How to be your own friend: a self-compassion exercise

 

lotus flower“I’m only as hard on others as I am on myself”  – Brené Brown.

As you may have gathered from my last post, I’m having a bit of a rough time here. My main source of frustration right now is my body. It’s a recurrent theme and it boils down to feeling inadequate. I think if my shape, proportions and tissues were different, I’d be a much happier person. If only I were someone else, things would be better. 

In my endeavor to understand what is going on with the “monsters” that keep coming at me, I’ve discovered the compelling findings of of Dr. Kristine Neff on the topic of self-esteem and self-compassion. According to Dr. Neff, negative self-talk is fueled by attaching our sense of self-worth to our achievements. When we measure ourselves against an outcome, failure to achieve that goal will inevitably lead to dejection. Neff says that the way to reverse this is by practicing self-compassion.

Neff explains that our current education system has focused on boosting self-esteem through competition and goal-setting, with grave consequences to our sense of worthiness. On her website, she offers some useful tools to help us develop a self-compassion practice. I find these resources extremely valuable and I’ve outlined my favorite exercise below. I like it because it is practical and can be used on the spot, right when you most need it. 

Step 1: “This hurts!”

Acknowledge the pain you are feeling right now. It’s ok to admit that  this moment is hard, uncomfortable and challenging. You can place a hand over your chest, face or belly while you say this to yourself.

Step 2: “I am not alone.”

Suffering is a very normal human experience. We are imperfect, we make mistakes, things don’t always go the way we plan. There are lots of people out there who have experienced something similar to what we’re going through.

*It helps me to name the people I know who are struggling with my same/similar issues. I’ve even started to list those people’s names in my journal, so I can send them good thoughts. It helps me to feel connected and it also helps me keep things in perspective.

Step 3: “What do I need to hear?”

This question it is a great antidote to “What’s wrong with me?!”  Wracking my brain in search of a solution while I’m experiencing inner turmoil isn’t helpful. In fact, it usually makes things worse. 

Dr. Neff even suggests writing out a script you can refer to later on, in an emergency. My script is:

  • I forgive myself for not meeting my expectations.
  • Showing up is good enough.
  • Trying is good enough.
  • I am ok just the way I am.

These are self-care thoughts. This is being my own friend. After all, we are only as kind to others as we are to ourselves.

PS: Watch this video, it’s really good!

End of Year Ritual & Journaling Exercise

Hi! I’m trying a new experiment: an audio-blog post! Believe it or not, it takes me ages to write weekly posts in two languages. So I’ve decided to try out recording this post. What do you think?

Here’s a recap of my suggestion for a year-end ritual. You can answer these questions in your journal or say out loud with your friends in front of the fireplace. It’s a great way to learn from each other’s experiences. Here’s the 5 steps I cover in detail in the recoding.

Step 1 – What was good?

Step 2 – What was difficult?

Step 3 – What did you learn?

Step 4 – Give thanks.

Step 5 – Set an intention for the new year.

My Gratitude Journal

My new year’s resolution this year was to start a gratitude journal. It consists in writing down all the things I feel appreciation for. From the start I knew that for this practice to work I had to focus on what feels good. I began by paying attention to events, accomplishments and even compliments that added a little sparkle to my day.

yoga scrapbookThe mere fact of putting all this in writing opened my eyes to some precious jewels: a fresh breeze in summer, warm sun in winter, my cat purring, a good laugh with my friends…  I started to notice all the valuable moments in my day to day that I would normally take for granted. 

This is how I discovered that my life is made up of countless miracles that are continuously unfolding. If I pause and take notice I can see how things are ok just the way they are; in fact they are perfect. I am living a life that is quite full without hardly being aware of it. My gratitude practice helps me to see and appreciate all this abundance.

gratitude journal scrapbookAnother thing I had to face was my natural proclivity towards complaining. It is a terrible habit and it reinforces discontentment. When I fixate my attention on what I don’t like I lose sight of what’s actually good. It’s interesting to observe. I’ve noticed that griping is accompanied by a sense of powerlessness and frustration. It also gives me permission to fault others for my own problems. Not good!

Because of this, I try to complain less and appreciate more. My gratitude practice helps me see that the most simple little things, those I can access in this very moment are the most valuable to me. I’m learning that life itself is inherently wise and that I can trust it! 

scrapbook yoga journal

How to make you own gratitude journal

It’s easy. In my journal I write, draw and do collage. I’m a visual person and I like using my hands to make thing. It makes me feel good. Maybe you have your own favorite medium, one that reflects your sensibility. For example, you could be  more auditory that visual, in that case you could record an audio diary. What’s important is to notice those things you sincerely appreciate. 

What makes you feel good? It could be a friend, your pet or something you just ate… Once you’ve got it, write it down! Try this for a week and let me know how it went.

New year’s resolution: I’m starting gratitude journal

 

Notebook

Here’s my new year’s resolutions:

1. Keep a gratitude journal.
2. Refrain from complaining and criticizing.

The gratitude journal came first

I had read about it online and it sounded like a good idea, but I resisted getting it started. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be very good at it and I was right! The first couple of weeks I could only find one thing to write down every four days or so.

My one rule is that I can only write down those things I feel sincere appreciation for in that moment, not the things I know I should be grateful for. When I get a feeling of joy, accomplishment or gratitude, I write it down in my notebook. Example: if I get payed a compliment, if it’s a nice warm day, if I see something beautiful, if I have a nice conversation, if I think of someone I love, I write it down.

Sometimes the things I’m thankful for surprise me

One of my first entries was about the moon. I was up early to go to the airport when I noticed the full moon outside my window. It’s silent beauty caught me off guard and reminded me that there’s a whole mysterious universe beyond the weight of my luggage or the amount of cash I had in my wallet. I thanked it for the spacious feeling it gave me.

girl with hatThe gratitude practice keeps me attentive to what’s going on in and around me. I have to focus on good sensations, even the small ones. Then I have to name them. There are so many nice little moments in a day that pass by unnoticed. Since I started this practice, I’ve come to feel content even on a couple of crappy days. It felt unusual and nice.

No complaining!

Now, on to the refraining practice. It’s embarrassing to write about this because it is a big challenge for me. Yes, I complain a lot! I criticize myself, my circumstances and I complain about other people. I’m always looking for someone to blame. It feels really good, like scratching an itch. It’s a temporary escape from uncomfortable situations. It is also a bad habit that keeps me feeling completely powerless.

I read somewhere that criticizing reinforces self-criticism; that’s what inspired me to change habits. Seeing the flaw in everything makes me hyper-aware of my own flaws and ignorant of my gifts. I want to value myself more, and contribute something good to the world. I also want to be pleasant to be around.

The cool thing about these two practices is that they reinforce one another. Even though I’m just getting started, I’ve already noticed a subtle shift. For example, it’s way easier to notice those things I’m grateful for when I’m not complaining. Also, my mind feels a bit lighter, since I have to drop the usual grumpy monologue and find something else to think about and bring up in conversation. It’s also becoming obvious that I’ll have to find new ways to deal with those things I don’t like.

How is your gratitude practice? What benefits do you notice?