Connected, healthy relationships are vital for our wellbeing, and for many of us, our relationships are the foundation of purpose and meaning in our lives.
During a recent yin yoga class our wise teacher spoke about bringing “sips of kindness and compassion” to our relationship with ourselves, in order that we might be kinder to others. Her analogy of sips resonated with me. It’s a small action we can take, anytime, and anywhere, but sips add up.
Sips of self-compassion help us to be generous and forgiving towards ourselves, freeing up some sips of emotional energy which in turn allows us to better comprehend and respond to the emotional needs of others.
Self-compassion involves being kind to oneself when confronting personal inadequacies or situational difficulties, framing the imperfection of life in terms of common humanity, and being mindful of negative emotions so that one neither suppresses nor ruminates on them.
(Dr Kristin Neff)
Compassion for ourselves also contributes to a positive habit of mind – we are better able to scan the environment and other people for things they are doing right and express appreciation, versus scanning for what they are doing wrong and criticising.
It’s helpful to know that compassion and kindness are not fixed traits – we can learn to and get better at holding compassion for ourselves and showing kindness to those we love. We can also try to practise even when we don’t feel like it! It’s at those times of practice that we embed new habits of mind.
You may want to experiment with some of the compassion exercises that Psychology researchers have found to be effective:
- Be your own friend: when you are dealing with a difficult or stressful situation think of what you would say to a good friend (or loved family member)? Then have a go at directing these compassionate responses toward yourself.
- Nurture your body: improving how you feel physically will boost your self- compassion. Try having something nourishing to eat. Enjoy a walk or a stretch. Massage your hands or your neck. Have a power nap or take a shower.
- Celebrate and savour your accomplishments, however small or unimportant they may seem. Take some time to reflect and enjoy the moment. Again – what would you say to your best friend?
- Picture your best self:imagine your life five years from now -what will you be doing? Who will be in your life? Where will you be living? Write a letter from the future to someone important to you describing this life, in as much detail as you can. Take as long as you need to do this, making it as concrete as possible. Then identify one small, concrete thing you could do in the next 48 hours to bring you closer to that life? Make the action positive and achievable.
For other exercises to try:
Remember to be kind and gentle with yourself as you practise.