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"I'm scared to get this wrong again."
"They won't value your opinion."
"You haven't done enough!"
You'd never say these things to your best friend, sibling or child, but a lot of us give ourselves plenty of negativity every day. What's up with that?
Self-criticism can get harsh quickly, and often unfairly so — especially on bad days. However, it is possible to curb these extreme thoughts and approach tough situations with self-compassion. The benefits range from the mental to the physical, and they all help you be your healthiest and happiest self. Here's what you need to know.
This practice, also called "self-love," is exactly what it sounds like — being caring and kind to yourself. While seemingly small, this act can have some pretty big effects on your daily life and well-being. Kristin Neff, a leading researcher on the topic, has found that self-compassion can result in improved happiness and optimism, as well as reduced anxiety.
Other research has linked self-love to increased productivity and even improved performance after failure. It makes sense if you think about it; getting too caught up in self-criticism can definitely eat up your time and motivation.
That all sounds well and good, but you may be wondering how to actually practice self-compassion. We've got you covered! Meditation and journaling are classic examples of mindful self-love, but they're not for everyone. Here are three creative exercises to get you started.
What would you do if your best friend was feeling down in the dumps? Maybe you'd treat her to a nice meal or run a few of her errands — something simple to brighten her spirits. Odds are, doing those things for her would make you feel better, too!
If you're stuck in a negative headspace after a bad day, try doing something that helps others. It could be as simple as picking up trash at the park, volunteering at your local food pantry or shoveling your neighbor's driveway in wintertime.
Doing something positive to interrupt your negative thought pattern will help you regroup, focus on your strengths and move forward with a fresh perspective. Plus, enjoying a few simple acts of service can get you thinking about other ways to demonstrate kindness — to yourself and to others — more frequently.
Let's pretend for a second that the nagging, negative voice inside your head is a real person. If it helps, you can even give it a name. For these purposes, let's call her "Karen."
Now, consider the role Karen currently plays in your life. For example, is Karen ever helpful? Or is she constantly negative? How could her behavior change so she's more of a motivator than a bully?
If you can recharacterize your inner critic's voice to be that of someone you want to prove wrong, or one that provides constructive criticism, you can turn negative thoughts into a powerful source of inspiration. The motivation to prove naysayers wrong may help you find it easier to be to yourself and reap those benefits mentioned earlier. We can all be our own worst critics — so it's important to control the narrative!
The negative thoughts that occasionally creep into our minds are often broad generalizations. Thankfully, there's an easy way to deflate them — just remember specific examples that illustrate your abilities and accomplishments.
For instance, if one of your coworkers received the promotion you'd been hoping for, you might find yourself thinking, "I'm the worst employee. I'm never going to get anywhere in my career." When these ideas start developing in the back of your mind, prove yourself wrong. Remember your strengths and accomplishments. Weren't you named Employee of the Month in January? Didn't your boss note your leadership potential during your last review?
Finding the exceptions to your self-criticisms can help you see they're unfounded. Once you do, you'll be able to let them go and move forward.
When you incorporate self-compassion into your everyday life, it can change your whole worldview — you may be able to maintain a more optimistic outlook, feel less anxious, experience less stress and bounce back when things don't go your way. It takes some practice to get there, but reshaping your thoughts can totally transform the way you approach life!
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