6 Science-Based Self-Compassion Exercises
How do you develop more self-compassion? Try these activities to boost self-love
Posted January 13, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
Self-compassion is thought of as giving yourself the same compassion you'd give others. That means that self-compassion involves comforting and taking care of yourself.
Joy Johnson, LCSW, author of The Self-Compassion Workbook, says that self-compassion includes skills like mindful awareness, self-acceptance, living your values, and loving-kindness. When we have self-compassion, we can identify when we fail to meet our standards or live our values, but we don't judge ourselves so much. That's why self-compassion may help us increase our happiness and well-being. (Take the well-being quiz to see how your well-being is doing.)
Here are some exercises to help you increase self-compassion.
1. Write a Self-Compassion Letter
Research has shown that writing self-compassionate letters to ourselves can decrease depression and increase happiness. So try to write out something kind to yourself, talking to yourself like you're a child or someone in need of kindness. Here is a self-compassion exercise that can help you build this skill.
2. Let Go of Negativity
When you're embroiled in negativity, try to imagine a blue sky with fluffy clouds. Attach each of those negative thoughts to a cloud and see them as they move away. This exercise can help you see that negativity can fade away and potentially be replaced with positivity.
3. Stand up to Your Inner Critic
When you're being self judgy, take this opportunity to stand up for yourself against your inner critic. Ask yourself, why are you saying these negative things to yourself? Are you being unfair to yourself? How would you stand up to a bully who said those things to someone you cared about or a small child? See if you can use these types of questions to fight against those self-critical thoughts.
4. Nix the "Shoulds"
Our entire lives, people have told us that we "should" do things. This leads us to talk to ourselves the same way. But that's not helpful and not even true. We are basically just judging ourselves for doing things differently than someone else might. So see if you can stop using the word "should" in your internal monologues.
5. Practice Loving-Kindness
Loving-kindness meditation, which is usually directed towards others, has been shown to benefit our well-being. But there is no reason we can't direct this towards ourselves when we are feeling sad. Here is a loving-kindness exercise to try, just try to direct some of that love towards yourself.
6. Take a Self-Compassion Break
Sometimes we just need to take a quick self-compassion break. Maybe we're self-judging or being harsh or unkind to ourselves. By stopping everything for a little break where we are nice to ourselves, we can hopefully turn things around. Try this self-compassion break activity for more guidance.
7. Forgive Yourself
Sometimes we are jerks to ourselves because we feel guilty for doing something bad in the past. But there is nothing we can do to change the past. All we can do is apologize (if necessary) and move on. Although it's not always easy, forgiving ourselves can help us be happier and move past difficulties. Here are some more specific steps to help you forgive yourself.
In Sum: Self-compassion is an important skill for helping us improve our self-worth and self-confidence. So give these self-compassion exercises a try to see if they help you.
Created with content from The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
Shapira, L. B., & Mongrain, M. (2010). The benefits of self-compassion and optimism exercises for individuals vulnerable to depression. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(5), 377-389.
Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion, 8(5), 720.