Therapists trace so many mental health issues back to a simple premise: Be kind to yourself

Relationships are the foundation of life, and the relationship we have with ourselves is the most important. Unfortunately, many of us take this for granted. Here, I’ll share three research-backed ways to calm your inner demons and approach life with a heightened sense of self-compassion.

#1: Respect your learning curve

Many of us have unrealistic expectations about how long it will take to acquire new skills or adapt to a new environment. We believe that if we sign up for a program or take a course, our brains will magically open up and absorb all the new information. Of course, the marketing of fast and rapid learning programs is largely to blame for our unrealistic expectations. (Sorry, but there is no such thing as an 8-minute press or a 4-hour work week.)

Cognitive psychologists will tell you that learning is a gradual process that cannot be rushed. Much has been written about the 10,000 hour rule—the premise being that it takes about 10,000 hours on average to master any new skill. Although there is a lively debate about how correct this rule is, the general conclusion is very relevant: learning takes time.

And yet we regularly punish ourselves for not getting things right on the first, second, or third try.

When you start thinking like this (and we all do), you need to remember to be kind to yourself and respect the learning process. If you don’t, you risk dropping out altogether.

Also, we have to be careful when setting the comparison points. What I mean by that is that if you compare how much progress we’ve made between this week and last week, we’re probably going to be disappointed. Remember that learning is a gradual process. However, if we widen the window of comparison, say from last summer to this summer, we can see a little more appreciation for the progress we’ve made. Remember the famous saying of Bill Gates: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that forgetting is a necessary part of learning. Don’t berate yourself for forgetting something. If we did not forget, our brain would be filled with useless information. Forgetting allows us to synthesize information into usable “models” that reflect how the world works.

#2: Be as kind to yourself as you are to others

Many of us find it easy to be kind to others. However, when it comes to ourselves, we are too critical. We may think that self-compassion is self-indulgent and lazy, or that it will somehow fundamentally undermine our motivation.

But this is a false and counterproductive belief. In fact, a study published in Herald of Personality and Social Psychology, led by psychologist Christine Chwill of Drexel University found that self-compassion is something like a “motivational booster”.

“Our study reiterates what research has found time and time again—self-compassion is not only better than harsh self-criticism, but it also works better in helping us overcome life’s inevitable challenges,” Chwil says.

So, the next time you fail, try to think about it in terms of self-compassion (like, “How did I become a better person because of this?”) rather than self-criticism (like, “Why do I fail?” ).

Other new research on self-compassion published in Personality and individual differences finds that the ability to treat ourselves with kindness not only helps us get through the hard times, but also helps us enjoy the good times.

“People who show self-compassion may have a better ability to be mindful and present during good times and recognize that they deserve to have positive experiences to the fullest,” says psychologist and lead study author Benjamin Schellenberg.

#3: Practice more “behavioral flexibility”

People tend to become permanent over time. We organize our routines. We specify our interests.

This is not a problem in itself. A good routine is a great way to manage a certain part of your day yourself. And let’s be honest, a little autopilot is good for the system.

However, psychologists will tell you that routine isn’t a problem until it’s a problem. If you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or out of focus, don’t be afraid to change up your routine. Don’t berate yourself for having to push back on a goal you may have set, like 30 days of yoga or a Peloton challenge. Be kind to yourself for taking it easy on the work front for a few weeks.

In other words, don’t be afraid to incorporate some flexibility into your routine to rejuvenate your mood. Sometimes it can make all the difference.

Conclusion

Being kinder to yourself is easier said than done. To do this, try to (1) take your time with the learning process, (2) treat yourself with as much kindness as you treat others, and (3) relax the rigidity with which you approach your daily or weekly routine.

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