‘How could I fail at such a simple thing!’ ‘Once again, I got nothing done. How can I be so lazy and stupid!’

Does that sound familiar? Each of us has an inner voice in which we talk to ourselves. In moments of failure and suffering, it is easy to be too cruel to yourself. We blame, beat and criticise. Would you talk to your friend the same way you talk to yourself? I doubt it. We may say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t say even to our worst enemy.

Self-compassion is a compassionate attitude towards ourselves, especially when we’re having a hard time. Self-compassionate people talk to themselves in the same way as they would talk to a friend.

Self-compassion consists of three factors:

  1. Kindness to yourself. We encourage and cheer ourselves on. In difficult moments, we treat ourselves kindly and constructively instead of judging or criticising.
  2. Shared humanity. Vulnerability, making mistakes and suffering are part of all our lives. No one is perfect. To be human is to be imperfect.
  3. Mindful presence. We also face difficult emotions and suffering. We do not belittle or exaggerate them.

Self-compassion increases well-being

Often, for example, when you are studying, working or doing hobbies, you can feel that you have to keep asking more of yourself and that you can’t afford to fail. You have to be special somehow or at least better than average.

The pursuit for perfection may however compromise our well-being. If prolonged, it can lead to depression and anxiety.

Self-compassion is the counterforce to perfectionism. It also prevents burnout. Many people beat themselves up because they’re afraid they won’t get anything done otherwise. However, studies show quite the opposite. When your worth as a human being is not tied to performance, there is more room for creativity and courage.

Research has shown that self-compassion can promote:

  • reduced depression and anxiety
  • creativity
  • happiness
  • optimism
  • inspiration
  • enthusiasm
  • reduced fear of failure
  • stress relief
  • improved relationships

You can practice self-compassion

You can practice self-compassion both in real-life situations and through formal exercises such as meditation.

Tips for practising self-compassion:

  • Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. When you sense a feeling of disappointment or failure, take a moment to pause. Observe the tone in which you address yourself.
  • Accept your emotions. Don’t exaggerate, and don’t belittle. Remind yourself that the feelings you experience are human. It’s also human to talk to yourself in a harsh tone; you don’t need to beat yourself up over it too.
  • How would you talk to your friend? Think about how you would talk to a friend in the same situation. How is it different from how you talk to yourself?

Above all, practice before the ‘real thing’! Begin your morning by treating yourself kindly and sending yourself some thoughts of encouragement.

It’s also useful to keep a weekly diary of what went well and why. This helps you focus on your successes. For example, instead of berating yourself for slacking off at the gym, you could write that you’re glad you went to the gym at all. That’s what a friend would say – “At least you made it to the gym, be proud of that!”