FEBRUARY TIPS: A 4-Week Self-Kindness Plan
We don’t live in a world that makes it easy to practice self-kindness. On the contrary, many of us practice self-harshness as our default. We may not even be aware of how unkind our relationship with our self is, as this harshness can be normalised by social conditioning.
In my own experience, and for many people I’ve worked with, discovering self-kindness can enable us to cope better with difficult feelings like anxiety, sadness or shame. When self-kindness becomes our default, then if we are suffering in some way, we will naturally respond with compassion, instead of belittling or rejecting our self. (When I talk about self-kindness, I mean the same thing as self-compassion: most of us have parts of ourselves that need compassion at times).
But how do we start to build this practice? This month I’m offering some ideas, organised as a 4-week plan – though you might just choose the bits that feel like a good fit for you, or do them in a different order. They provide a variety of different ‘ways in’: you may find some of them helpful, but not others, and that’s ok, nothing is compulsory.
The resources include meditation suggestions, but also informal practices: these are ways to bring self-kindness into your day, even if you don’t meditate. It can be helpful to repeat the same practice every day for a week (or longer), to begin to create new habits in how you relate to yourself. It’s worth giving the practice much longer than 4 weeks to really experience the benefits (it’s totally normal at first to feel like nothing is ‘happening’) – what I’ve offered here is just a way to get started.
These practices are drawn from the collection of tools I’ve shared with people in workshops over the years. I’ve tried to include those that seemed impactful for the most people. If I’ve forgotten one that you’ve found useful – do remind me in the comments!
It’s a bit longer than my usual tips, as each week includes these three elements:
Self-Kindness Tool: an informal practice that can be weaved into daily life.
Supportive Self-Talk: a suggested phrase you can offer yourself, to encourage an accepting and compassionate attitude towards yourself.
Meditations: Recordings of all the ones I mention below can be found at the meditations page of my site.
Week 1 – Connecting With Kindness
If you feel like you’re not sure what self-kindness even is, it can help to bring to mind how you feel when a loved one is suffering. Then you can experiment with turning that same care towards yourself. I’ve noticed that when I provide myself with validation, I’m less likely to seek it externally (which tends to have drawbacks).
Self-Kindness Tool: Journaling can be a way to offer yourself a friendly ear, just as you would listen to a good friend. Making a space for yourself in this way gives a signal that you matter. You can find more about this in my mindful journaling tips.
Supportive Self-Talk: ‘It’s ok to find this hard’. This phrase can help to reduce self-harshness and embrace the truth that it’s only human to struggle sometimes.
Meditation: ‘Basic Self-Kindness Meditation’ includes guidance for tapping into your capacity for kindness.
Week 2 – Sending Kindness
Part of this practice is learning to send kindness to yourself. One way to do this is to offer yourself well-wishing. Just as you would wish a friend well, you can imagine ‘sending’ yourself what you need.
Self-kindness Tool: Locate your ‘Supportive Self’. This is the caring part of you that is activated when a friend is having a hard time. You can also access it when a part of you is struggling. At first you might ‘borrow’ this: perhaps you know someone very wise and comforting, who always knows the right thing to say. Imagine what this person would say to you, and listen out for that voice when it would be helpful.
Supportive Self-Talk: ‘It’s understandable that you feel/said/did…’ . This phrase can be used to send yourself some acceptance, especially in moments of self-judgement.
Meditation: ‘Support Your Self’ is a 6-minute practice that leads you through the process of connecting with your Supportive Self.
Week 3 – Receiving Kindness
Learning to send ourselves kindness is one thing, but receiving it and actually letting it in can be another skill altogether. So do be patient with yourself if you experience this resistance to letting kindness in, it can be valuable learning.
Self-kindness Tool: Build up a range of ‘Positive Resources’. Find the things that feel good, supportive or give you a sense of stability. It could be as simple as a cup of tea, sitting in your garden, or lying on the floor under a cosy blanket. Practice letting these good feelings in, allowing yourself have the experience of feeling comfort, peace or safety – even if just for a few moments.
Supportive Self-Talk: ‘May I accept myself, just as I am’ (or anything else you would wish for yourself, such as ‘May I feel safe/be well/have ease of being’ – these phrases can be used both within and outside of meditation). See if you can also let yourself ‘receive’ this well-wishing.
Meditation: ‘Imagining Compassion’ is a short practice using imagery to receive kindness from a compassionate being (or place).
Week 4 – Embodied Self-Kindness
Over time (and with lots of practice, for some of us!), self-kindness can become a more embodied experience, so it’s present in a more physical, tangible way. ‘Somatic’ mindfulness is grounded in body awareness, and can help us to bring self-kindness into how we respond to our own body sensations (emotions can be felt in the body too).
Self-Kindness Tool: Even if you’re new to the practice, it can be surprisingly powerful, in moments of difficulty, to place a hand on your heart area – or somewhere else on the body. This is a way to connect with yourself in a warm, caring way, just like giving a friend a hug (physical contact releases the soothing hormone oxcytocin). This article explains in more depth.
Supportive Self-Talk: ‘What do I need?’ This question helps us learn to attune to ourselves more deeply. As your practice develops, you may be able to recognise that a sensation in the body needs a certain quality that you can find in a physical, embodied way, eg tightness might appreciate a softness from a blanket, or warmth.
Meditation: ‘Supported By The Earth’ is informed by somatic approaches to mindfulness, drawing support from bodily contact with the ground beneath us.
Before I offer additional resources, I wanted to acknowledge that learning self-kindness can throw up barriers, obstacles and resistance as we begin to challenge our habitual ways of being in the world.
If you feel strongly resistant to the idea of self-kindness, or very overwhelmed by your feelings, you may find it helpful to seek support from a therapist who works with compassion-focussed approaches (this goes beyond the scope of my work – you can read more at the About page).
You can find all the meditations mentioned above, plus others on this theme in the ‘Self-Kindness’ section of my meditations page.
A great article on the benefits of self-kindness practice, from Emma Seppala – 18 Science-Backed Reasons To Try Loving-Kindness Meditation
Kristin Neff’s website self-compassion.org is an excellent resource, with info about research, meditations and written exercises.
If self-talk seems like an odd idea, you may be interested to learn about the benefits that researchers have identified – this is one article about that.
Other blogs I’ve written are in the Self-Kindness category of my site.
If you want to learn directly from a teacher, you can look out for workshops of mine on the theme of self-kindness, or check out my coaching programme. You might also look at Breathworks mindfulness courses – these include some time dedicated to self-kindness.