5 Self-Compassion Exercises to Practice Daily

Channel your inner cheerleader

<p>Maryna Terletska/Moment/Getty</p>

Maryna Terletska/Moment/Getty

We all go through difficult times, make mistakes, or say the wrong thing sometimes. In these situations, our inner critic often takes over, scolding us and leaving us feeling angry, upset, disappointed, embarrassed, or ashamed at ourselves.

But what if there was a way to navigate these difficulties with kindness and understanding instead? That’s where self-compassion comes in.

“Self-compassion involves learning how to be kind, gentle, and patient toward ourselves when things in our lives get tricky, challenging, messy, sad, awful, or unbearable. It's learning how to become our own best friend,” says Stephanie Strauss, a yoga, meditation, and mindfulness expert.

In this article, we explore the benefits of being compassionate toward yourself as well as five self-compassion exercises to help you get started. By taking a few minutes each day to connect with yourself with kindness, you'll be able to replace negative self-talk with self-compassion.

At a Glance

Sometimes, we can be our own worst critic. But, what if we were our own best friend? How much stronger and happier would we feel?

Self-compassion involves being kind and loving toward ourselves. However, it doesn’t always come naturally to us. There are many exercises that can help us cultivate more self-compassion.

Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion

Practicing self-compassion is important because it’s legitimately good for us, says Strauss. Research shows us that it can help improve our mental health and well-being in several ways:

  • Promotes acceptance: Self-compassion teaches us to be kinder and less judgmental toward ourselves. We learn to accept ourselves the way we are.

  • Enhances emotional regulation: Self-compassion helps us manage our emotions more effectively. Instead of suppressing or denying difficult feelings, we learn to acknowledge and validate them with kindness, leading to greater emotional stability.

  • Encourages self-care: When we’re compassionate toward ourselves, we’re more likely to take care of our physical and emotional needs. When things get tough, we stop for a moment and consider how we can take care of our own well-being rather than ignoring our needs.

  • Reduces stress: Being compassionate toward ourselves promotes self-care and helps us draw healthy boundaries to protect ourselves. This can help lower our stress levels.

  • Improves mental health: Greater self-compassion is linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety, and better mental health.

  • Improves physical health: Self-compassion has also been shown to boost physical health, by way of reducing stress.

  • Increases happiness: Self-compassion is associated with greater happiness, optimism, and life satisfaction.

  • Fosters healthy relationships: By being kinder to ourselves, we’re more likely to extend that same kindness to others, fostering stronger relationships.

Related: 5 Types of Self-Care for Every Area of Your Life

5 Self-Compassion Exercises to Get You Started

These are some self-compassion exercises that can help you get started.

Self-Compassion Exercise 1: How Would You Treat a Friend?

This exercise is based on the premise that we’re able to offer our friends and loved ones more kindness and understanding than we show ourselves. The idea is to shift our perspective and treat ourselves with the same compassion we would give a friend in a similar situation.

Here's how you can do this exercise:

  1. Identify a challenging situation: Reflect on a time when you faced something challenging, made a mistake, or had a difficult conversation.

  2. Notice your reaction: Take note of your reaction to the situation. Are you blaming yourself? Hating yourself for it? Feeling embarrassed and wishing the floor would swallow you up?

  3. Imagine it from the perspective of a friend: Now, imagine that a close friend or loved one is facing the same situation you identified. Picture how you would respond to them if they were in the same situation. Consider the words of encouragement, support, and comfort you would offer to lift their spirits.

  4. Apply the same compassion to yourself: Once you have a clear idea of how you would treat your friend, turn that compassion inward and apply it to yourself. Speak to yourself with the same level of kindness, empathy, and encouragement that you would extend to a friend.

  5. Reflect on the difference: Take a moment to reflect on the differences in your reaction toward yourself and your friend. Consider how each one made you feel.

  6. Repeat the affirmations: Every time you think of that situation, repeat the self-compassion affirmations that soothe you. For example, you could say: “I’m doing the best I can and that’s enough,” or "It's okay to make mistakes, I’m only human."

Related: 25 Self-Love Affirmations to Remind You of Your Worth

Self-Compassion Exercise 2: Self-Compassion Break

Developed by Dr. Kristin Neff, this is a mindfulness-based exercise. Here’s how you can practice it:

  1. Reflect on a difficult situation: Think about a challenging thought or situation, either past or present, that’s stressing you out.

  2. Acknowledge your struggle: Notice how the situation is making you feel and acknowledge your emotions. For example, you could say: “This is difficult and stressful,” “This is painful and it hurts,” or “Ouch!”

  3. Recognize shared humanity: Remind yourself that struggle is a part of the human experience. You can say: “Everyone experiences pain sometimes,” "I'm not alone in feeling this way," or “We all struggle sometimes.”

  4. Offer self-kindness: Offer yourself the kindness and compassion you need to navigate this situation. You can say: “May I be strong and patient,” “May I forgive myself and do better in the future,” or “May I accept myself as I am.”

  5. Self-soothe: If you like, you can also self-soothe yourself using physical gestures, such as placing your hand on your heart or hugging yourself.

Related: 7 Ways to Practice Self-Love

Self-Compassion Exercise 3: Exploring Self-Compassion Through Writing

If you prefer writing as a tool for reflection, try this exercise:

  1. Identify a vulnerability that bothers you: Think about areas in your life where you feel insecure or tend to judge yourself harshly. This could be your appearance, a personality trait, a behavior, or an action.

  2. Write about your feelings: Describe how this imperfection makes you feel. Pour your feelings onto the page. Don't hold back on expressing your true feelings.

  3. Challenge negative thoughts: After you’ve finished writing your feelings, restart the exercise. This time, challenge any negative thoughts you have and replace them with kind, positive ones. For example, replace a thought like “How could I say something so stupid?” with “It’s OK to mess up, I’m not perfect.”

  4. Read your writing back: After you finish the exercise, take some time to reread both parts. Notice the shift in tone as you move from self-judgment to self-compassion.

Related: Want to Relieve Stress ASAP? Write in a Gratitude Journal

Self-Compassion Exercise 4: Loving-Kindness Meditation

If you prefer meditation instead, loving-kindness meditation, also known as metta meditation, can help you cultivate feelings of love and compassion toward yourself. Here’s how to practice it:

  1. Find a quiet spot: Find a quiet and comfortable spot where you can sit or lie down without distractions.

  2. Close your eyes: Once you’re comfortably situated, close your eyes and bring your focus inward.

  3. Focus on your breath: Take a few slow, deep breaths, feeling your chest rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation.

  4. Set your intention: Set an intention for your mediation session. It could be a desire to cultivate self-compassion, develop feelings of love and kindness, or simply to bring more positivity into your life.

  5. Generate loving-kindness to yourself: Start by directing compassion toward yourself. Repeat phrases or affirmations that resonate with you, such as: “May I be happy,” "May I be kind and gentle with myself,” or "May I be at peace."

  6. Expand loving-kindness to others: After generating feelings of loving-kindness toward yourself, gradually extend these feelings to others. You can visualize loved ones, friends, acquaintances, or even people you may have challenges with. Repeat similar phrases for each person. You could say: “May you be happy,” "May you be healthy and strong," or "May you be filled with love and compassion."

  7. Include all beings: Finally, extend loving-kindness to all living beings, without exception. Try saying: “May all of us be happy,” “May all of us be at peace,” or “May all of us be filled with love and kindness.”

  8. End with gratitude: Before you conclude the meditation, take a moment to express gratitude. Pick any aspect of your life that you’re grateful for and reflect on why you’re thankful for it.

  9. Slowly open your eyes: When you feel ready, slowly open your eyes. Drink some water if you need to. Give yourself a couple minutes before you go about your day.

Related: 8 Types of Meditation to Find Your Calm

Self-Compassion Exercise 5: Cultivating Self-Compassionate Inner Dialogue

Cultivating a self-compassionate inner dialogue involves changing the way you speak to yourself internally, replacing self-criticism and harsh judgments with kindness and encouragement. Here’s how:

  1. Pay attention to your inner dialogue: Start by paying attention to your internal thoughts throughout the day. Notice when you are being critical, judgmental, or unkind to yourself. Awareness is the first step toward cultivating a more self-compassionate inner dialogue.

  2. Identify the critical voice: Identify the tone and language you use toward yourself. Is it harsh, demanding, or filled with blame?

  3. Challenge negative thoughts: When you catch yourself in a negative thought, don't just accept the negativity as truth. Ask yourself if you would ever speak to a friend in that way. Chances are, probably not. So why should you speak to yourself that way?

  4. Reframe your thoughts: Transform the critical self-talk into a more compassionate message. Instead of focusing on what you did wrong, offer yourself support, encouragement, and motivation to do better.

  5. Use imagery to help: You can use imagery and visualization techniques to help. For instance, you could picture yourself as a younger version of yourself. Would you still be so harsh on yourself? Or, imagine a wise and loving mentor offering you words of encouragement and support. What would they say to you?

Related: The Toxic Effects of Negative Self-Talk

Integrating Self-Compassion into Daily Life

These are some steps that can help you integrate self-compassion into your daily life:

  • Start your day with an intention: A great way to start integrating self compassion in your life is to start your day with an intention or motivation, says Strauss. “This is so simple, yet so powerful. It gives you a purpose.” She suggests saying something like: "Today I'm going to be more kind to myself” or “Today I’m going to be more patient with myself, especially with all that I'm going through."

  • Carry this intention with you: Carry this intention with you as you go about your day. Remind yourself of it when you catch yourself saying something unkind to yourself. Use self-compassion exercises to reinforce it.

  • Take baby steps: Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to overhaul your entire routine. Pick one or two of the self-compassion exercises listed above and practice them regularly.

  • Be consistent: Remember that consistency is key–the more you practice these exercises, the more naturally self-compassion will arise.

  • Seek support: Don't hesitate to seek support from friends, family members, or mental health professionals if needed. Surround yourself with people who love you and encourage you.

  • Celebrate progress: Celebrate moments of self-kindness, growth, and resilience.

  • Forgive yourself: Everyone makes mistakes and nobody is perfect. Forgive yourself for any mistakes or shortcomings. Let go of guilt and shame by acknowledging that you are human and deserving of compassion, understanding, and second chances.

Integrating self-compassion exercises into your daily routine can have profound effects on your mental and emotional well-being. By practicing self-compassion, you can build a kinder and more supportive relationship with yourself. It’s time to be your own best friend!

Read Next: The Many Benefits of Forgiveness, and How to Do It

Read the original article on Verywell Mind.