What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is the ability to be understanding, warm, and easy with yourself during times of struggle or self-doubt. People with high self-compassion are able to forgive themselves for mistakes and reassure themselves without being a harsh self-critic.

People with high self-compassion may be able to find and build more fulfilling relationships due to their higher confidence levels. And if you don’t have high self-compassion, here’s the good news: Studies show that compassion can be learned!

So let’s dive into 10 tips you can use to increase your self-compassion.

↑ Table of Contents ↑

Silence Your Inner Critic

Remember, you are your toughest critic. Ask yourself if you’ve ever had one of these negative thoughts:

  • I dressed up nice today… but I still don’t look like those guys on GQ magazine.
  • I bought an expensive car… but it’s not as nice as my neighbor’s.
  • I got a pay raise… but it’s just not enough.
  • I have funny friends… but they’re even funnier than me.

We constantly want more, and more, and more… and this can lead to a negative thought loop.

An example of a negative thought loop, which decreases compassion.

Negativity is the enemy of self-compassion. 

It’s easy to be negative. We talk nice to our close friends but constantly talk bad about ourselves until it builds up in a downward spiral of ugly. 

But how do you break out of a negative thought loop? 

Silence the voice of self-criticism.

This is some real science: Self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff found that being self-critical can really hurt your ability to connect with people

  • Self-criticism at age 12 predicted less involvement in high school activities.
  • At age 31, people who criticized themselves a lot had more personal and social problems, including anxiety disorders.

Research shows that even thinking thoughts such as “this person is better than me” fuels feelings of depression and envy. 

That’s why if you’re a natural self-criticizer, you might benefit from trying one of these self-worth–building exercises:

  • Find your anthem. Go through the music charts and pick a song that makes you feel alive or that makes you feel like the best version of yourself. The best confidence songs make you feel like dancing. Whenever you’re feeling self-critical, listen to your favorite song and feel self-compassion!
  • Just dance. Did you just pick your anthem? Great, take a dance break. Don’t worry, no one can see you. 
  • Start a Success File. Create a folder on your desktop or phone filled with pictures and screenshots of things that make you feel fulfilled. Refer to them on a weekly basis or when you need a quick pick-me-up!

Want more awesome self-worth exercises? Check out the article: Self-Worth: 20 Ideas to Build Self-Esteem

↑ Table of Contents ↑

Try Mirror Positivity

In one fascinating study, participants were asked to look in a mirror while researchers probed the question, “Can staring in a mirror be detrimental to mental health?”

You might have guessed it, but researchers found that participants felt an increase in anxiety and stress while staring in the mirror for 10 minutes. 10 whole minutes gives anyone enough time to stress out about every pore and wrinkle and causes self-critical talk to set in.

So while you CAN go on a mirror fast by removing the mirrors in your home, you can also try repeating one of your favorite positive affirmations every time you see yourself in the mirror. Over time, you might find yourself being more positive about your own bodily image.

↑ Table of Contents ↑

Act Like a Compassionate Friend

Imagine your inner voice as a compassionate friend who’s always there for you:

  • What would they say during tough times?
  • How would they comfort you?
  • Would they speak kindly or negatively?

The next time you begin speaking negatively, channel your compassionate friend with the warmth and support they’ll bring. If it helps, you can even try imagining your favorite celebrity role model.

Pro Tip: Instead of just imagining it, write a letter. Write down what your compassionate friend would say to you during those tough times.

↑ Table of Contents ↑

Give a Gift to Someone

If you received $5 every day for five days in a row, would you rather:

  1. Spend it on the exact same thing for yourself, or
  2. Spend it on the exact same thing for someone else

In 2018, researchers at the University of Chicago did an experiment that used this same setup. Participants spent the $5 on either themselves or on someone else, such as by donating it to the same charity every day. They found that:

  • People who spent money on themselves felt happy at first, but the feeling declined after a while.
  • People who spent money on other people felt joy and satisfaction every single time they gave.

The great thing is when you give gifts, you’re also rewarding yourself. You’ll be better at selflessly giving and not expecting anything in return. That’s the real meaning of the “gift” of giving.

Giving gifts is like sprinkling sugar on yourself. The more you give, the sweeter you become.

Here’s a compassion challenge: Go out and give someone a gift. Don’t wait, do it today!

Having trouble thinking of a gift? Start small. Studies show that people seem to get the most enjoyment from receiving small gifts like books and money. Here are some small gift ideas:

  • Coffee
  • Small bracelet
  • Postcard
  • Scented candle
  • Small photo album of you two
  • Dinner cooked by you
  • Gift you received but don’t like

Want to take it up a notch? Check out our article: Unique and Hilarious Gifts For Everyone On Your List [2020]

And remember, the gift of giving has the power to set people free. 

↑ Table of Contents ↑

Practice Metta Meditation

What is Metta (also known as loving-kindness)?

Metta: n

A word from the Pali language that means universal love. Friendliness, goodwill, happiness, and nonviolence are all feelings that make up Metta. Meditate on this feeling and you’ll experience a whole new world of compassion.

Metta meditation allows us to develop compassion for both ourselves and for others.

Yes, simply closing your eyes and focusing on loving vibes can make you more compassionate! That’s why Metta meditation is one of the easiest things you can do to boost your compassion right now.

Here’s how to do it: Start with yourself. In a seated or lying-down position, close your eyes and repeat these chants silently or out loud:

  • May I be happy.
  • May I be healthy.
  • May I be safe.
  • May I live with ease.

Next up, you can extend your compassion for a romantic partner, a close friend, a family member, and even the whole universe (if it helps).

From here, you can get into your own meditation rhythm. There are many variations of Metta meditation. Experiment! Try different meditations! Find the best meditation for you.

Want more in-depth information on the different types of meditation and how to pick the best type? Read our article: 14 Amazing Benefits of Meditation That Can Actually Rewire Your Brain

↑ Table of Contents ↑

Read a Fiction Book

Reading books can make you more compassionate. Something as simple as cozying up with a hot coffee and popping open a magnificent book can lead to positive permanent effects on your brain. 

Researchers at Emory University did an experiment to see if there were permanent effects of reading on the brain. Here’s what they did:

  • They assigned people to read the novel Pompei and scanned their brains to see if there were any changes in brain activity.
  • The results? They found that reading fiction leads to longer-term changes in connectivity in our brain.

What kind of changes did they see? They saw heightened activity in areas of the brain that helps process language and movement. That’s because when we read fiction, we empathize with how characters feel and move.

So we definitely know that reading fiction is good for our brains. But how about reading nonfiction? Studies say no. That’s because fiction books have the power to emotionally transport you, unlike their nonfiction counterparts. 

The bottom line: Pick a fictional book that you can emotionally invest in to increase your empathy.

What books interest you? Do you get emotionally invested in books about troubled heroes rising to greatness? What about books about pets? Romance? Fantasy?

Want recommendations on some awesome books to increase your empathy? Here are some great fictional books to get your compassion juices flowing:

Want more books? Check out a list of 100 fiction books.

P.S. Research shows you can increase empathy by watching compelling movies, too. So if reading’s not your thing, consider watching a good emotional movie or two.

↑ Table of Contents ↑

Hug Yourself

Self-touch such as hugging yourself, rubbing your hands together, or massaging your head are beneficial ways you can be more compassionate to yourself. In fact, studies show self-soothing touches can reduce stress levels.

Try it! It might look odd in public, but when you’re feeling your inner critic, try giving yourself a big hug. The truth is our bodies don’t lie. Our outward actions directly influence our thoughts. Learn the secrets of body language and master your mind:

Unlock the Secrets of Charisma

Control and leverage the tiny signals you’re sending – from your stance and facial expressions to your word choice and vocal tone – to improve your personal and professional relationships.

Succeed with People

Master the laws of human behavior. Get along with anyone, increasing your influence, impact, and income as a result.

↑ Table of Contents ↑

Get Rid of Toxic Friends

Hanging out with the right types of friends can change your life and give you the self-compassion you need. But perhaps more important is learning how to recognize the early signs of what makes a bad friend.

Want to learn how? You can watch this video on how to identify fake friends and what you can do to get them out of your life:

↑ Table of Contents ↑

The Science of Self-Compassion

According to Kristen Neff, self-compassion is made up of three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. 

The 3 components of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Here’s more about the three components:

  1. Self-Kindness is being gentle to ourselves. Instead of worrying, complaining, judging, and being angry, we can change those thoughts into positive ones and become our own best friend. We can work on our self-kindness by:
    • practicing positive self-talk.
    • making sure the food we eat is healthy for our bodies.
    • taking time off from work to play games.
    • saying no to phony people pleasing.
    • giving out hugs (to people you love, or even to kind strangers)!
  1. Common Humanity is recognizing that we all suffer:
  • We struggle.
  • We fail to achieve our goals.
  • We have failed relationships.
  • We feel separated and alone at times. 

But sometimes we forget that suffering is the thing that we all share in common. It’s what brings us together as emotional humans. It’s what makes us feel! When we understand common humanity, we can understand we’re all fighting the same fight.

  1. Mindfulness is simply being in the present moment and nothing else. Even when you’re struggling, focusing on the here and now just gives you that energy to SNAP OUT OF your negative thought loop. Here are some ways to be more mindful:
    • Stop what you’re doing now and just take a big, deep breath. 
    • Use a mindfulness app. I like to use Headspace.
    • Travel more to force yourself to pay attention to your surroundings.
    • Go on a digital detox.
    • Keep a mindful journal. 

Here’s the great thing about self-compassion: If you throw only one component in a blender, great! You’ve got some nice compassion juice. But when you combine all three, that’s when you’ve made one excellent compassionate smoothie. Practice all three and you’ll be a self-compassion Jedi in no time.

Kristen Neff’s Ted Talk does a really amazing job at describing the #empowerment of self-compassion with science. Check it out here:

↑ Table of Contents ↑

The Benefits of Being Self-Compassionate

Being self-compassionate is a lifelong skill with lasting benefits, including:

↑ Table of Contents ↑

Self-Compassion Takeaways

Being compassionate to yourself can be a lifelong inner journey. Take these tips with you wherever you go:

  1. Build up your self-worth to silence the inner critic. You can do this by building up your success file filled with photos and screenshots that remind you you’re awesome.
  2. Condition yourself to think mirrors are positive! Try reciting your favorite positive affirmation each time you look into the mirror.
  3. Write a compassionate letter to yourself as if you’re a compassionate person seeking to help a friend in need.
  4. Give a small gift to someone who will enjoy it—coffee, a postcard, or a handmade bracelet can brighten someone’s day and make you feel better.
  5. Practice metta meditation or listen to a nice guided meditation online.
  6. Read a fiction book in a genre you don’t normally read.
  7. Self-sooth and hug yourself to benefit from the warm fuzzies.
  8. Spend more time with the people that make you feel worthy. Spend less time with toxic friends that break down your self-worth.

And while you’re at it, boost your confidence by first learning to sound confident! Master your voice here: How to Speak with Confidence and Sound Better

About Science of People

Our mission is to help you achieve your social and professional goals faster using science-backed, practical advice. Our team curates the best communication, relationship, and social skills research; turning into actionable and relatable life skills. Science of People was founded by Vanessa Van Edwards, bestselling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma.

If you liked this article...

Read More in Happiness