to that event every so often, and we feel awful.
If left unchecked, that turns into, I am awful. That stings us in places where positive memories could never reach. Furthermore, it puts a damper on our future efforts to be kinder.
Mindfulness for Self-Compassion
Even if we’re learning important lessons from negative experiences, they don’t change us for the better the way self-compassion can. In fact, most of those would-be lessons distract us from being our best, as-we-are selves.
So here’s how you can start incorporating self-compassion into your mindfulness practice right away.
First, learn what compassion entails. When you’re directing compassion toward yourself, you’re not making excuses, and you’re not feeling sorry for yourself. What you are doing is extending yourself the same consideration you would a true friend. If they failed to meet a goal, you’d counter their disappointment with phrases such as, “You did your best,” or, “You’ll have another chance,” not, “I knew you would fail. Give it up already.”
Now it’s time to be mindful. Watch your thoughts closely, and when a negative self-criticism appears, challenge it.
Affirmations can be useful here. Still, it might work better for you if you avoid trying to pour sugar on a nasty thought; it’ll still taste bad. Instead, remind yourself that the negative event was just part of life. Life is full of both good and bad experiences, that’s all.
Applying a lack of judgment to an event has to be done over and over again before the thought is genuinely neutral. This is why mindfulness and meditation are a daily practice.
Finally, it’s important that you notice any improvement in how you feel when that previously negative judgment arises. If you can soak up a moment where it doesn’t feel as terrible as it did before, you’re much more likely to continue transforming thoughts with compassion in mind.
Have you completely overlooked yourself on the journey to greater compassion? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to share any tips you have for blasting away self-criticism.