You can be kind to yourself by being mindful of negative self-talk, accepting that to err is human, and focusing on what lights you up.
If you’ve ever downplayed an achievement or berated yourself for not doing better, you know that it can be hard to be good to yourself.
For many people, self-compassion doesn’t come easy.
But being nice to yourself may help you to:
- ease stress
- face difficulty more courageously
- feel more content and connected
What does being kind to yourself look like? It depends on what brings you joy and peace. In sum, it’s connecting to those things that make you feel good about yourself and the world around you.
1. Being kind to others
Showing compassion and kindness to others may improve how you feel about yourself, explains Erin Bircher, a licensed psychotherapist in Raleigh.
Even the smallest act of kindness and altruism can help. For example, try smiling and saying “hi” to the cashier, or holding the door open for someone, and see how you feel.
2. Being mindful
Mindfulness helps you get curious about your emotions, instead of being carried away by them or feeling shame, explains Brenda Wade, PhD, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert.
What does that have to do with self-kindness? Wade says that when you let your emotions control you, you may overfocus on what’s “wrong” and it may make trusting yourself more challenging.
3. Acknowledging negative thoughts
Acknowledging a negative thought can help you be kind to yourself. You could say something like, “There it is again. There’s the mean thought that sometimes holds me back.”
Identifying negative thoughts can help you build awareness, explains Laurie Gatti, a licensed professional counselor in Pittsburgh.
When you do catch yourself thinking negatively, you can change the trajectory of your thoughts with opposite statements, says Gatti.
Challenging negative thoughts may also involve learning to forgive yourself for past mistakes.
4. Taking a breath and distracting yourself
Focusing on your breathing can give you a short break from negative thoughts, and a chance to regroup and reorient, says Gatti. It’s a grounding technique that can also reduce anxiety.
Similar to taking a breath, engaging in a short activity or exercise can also allow you to reroute your thoughts and avoid becoming entrenched in negative thoughts, she adds.
5. Using a mantra
Consider developing a mantra or positive affirmation to meditate on throughout the day. You could pick something like, “I am doing the best I can,” which may remind you to be kind to yourself, suggests Gatti.
“The mantra needs to be true,” she adds. “It needs to be reflective of what you believe about yourself. It won’t help to create a mantra that is grandiose, like ‘I am the best X in the world.’”
6. Tolerating mistakes
Practicing self-kindness means learning to tolerate making mistakes without harsh self-judgment, explains Wade.
“Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and feels badly at times,” she says.
7. Embracing being human
“It’s also important to remember that all people experience pain, and that failure is part of being human,” adds Wade.
Accepting your humanity can also help you feel less isolated, she explains. When you feel isolated, you could start to think that everyone is happier than you are or has an easier life.
8. Becoming your own cheerleader
Becoming your own coach or cheerleader will help you quiet your inner critic, explains Wade.
“When you criticize yourself and think, ‘I shoulda, woulda, coulda,’ you end up feeling even worse,” she says. “Instead, try to have compassion for yourself like you would for anybody you care about.”
9. Creating community
Try to prioritize crafting a social circle with people who have positive energy, suggests Sam Nabil, a licensed psychotherapist and an executive life coach.
Spending time with positive people encourages you to focus on the good as well.
10. Taking care of your physical health
Eating well, getting good sleep, and following self-care routines may help you build self-worth and self-compassion, says Nabil.
Taking care of your basic needs is part of engaging in self-respect, and it’s a way to be kind to yourself.
11. Finding your passion
Consider giving yourself time to do things that make you feel joy, says Nabil.
“Allow yourself to feel relaxed and entertained every once in a while, so you can have a well-balanced inner being that’s able to overcome its inner critic, no matter how loud it is.”
Self-compassion starts with self-worth, explains Bircher. “You need to acknowledge that you are worthy enough for self-compassion before you can be more compassionate to yourself.”
- writing out your accomplishments and things you’ve done that you’re proud of (they don’t need to be big things)
- smiling more. It stimulates your amygdala — the emotional center of your brain — and releases neurotransmitters that encourage positive emotions
- doing things for yourself
- speaking kindly to yourself
- giving yourself praise
- avoiding criticizing yourself
- reminding yourself each night of what you did that you feel good about
Being kind to yourself doesn’t always come easy. It may be linked to past experiences or how you were raised.
Not celebrating your achievements, or even neglecting or punishing yourself, can be a behavioral pattern you learned in childhood, explains Bircher.
“As children, if we don’t observe our caretakers demonstrating self-compassion, then we don’t learn how to do it ourselves,” she says. “If you grow up in a home where your parents don’t take time for themselves, do the hobbies they enjoy, and give themselves verbal praise, then it will be hard to access self-compassion.”
There is also the misconception that in order to achieve or produce, we need to be hard on ourselves, says Gatti.
But in reality, it’s when people embrace a sense of acceptance and compassion toward themselves that they usually feel more motivated and energized, she adds.
Another obstacle to self-kindness is the inner critic most of us have — that nagging voice that tells us we aren’t good enough.
“We find it difficult to be kind to ourselves because our inner critics have a louder voice,” says Nabil. “Self-criticism is a defense mechanism; it protects us from the potential dangers that our brain perceives from uncertainty.”
How to be kind to yourself, or not, is something you probably learned during childhood. It may include self-care, mindfulness, challenging negative self-talk, and surrounding yourself with positive people.
Being good to yourself also involves showing compassion when you make mistakes and remembering to do those things that bring you joy and peace. It’s all about putting your needs first and giving yourself a break.