Self-Kindness And The Power Of Less
When you hear the term ‘self-kindness’, perhaps it conjures up an image of taking yourself off for a spa break or a holiday. Self-care is definitely an important part of the practice*, but there are also other ways to support yourself with kindness, which may be more accessible when you can’t get away from it all.
Like many things, self-kindness can lose its appeal if it feels like an extra duty you need to add into an already-busy life. I like to approach it as a practice of doing less, not more: less self-criticism, less pressure on myself, less trying to pretend I feel ok if actually things feel hard.
Here are three things I can do without when I’m having a difficult day, and what I’ve learned to do instead. They are all examples of ‘self-kindness in action’ – the kind of support that can come to your rescue right when you need it.
*I’ll be looking at self-care in next month’s tips.
Putting ourselves down for being imperfect is a habit that many of us fall into. It can feel deceptively productive to find what’s ‘wrong’ with us, so we can fix it. But in my experience, it usually only keeps me trapped in a cycle of toxic shame.
It can be more helpful to cultivate a habit of self-appreciation. This won’t necessarily replace self-criticism to begin with, but it provides a gentler counter-balance that moves you in the direction of self-kindness.
When I’m caught in the trap of self-criticism, I look for some way that I can also appreciate myself. Perhaps I screwed up one task, but felt good about something else I did. Maybe I think I offended someone, but my intention was a genuine attempt to help them.
Sometimes, it boils down to appreciating myself for just coping, or bringing some awareness to my challenges. It’s enough.
I spent many years pushing myself to be an impossibly perfect version of myself.
I still feel that pull sometimes, and it can show up as a long list of stuff I want to get done, so that I can feel good about myself. That list hanging over me can feel pretty overwhelming.
This is when I remind myself that I don’t need an excuse to take my foot off the pedal, and that being human is enough reason in itself.
A self-kindness pause helps me to see that I don’t have to be a superwoman to feel good about myself. The way I apply this pause is usually to ask myself ‘how can I go easy on myself today?’
This might mean physically doing less, eg letting something wait a day, rather than pushing myself to get on top of everything. Or it might mean choosing to shoot for ‘good enough’ instead of perfect.
When we’re being hard on ourselves, we may be invalidating our own experience. Think about it. If a small child told us they were scared, or sad, or angry, and we ignored them, told them they were being silly, or that they didn’t feel any of those things – we’d be invalidating what they are actually feeling. How often do we do this to ourselves?
It was one of the first things I noticed when I began doing self-kindness meditation. Sometimes I’d realise that I’d spent the whole day trying to pretend I was ‘ok’, when in fact I felt vulnerable, afraid, or sad.
I learned to practice Supportive Self-Talk. This is a way to validate my own experience by first listening to what I’m feeling (in meditation, or in life). Once I’ve heard what needs to be felt, instead of rejecting or abandoning the hurting part of me, I can let myself have my own experience as it really is – whether it feels nice, or a bit painful. This can be quite a relief compared to trying to pretend I feel something different.
When I see myself through the eyes of my ‘Supportive Self’ in this way, I can respond by saying to myself what I really need to hear, instead of being dismissive or invalidating.
With a bit of practice, Supportive Self-Talk can be available whenever you need, again without ‘making time’ for it.
Self-Kindness Meditations can be found on my meditations page – done regularly over a period of time, they help to re-programme old habits and cultivate supportive self-talk.
Enoughness As True Happiness – this blog touches on ways to find self-appreciation in everyday life.
Committing To Self-Kindness – this blog is about easing into self-kindness practice, slowly and gradually, because it often doesn’t come naturally at first.
If you would like to work with me, I offer 1-to-1 Skype sessions that cover some of the self-kindness approaches mentioned above – see the Coaching Programme page for info.