Want to be happier and healthier? Be nicer to yourself! According to study recently reported on in The New York Times, people who score high on tests of self-compassion are less depressed, less anxious, and are often more optimistic. Giving yourself a break may even influence the outcomes of things like weight loss plans.
Interestingly, people who find it easy to be kind and supportive to others often score low on self-compassion tests and tend to judge themselves harshly for perceived flaws like being overweight or not exercising. Many fall into a trap of constant self-criticism and negativity, leaving them even less motivated to change. “They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line,” says Kristin Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin and author of the forthcoming book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind . In fact, it’s actually better to go easy on yourself. Here’s one exercise you can do to help break the cycle and change your self-critical habits, adapted from Neff’s website self-compassion.org:
1. Try writing about an issue you have that tends to make you feel inadequate (such as your physical appearance or a work or relationship issue). How does this aspect of yourself make you feel inside? Scared, sad, depressed, insecure, angry? Be as honest as possible.
2. Now think about an imaginary friend who is unconditionally loving, accepting, kind and compassionate. Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this person, focusing on the perceived inadequacy you tend to judge yourself for. What would this friend say to you about your “flaw” from the perspective of unlimited compassion? As you write, try to infuse your letter with a strong sense of his/her acceptance, kindness, caring, and desire for your health and happiness.
3. After writing the letter, put it down for a little while. Then come back and read it again, really letting the words sink in and embracing the idea that you deserve the acceptance you deny yourself but allow your “friend” to feel towards you.