What’s wrong with me?
I don’t know why I can’t figure this out.
I might as well just give up now.
Have you ever found yourself entangled in a web of self-deprecating questions?
How did you respond? Did you notice that the more you criticized yourself, the darker your thoughts became?
It's a familiar pattern. When negative thoughts about ourselves take hold, they tend to linger. When you’re trapped in a negative thinking spiral, the more you condemn yourself the more negative neuro-associations you create about yourself. And the more you speak negatively about yourself when you next face another difficult experience, your default becomes self-criticism.
But here's the good news: You have the power to break free from this cycle by cultivating self-kindness.
I stumbled upon this transformative process in Rick Hanson's book, "Just One Thing." The next time you catch yourself in the grip of self-doubt or negative self-talk, notice what's happening and use this process.
Try this simple 3-step self-reflection exercise:
Step 1: Reflect on what it means to be a good friend to someone you care about.
- Think about the thoughts and feelings you have for that friend.
Step 2: Ask yourself, "Am I that kind of friend to myself?"
- Please take a moment to recall how it feels to be with someone who genuinely cares about you.
- Picture that person in your mind. How do they make you feel—accepted, cared for, and loved?
- Name all the positive emotions that arise.
Step 3: Ask yourself, "What's the best way for me to be on my own side?"
- Looking at the photo at the top of this article, smiling at the camera with my partner, Christiaan and our dog, Scooby evokes visceral emotions of self-acceptance and love. It's a powerful reminder that we can extend the same kindness to ourselves.
What's remarkable about this exercise is that it doesn't require you to challenge or confront your negative thoughts head-on.
Instead, it swiftly shifts your focus toward nurturing more loving and empowering thoughts and feelings.
Isn't it ironic? It's often easier to think kindly of others when we're prompted to do so. This simple practice of experiencing compassion and understanding for others is the humble practice of recognizing universal human dignity.
Imagine if we applied this practice after moments of reacting negatively or prejudicially to others.
We could collectively foster a culture of compassion, replacing polarization with understanding.
This simple act of experiencing compassion for others is a humble recognition of universal human dignity.
Think of this process as a game—a game of self-kindness and self-compassion.
Approaching it with a playful spirit can create more positive associations in your brain about yourself. Life's challenges may be serious, but that doesn't mean you have to be harsh on yourself — or others for that matter.
Here's a practical tip: Set reminders or triggers throughout your day for a week.
Jot down your reflections in a journal to track how this practice shapes your self-image and self-acceptance. If you're eager to start, think about the negative self-talk that often dominates your thoughts. Apply these questions to shift toward a kinder, more loving perspective of yourself.
Remember, self-kindness is a journey, not a destination.
With each step, you're rewriting the script of self-talk, replacing criticism with compassion. You've got this!