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Last Updated on July 12, 2019

13 Simple Habits to Cultivate Self-Compassion

13 Simple Habits to Cultivate Self-Compassion

Self compassion is the purest form of self-love. Be real with yourself… are you practicing it everyday?

Unfortunately, self-compassion is a foreign concept to a lot of people. We’ve all experienced moments in life when we feel discouraged, rejected or less than. When this happens, a lot of people spend more time and energy tearing themselves down instead of lifting themselves up.

Can you relate?

If you don’t show yourself love, you cannot expect others to show you love either. It’s that simple.

The problem lies in peoples’ misunderstanding of what self-compassion is.

Being self compassionate doesn’t mean that someone is selfish or arrogant. Research proves quite the opposite. Psychologist Kristin Neff was the first person to measure and operationally define the term “self-compassion.” She describes it as “kindness toward the self, which entails being gentle, supportive, and understanding.[1]

Simply put, self-compassion is about giving the same kindness to yourself that you so freely give to everyone else.

When you get knocked down by life, I believe that self-compassion is the fire that helps you build resilience and rise above your circumstances.

Psychologists are finding that self-compassion may be the most important life skill, imparting resilience, courage, energy and creativity.[2]

The question is… if self-compassion is so good for us, then why is it such a hard sell for so many people?

When you decide to open yourself to self compassion, you also open your heart. This can be both a beautiful and painful process, depending on the types of wounds that you carry.

Self compassion is an inside job, meaning that it’s up to you to learn how to honor and be accepting of your imperfections. Perfect is a lie that we’ve been sold by society. Nobody is perfect and that’s okay.

If you think all of the work that you’re doing is supposed to produce a PERFECT result, it’s time to give up that story. It’s your flaws and imperfections that make you beautiful.

Once you’ve learned how to fully embrace self compassion, you begin to see yourself and the world differently.

No matter how tough it may seem to turn it around, here are 13 simple habits that you can incorporate into your daily life that will help you cultivate more self-compassion.

1. Re-Evaluate Your Self-Talk

Self-talk is something that we all do throughout the day. Do you talk yourself up or put yourself down? I know that I can be my own worst critic at times. This shame-based self-image has negatively affected many of my past choices in life.

One of the best ways to transition away from negative self-talk is to actively developing self-compassion.

Would you talk to yourself like you would to your best friend? If the answer is no, it’s time to shift your self-talk to one that is more empowering.

Positive self-talk has been linked with health benefits including greater life satisfaction, increased vitality, and less stress, among other things.[3]

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Work towards recognizing when you’re participating in negative self-talk and make an effort to change your internal dialogue. Instead of focusing on the negative, celebrate yourself and how far you’ve come.

2. Forgive Yourself

What are you continuing to punish yourself for? I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to carry around this painful emotional state for one day longer.

When you hold onto guilt like a double-edged sword, it is impossible to move forward in life. The answer is to forgive yourself.

Mistakes happen. It’s okay. Self-forgiveness requires that you be gentle with yourself.

More importantly, always remember that mistakes are simply a part of being human. It’s how you learn, grow and become more.

In the words of Melanie Koulouris,

“There is no sense in punishing your future for the mistakes of your past. Forgive yourself, grow from it, and then let it go.”

3. Date Yourself

Have you ever held back from doing something because you couldn’t find anyone to do it with you? I like to take myself out on dates on a regular basis.

If you think you need someone else to have a good time, you’re wrong. Spending quality time alone is one of the best ways to connect with and deepen your relationship with yourself.

If you’ve been accustomed to being around people all of the time, spending time alone will be an adjustment.

Yes, it will feel uncomfortable at first, but that just means you’re doing something right.

By nature, we are social creatures. However, research is showing that solitude is just as importance as connection with others.[4] The ability to tolerate alone time has been linked to increased happiness, better life satisfaction, and improved stress management: When You Start to Enjoy Being Alone, These 10 Things Will Happen

The relationship that you have with yourself is the most important relationship that you will ever have so it’s critical that you nurture it.

4. Embrace Failure

Do you ruminate on your failures instead of celebrate your strengths? If so, you’re not alone. Research shows that our innate negativity bias drives us to attend far more to our failures and dwell on our deficiencies.[5]

We’ve all failed at something, and chances are that we’re all going to fail many more times throughout our lives. However, some people allow their failures to define who they are, to the point where they stay stuck in one place.

A little self-compassion can go a long way. In my experience, I’ve learned that knowledge always comes at a price.

If you don’t try and experiment with new things, you’ll never know what you are capable of achieving. Take it from Thomas Edison who once said,

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

If you aren’t willing to do what most won’t do, you will never fulfil your true potential. It’s just a fact.

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The next time that you fail at something, replace suffering with kindness. Evaluate what went wrong, celebrate what you did right, and learn from your mistakes.

Where there is no growth, there is only stale and stuck energy. In my opinion, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. However, if can learn how to navigate your way through the mess of life with grace and ease, you’re winning.

5. Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude

When nothing is going right in life, it’s easy to get down yourself, or to blame the world for your problems. However, what would happen if you saw everything as a gift, even the worst of things? Hear me out.

Your mindset determines your reality. If you have a negative outlook and believe that the world is out to get you, you will attract that energy into your life. Conversely, if you believe that the Universe wants you to thrive, it will be much easier for your to find the resources that are needed in order to achieve your goals.

Adopting an attitude of gratitude allows you to reshape your life in a way that makes you happier and more fulfilled. Not only will you feel more thankful for the people in your life, but also for yourself and how far you’ve come.

Gratitude is the channel through which you are able to experience a greater degree of compassion, both for yourself, others and the world at large.

What are you grateful for? Here’re 32 Things You Should Be Grateful For. Feel into it and remind yourself of it everyday.

6. Surround Yourself with Positive People

You become who you surround yourself with, which is why you must choose your people wisely.

Do your friends put you down or lift you up? If it’s the former, I hate to break it to you, but it’s time to find new friends.

If you surround yourself with people who bring out the worst in you, your life will follow suit.

Only spend time with people who see the best in you and who encourage you to live your best life. Your success in life depends on it. At the same time, show up as a compassionate friend to others.

7. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

To whom do you compare yourself to? Social comparison is the tendency to evaluate yourself against others. We all do this from time to time.

However, not all of us know the negative effects that it has on our emotional and mental well-being.

Research shows that habitual negative social comparisons can cause a person to experience greater stress, anxiety, depression, and make self-defeating choices.[6] Social media has made it far too easy to spend more time obsessing about other peoples’ lives and less about our own. This is a recipe for disaster when it comes to building your self-worth.

When you compare yourself to others, you allow that negative voice inside of your head to say that you aren’t good enough. This only reinforces your negative self-talk that others are better than you, which is far from true. The more you compare yourself to others, the more you lose yourself.

Don’t get lost in comparing yourself to others. Focus on your innate talents and let them shine.

8. Do a Digital Detox

Do you have an unhealthy relationship with technology? The digital world has proven to be a gift and a curse for many of us. It has both connected and disconnected us from each other and from ourselves.

A digital detox is a great way to get back to the present moment where life actually exists.

By taking some time away from social media, it will give you more opportunities to spend time doing things that you love. More importantly, it will allow you to reconnect with yourself.

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The next time that you feel the need to get online, step back and ask yourself – “What is happening right now inside of me that is making me want to distract myself?”

9. Recite Daily Affirmations

Your thoughts create your reality. This is why you need to condition your mindset everyday by reciting empowering and uplifting affirmations.

The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a part of our brain that makes words that get repeated over time as part of our identity, positive or negative.[7] Therefore, when you repeat something positive to yourself everyday, overtime it becomes a part of who you are.

I have been able to completely eradicate some of my limiting beliefs purely by making affirmations an integral part of my morning routine.

More importantly, I have been able to replace my fears with confidence, just by training my brain to think positively about everything in my life.

All you need to do is pick a phrase and repeat it. Here are a few to get you started:

I am worthy

I am successful

I am loved

I am abundant

And more here: 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life

10. Play More

When is the last time you really threw your hair back and did something fun? It’s so easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of work and life. When you are immersed in the head space of constantly “doing,” it’s easy to forget the value of just “being.”

This is why I believe it’s so important to make play an integral part of your life. If you don’t, you risk taking life too seriously, or worse, falling into burnout.

Remind yourself that it’s okay to let loose sometimes. It’s called celebrating yourself! People don’t think twice why children love to play so much, and neither should adults.

Playing has been found to induce the release of endorphins, which are your body’s own feel-good chemicals that promote a sense of well-being and help provide some pain relief.[8]

It can be as simple as going to a dance class or spending a weekend away on your own doing whatever YOU want.

11. Try Something New

Routines are great, but when you’re stuck in them, you are less likely to try new things. When was the last time that you stepped outside of your comfort zone and did something that was out of the ordinary for you?

Most people wake up at the same time everyday, drink the same coffee, eat the same breakfast, and go out with the same people.

No wonder people feel stagnant. They have settled for a life of what I like to call, “sameness.”

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If this way of life floats your boat, all good! However, if you are craving some excitement and energy, it’s time to change the game and engage in some new experiences.

The more things you try, the more chances you have to create newfound passions.

12. Say “No” More Often

With endless to-do lists and responsibilities, finding time for self-care can feel like a luxury instead of a priority for many people.

How often do you say “no” to things that you don’t want to do?

If it’s quite often, awesome! If it’s rarely ever, join the people-pleasing club. I fall into this trap a lot because I have a desire to help people. However, sometimes I do things for people at the expense of my own well-being.

Appreciating your need for “you time” is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Agreeing to things just because you’re afraid to say “no” isn’t supportive of your needs.

Don’t forget that you don’t need to justify why you choose to say “no” in the first place. Your life. Your choices.

If saying no is a great challenge for you, take a look at Leo Babauta’s advice: The Gentle Art of Saying No

13. Create 2 Self-Love Ritual

Self-love is just like a muscle. If you don’t flex it, it weakens. The very act of engaging in self-love practices is a form of self compassion in and of itself.

It’s easily overlooked how rewarding it can be to spend some time every day nurturing yourself. Whether it’s meditating, taking a long bath, taking a walk in nature, or journaling, find a routine that allows you to connect with yourself on a deeper level.

If you don’t take the time to fill yourself up, you cannot expect to go out into the world and give to others.

Make yourself a priority. You deserve it.

Final Thoughts

Self compassion is the greatest gift you can give to yourself. Throughout this wild ride that we call life, remember to be kind to yourself.

You’re doing the best that you can with what you have. We all are. You can’t really ask anything more of yourself.

In the words of Christopher Germer,

“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”

How will you celebrate yourself today?

Featured photo credit: Paige Cody via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Ashley Elizabeth

Women's Resilience Mastery Coach & Dance Movement Medicine Therapist

5 Steps to Bounce Back Fast When Life Knocks You Down 13 Simple Habits to Cultivate Self-Compassion How to Find Yourself When You’re Lost in Life How to Overcome Fear and Realize Your Potential (The Ultimate Guide) What Is Resilience and Why Is It Important?

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Last Updated on August 12, 2019

Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason

Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason

In our diverse world, where everyone wants to stand out from the crowd and has their own opinions just about everything, there is a rather universal idea we all – regardless of age, race, location, gender — embrace…

We all want to be happy.

We want to feel that we matter, are loved, appreciated, problem-free, care-free, and financially secure. And this has become one of the most obsessive quests of our society—to be happy, at all cost, by all means.

Happiness has undisputed benefits—supported by countless studies—to about pretty much everything in our lives—from our mental or physical state, to careers, relationships, finances.

Although the self-help industry is still having a sunshine moment with its advice on how to get to this coveted state, no one (that I’m aware of) has come up with The Magic Potion—that one thing or action or thought—that can make us all content and whole for good.

Of course, we also all are knowledgeable enough to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. And that it’s often a combination of things that each one of us should intentionally do daily in order to reach that enchanted place where everything is intensely bright and upbeat.

The reason that there are multiple antidotes to feeling gloomy is that there may be a million different explanations and their nuances of why someone is unhappy. It’s pretty much a different cause, path and experience for everyone.

Top this with the “hedonic treadmill” phenomenon[1] —and you end up with an incessant (and rather tiring) pursuit of something that, quite frankly, no one has been able to define in concreate measurable terms.

The second problem with happiness is that all of us become so hung up on the goal itself—that utopian state that we want to get to “one day.”

Naturally, you can spend your whole life waiting for happiness to finally come knocking on your door, hoping, anticipating, existing in perpetual discontent—and the moment may never come.

And then, looking back, you may ask yourself—was I truly that miserable or did I fall a victim of the happiness craze?

That is—how can you know if you are really unhappy, if happiness means different things for everyone, it’s impossible to measure directly, and it’s rather fleeting?

So, let’s start from the beginning— and examine the cause of why you’re unhappy, the symptoms and the treatment.

Symptoms of Unhappiness

According to the wellness site Mind Body Green, some of the most common manifestations you are not happy are:[2]

  • Feeling like you’re not as good as other people
  • Feeling like a victim of circumstances that are beyond your control
  • Feeling like your daily life is meaningless and task-driven
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or pessimistic
  • Protecting your heart with steel walls
  • Trying to fit in and belong, but rarely feel like you do
  • Feeling beaten down by the challenges you face in life
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, or chronically worried
  • Feeling like you’re not appreciated enough

If this sounds like you, on a regular day, then you are not a happy fella, my friend.

Reasons for Feeling Unhappy

The most important indication that things are not great (at least in your mind) is the sense of “something missing.” You may not know what it is, but you feel hollow, incomplete. And you are aware that something needs to happen to make you come alive again.

Of course, finding the reason for your woes is vital to prescribing (to yourself) the right steps to make it all better.

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So, here are some of the most common reasons why you may feel heavy-hearted, or “like the joy has been sucked out of my life.”

Lack of Meaning

Everyone who’s someone in the happiness-advice trade will tell you that this is one of the main causes (of not THE biggest) of feeling blah. Especially relevant for our professional lives, lack of significance can be a dream-downer.

An excellent piece in the New York Times talks about Harvard graduates who make $1.2 million a year in salary, but still feeling miserable and trapped in what they describe as “wasting my life” existence.[3]

Simply put—you may feel unhappy because you need the “Why” in your life, as I also wrote in a previous post How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life.

Happiness Disruptors

Even perceived problems can feel quite real to many of us. Undeniably, though, any personal, financial, career, physical complications can make your happiness aspirations plummet.

The constellation of all the issues or walls you can run into can be quite vast. For instance, you don’t like the way you look, you don’t make enough money, don’t have any friends or significant other, your health is fragile.

All these can be serious impediments to an undisturbed-joyfulness type of life.

Lack of Self-Esteem and Self-Respect

Few years ago (2003), a paper by the psychologist Roy Baumeister rocked the science world. Titled “Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” it presented the idea (supported by research) that self-esteem and happiness are linked.[4]

Specifically, high self-esteem leads to greater happiness.

In addition, according to the famous American author and speaker Gary Vaynerchuk, the main reason people are unhappy is because they lack self-respect—that is, they value others’ opinions above their own. Of course, it makes sense—and surely, it rings true with many of us too.

Personality

Linked to the above is another hindrance to becoming relentlessly upbeat, which may prove slightly challenging to overcome, if even possible—your personality.

Of course, not per the self-help industry which thrives on the assumption that you can, with your own willpower, become a different person altogether. Namely—a much better version of the current you.

But what the Wise Men also tell us is that you are either born to be a silver-lining kind of person or you are not.

You can, of course, work on yourself to start seeing the glass half-full (vs half-empty). But you may never reach the gregariousness of someone who is just born with a more care-free temperament.

Unreasonably High Expectations

Having high expectations of yourself can be beneficial, according to research.[5] It leads to higher performance—a phenomenon called the Pygmalion effect.

Having too high expectations of yourself, though, may be counter-productive. You can run into all slew of mental health issues—depression, self-sabotaging, self-punishment, etc. And it can spill over all areas of your life.

It’s certainly a case for future investigation.

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Social Trends

It will take perhaps at least few articles to list all the reasons why we can feel unhappy (a book even!).

So, some of the other causes of being disgruntled with your life can be: long hours at work, “always-on” culture bread by the internet, increased screen time,[6] or boredom with one’s life (i.e. lack of excitement).

Addiction to Unhappiness

Apparently, you can also develop an addiction to unhappiness[7] —that is, some people like negative feelings and are “happy to be unhappy.” Rather disturbing, indeed.

Unexplainable Reasons

Or, sometimes, you just can’t put your finger on one thing, or on anything, for this matter—you don’t know for sure what makes you feel unhappy, nor what will make you happy. It feels like it’s everything—your whole life is a mess.

But that’s not the end of the story. The most important questions you should be asking yourself are:

Why? What’s the cause of my unhappiness?

Because you can’t fix it when you don’t know what’s broken, right?

5 Steps You Can Take to Figure Out The Why

So, if you tick most of the symptoms above, it’s very likely that you are not living in Dream-land right now.

Here is my advice on how to find your lumps in the batter.

1. Mull over What “Happy” Means to You

Happiness can take different shapes—hedonic pleasure, life satisfaction, desire fulfillment.[8] All of these—separately or together—can deliver to us sprinkles of joy.

And because our lives are so diverse, the above will translate into different pursuits for each one of us.

For instance, my hedonic weekend happiness means reading a book or writing, while for someone else—it’s socializing, taking a walk, or going on a shopping spree at the mall.

Or, my life satisfaction can be to have a big family and leave a mark in the world this way. For others, it may be going after fame and fortunes. But either way, don’t fall for the society’s “narrative traps”[9]—that a bigger pay check, house, a certain job, person, etc. will give you a never-ending stream of bliss. It won’t, science confirms over and over.

So, once you know what your happiness vision board looks like, you will have a better idea of what’s “missing” in your life.

2. Re-Visit Your Expectations

As I already mentioned, unreasonable expectations you or others have set for yourself can be deterring you from feeling gleeful.

For one thing, aspirations often can become outdated. What you wanted ten or five years ago (or even six months ago) may not be relevant to your situation today and will need to be filed into a mental cabinet.

Another issue is that our culture is putting an exponential pressure on all of us to perform more and better, to try and stretch the 24-hours a day into 30, to chase kudos and recognition. Any outcome that has earned less than the gold is punishable by exclusion for the cool crowd, by receiving less in perks, bonuses, and appreciation even.

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As a result, anxiety, depression and all their dark friends start creeping into our minds and tint everything else that may be giving us joy and satisfaction.

So, taking periodic audit of your expectations—their validity and importance place on your happiness list, is pivotal to stopping unhappiness spread into your life.

3. Examine Your Way of Thinking

At the heart of the so-called Rational Emotive Behavior Theory (REBT),[10] which was established by the American psychologist Albert Ellis in 1956, is the idea that it’s never the actual event that upsets us.It’s our interpretation and thoughts about it. By inference, changing our thoughts will reduce (and hopefully remove altogether) our anxiety.

Let’s take this a stretch further. Positive (not delusional) thinking has been long proclaimed to be a winner when it comes to mental health. If you find yourself going down the spiral of negative inner dialogue, you must stop yourself immediately. It’s unhappiness trap.

But it’s not easy-breezy, of course, to do such conscious policing all the time. It can become a habit, though, psychologists tell us. We can teach ourselves to quell negativity, and there are many things that can be done: How to Have Happy Thoughts and Train Your Brain to Be Happy

And don’t forget to be grateful. It’s the best happiness shot there is.

4. The Good Old Pros and Cons

Although it may appear to be a less fascinating way to figure out whether you are unhappy or not, the pros-and-cons list has been around for a long time—and it’s still an excellent tool to let you examine things closely, evaluate alternatives and come to satisfactory answers.[11]

Interestingly, as history tells us, this invention is credited to Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century. Notorious for his productivity, he applied the pros-cons exercise to almost everything in his life.

The beauty of the method lies in its simplicity too. So, go back to the drawing board and start penciling down the things that you like and don’t like (make you unhappy) about your life, and the things that you know with certainty to make you happy today.

Of the “things-that-make me-unhappy-about-my-life” subset, have a think what you can do to move these along the continuum—to the brighter side.

You may be surprised to discover that you have much greater say in the building of your own happiness than chance, circumstances or others.

5. Mental Cleansing

Mental health is in the limelight quite often these days. And rightly so.

The way we care about our bodies and minds directly links to many of our life outcomes.

Mental clutter can become a well-being stumbling block. Overthinking, old grudges, past events, can all make it very challenging to feel elevated and content.

Doing a mental cleanse once a month can be the remedy to set yourself on the path to happiness recovery.

Pay a visit to the past to confront your fears, get rid of the people who bring you down, free yourself from any emotional baggage. It will help you silence the bully in your head.

Take a periodic stock of all the things that make you anxious and declutter. Why hold on to the things that you know to bring you grief anyway?

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Unless you are one of those unhappiness addicts I mentioned above (which calls for a more radical intervention), carrying emotional baggage without doing anything to unload it, is a anti-glee behavior.

Bonus Advice

Finding our Achilles’ heel of happiness can sometimes be a tall order. It takes time, conscious efforts and an honest desire to make it better. It also alludes that we are ready to take the plunge into the self-help territory and take actual steps to improve our situation.

But it’s not a lost cause, the research tells us. It’s possible to make yourself happy on a consistent basis.

Here are few universal suggestions:

One of the things you can do is to inject some meaning back in your life. And the best way to go about this is to flip the narrative. Case in point—the story of John F Kennedy’s visit to NASA in 1962. He ran into a janitor and when asked him what he was doing, he replied: “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

The happiness guru Gretchen Rubin tells us that there are two major path that lead a more fulfilling life:[12]

One way is through our relationships—having strong bonds and feeling that we belong.

The other route is through developing better self-knowledge—i.e. what things make us us, or glad, or sad. And base our way of living on our own values and goals, not others’.

The feeling that we are not making progress is a definite joy crusher. We should compare wisely, find our passions, and diversify our experiences. These are not magic pills but more so opportunities to make our time here worthwhile and fulfilling.

Final Thoughts

Happiness is notoriously hard to pin down.

There is no one definition of contentment, nor one way to ‘fix’ it. It’s one of those things that you can’t quantify and it’s idiosyncratic.

More and more we hear a murmur from the science world that perhaps the best way to happiness is acceptance—of your failings and shortcomings, of the fact that life is imperfect.

Knowing what makes us disgruntled is, of course, needed to find the right remedy for each one of us. Feeling constantly unhappy is not good and necessitates closer examination.

Finally, beware of the narrative trap that if you are unhappy, there is something wrong with you. It may be normal, for a while at least. Otherwise, how would you appreciate the highlight moments of your life if you don’t see them against the backdrop of the gloomy times?

Or, as the great singer Leonard Cohen tells us:

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

More About Staying Happy

Featured photo credit: Andrew Le via unsplash.com

Reference

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