How to practice self compassion (with actual examples)
Updated 2/3/2023. Originally posted 2020.
Think of a time when you messed up. How did you react? If you’re like me, you’re hard on yourself, self-criticize…you know the drill.
I initially wrote this post in July of 2020. If you don’t remember what was going on during that time, I’ll give you a refresher: we were in the height of the pandemic, and also less than four weeks out from the murder of George Floyd. At the time, I lived less than 10 miles from the murder site of George Floyd. And, my Grandma had just died. Life was incredibly stressful and anxiety-producing.
In a therapy session earlier that week, my assignment from my therapist was to practice more compassion towards myself.
I remember just staring at her through the computer screen (tele-health) like…..”and you want me to do that HOW?! Can you give me some specific examples of what that looks like?!” I literally had NO idea where to start, or what self compassion even looked like.
One thing I had going for me was that I knew I wasn’t alone in my struggle of figuring out how to practice self-compassion.
Fast foward 2.5 years later as I’m updating this post, and while I feel like I have gotten better at practicing self-compassion, it still doesn’t come naturally or easy sometimes.
What’s more, over the past year, this post has started becoming more popular through Google searches, so much so that in 2022, it was one of my top 10 posts.
Reduce, Reuse, Renew is reader supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission, which helps keeps resource guides like this free, and comes at no additional cost to you. Thanks!”
Self compassion definition
The dictionary describes compassion as:
“sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.“
There isn’t a clear definition for self-compassion, but there is one person who is deemed the overall expert in the topic, and that is Stanford Associate Professor Dr. Kristin Neff.
Dr. Neff breaks self-compassion down into three parts, which can help us define the word: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
The self-kindness part is fairly self-explanatory. Basically, it’s realizing and remembering that we’re human, and instead of beating our self up when we make a mistake, we treat our self with kindness.
A lot of times we think that we are the only person in the world who messes up and makes mistakes. Of course, that’s not true.
This part is realizing that we’re not alone in our struggles. We’re human, and we all mess up.
Mindfulness is bringing your focus back to the present. It’s understanding that we can’t control the past or the future. When we are feeling self-critical, focusing on what’s real can be a helpful tool to practice self-compassion.
Examples of how self-compassion applies to eco-minimalist living
Self-compassion is a practice of goodwill, not good feelings… With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.
When it comes to living a lifestyle that goes against the “norm”, it can feel defeating at one point or another. We have ALL been there.
But, remember, in order to live sustainably (with less), it has to be sustainable for you.
Sometimes this means that we aren’t able to do all the things that we want to do, which can leave us feeling guilty, overwhelmed, or defeated.
Here’s where practicing compassion comes in!
Practicing self-compassion can be a great tool in eco-minimalist living – to allow us to keep moving forward versus quitting because we don’t measure up to someone else’s progress (or where we think we should be).
Additionally, practicing self compassion towards ourselves only helps us practice showing compassion to others.
Have you ever been in a zero waste, minimalist, or other Facebook group where someone asks a question, and gets tons of judgmental and rude responses?
If we’re not careful, it can be easy to judge other people’s journey. But, not only is that not helpful, it’s not fair. We all come to the eco-minimalist table with different abilities, resources, and talents. We can’t expect our journey to be someone else’s. Compassion goes a long way in building a community of people who all have a similar goal – to make the world a better place.
““If an individual is geared toward neglecting the self while doting on others, this uneven balance will eventually take its toll. When a person has true compassion for the self, that compassion then supports healthy, balanced relationships.””
Benefits of practicing self-compassion
There are many benefits of practicing self-compassion. According to one source:
“…studies have shown that self-criticism can lead to lowered self-esteem, anxiety and depression.”
Additionally, research shows that even thinking thoughts such as “this person is better than me” fuels feelings of depression and envy.
The good news is that the opposite is true.
According to one source:
“Self-compassion has been linked to greater well-being, including diminished anxiety and depression, better emotional coping skills and compassion for others.”
There are tons of studies and data on practicing self-compassion if you do an Ecosia search, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. I think the items listed above give you a good sense of the positive aspects of practicing self-compassion.
So. Convinced? I am.
Related post: The Secret to Making Time for Self Care
Self compassion myths
There are a lot of myths around practicing self compassion that prevent people from starting.
The truth is, that simply are just that – myths – which means that they can be challenged.
Here are some common ones:
- Self compassion is selfish
- I won’t be able to motivate myself if I am not hard on myself
- It shows weakness to practice self compassion
- Self compassion will decrease my motivation and progress
- People who practice self compassion are narcissists
I’m not going to spend time going through and debunking all of these myths, because you can look it up if you want to learn more.
Bottom line, the research is clear: self-compassion is beneficial for not only our own mental and physical health and wellbeing, but for others as well.
How to practice self compassion (with examples)
Journal: free writing, brain dump, gratitude
Show yourself some kindness by getting all those unhelpful and non-productive thoughts out of your head and down onto paper. You don’t have to make it pretty, grammatically correct, or even full paragraphs. Sometimes, I just write down bullet points. Sometimes my writing is illegible. The important piece is to just get it out of your head. Bonus: if you’re dealing with racing thoughts, writing things down by hand can help! We write slower than our thoughts manifest, so we can interrupt that cycle by doing a brain dump.
After you write out all of the unhelpful thoughts, bring out your compassion by going through and countering them to showcase that they’re simply not true.
Self compassion example:
My son wanted me to play with him a lot today, and I wasn’t able to. I feel like I’m an awful mother and that I’m letting him down.
Counter: Yes, I wasn’t able to play with my son as much as he and I would have liked today, and that’s OK. He had the opportunity to be bored (re: build creativity), and learn independent play – and he had fun!
Related post: Why you Need More Gratitude in your Life Right. Now.
Shake it off (or another confidence boosting activity)
When that negative mental clutter hits, we’re usually not feeling our best selves. One way to counter that is to do something that is confidence boosting – like blasting some dopamine boosting music (90s pop-punk or Broadway tunes usually do it for me) and get your groove on. Doing so can help you feel good, making it easier for those self-compassion thoughts to come in.
Self compassion example:
“I can’t believe I made that massive error with the client at work today. I totally let down my team and feel like a failure.
To do: get home, turn on some of your favorite tunes, and shake it off for at least 10 minutes. Afterwards, practice showing yourself kindness.
Pretend you are talking to a friend
We regularly talk to others with kindness and compassion. But when it comes to yourself, we are harsh and mean. If you’re finding yourself with unhelpful thoughts, imagine what you would tell a friend in the same situation. On the other hand, if you find yourself with negative self-talk, ask yourself if you would say the same things to a friend. If not, you’re being too harsh.
Honestly, this tactic has helped me the most in cutting down on the negative self-talk cycle I find myself in.
Self compassion example:
Say you reacted badly to a situation with your mom, and you’re beating yourself up about it. You’re going over the conversation, thinking of things you should have said instead of what you did, and telling yourself you suck, and did a horrible thing.
Now, imagine what you would tell a friend. Perhaps it would go something like this: Ugh, that sounds like a tough situation in which both parties reacted negatively. I’m sorry that happened. Remember that you’re human and your emotions are valid. What do you think you will do to make amends?
Show kindness to someone else
Committing a random act of kindness (or even an ‘on purpose’ act of kindness) can be an instant mood booster, and get us out of our own heads. Read: reducing mental clutter that’s not compassionate.
The next time you find yourself in your head, beating yourself up over something, pause. What’s something you can do for someone else?
Maybe it’s something as easy as going for a walk and picking up some trash. That benefits anyone in your area!
Maybe it’s buying someone a coffee, or taking their dog for a walk.
This one can be so hard, but also incredibly freeing. Often, we hold on to stuff that happened years prior all because we can’t forgive. Or, we don’t want to forgive because we think we deserve to beat ourselves up for something. But all that extra mental clutter is not benefiting anyone – nor is beating yourself up about something.
To start, refer to the tip before this one: address how you’d talk to a friend about the same thing. I’m guessing you wouldn’t advise them to keep holding onto something!
I know this can be hard, and take some time. It might also require help from a mental health professional depending on the situation. And that’s OK!
However, to get started, you can look in the mirror and just say, I forgive you for ‘x’. And repeat. It may feel awkward and not genuine at first, but eventually, you may start to believe it.
Self compassion example: While looking in the mirror (or if even that is too tough, consider starting by writing this down in a notebook), say: “I forgive myself for x, y, z. I did my best/learned my lesson/vow to do better moving forward/was just a kid/am human.” Repeat.
Declutter toxic people and activities
Ohhh yes. I love anything that involves decluttering – and that includes toxic people and activities that stress you out.
This is of course easier said than done, but there are some steps you can take to slowly weed toxic people and draining activities out of your life.
For tips: 4 Guilt-Free Ways to Say NO (in order to Say Yes to the Life you Want), and a podcast episode on how to stop overscheduling. These resources will also provide examples on how to do them!
Talk to 5-year-old self
Along with talking to myself like I would talk to a friend, this tip is helpful in practicing self-compassion. I like to think of my anxiety as my brain doing it’s job on overload. It helps even more to imagine my anxiety (or ego) as a five year old trying to protect me. Having a seven year old myself, I can imagine how well that would go in some situations. The intention would be there, but because he is seven years old, it wouldn’t always work so well.
So, what would I say to my seven year old?
Self compassion example: I would say something like, thank you so much for trying to protect me, but I got this. I know you’re just doing your job, but I can handle this. And repeat.
It’s easy to fall into a negative thought pattern when constantly bombarded with photos on social media of what appears to be people’s picture perfect life, or constant negative news headlines. Comparison is the thief of joy, and can lead to an absence of self-compassion.
Additionally, constant exposure to negative news can affect our mindset – and not in a good way.
The best thing to do is to limit exposure to negative news, and be mindful of who you’re following on social media. Reduce your news outlets to one or two, and unfollow anyone that makes you feel bad about yourself.
Self compassion example:
You’re scrolling Instagram, and you see someone who appears to be doing it all. You find yourself wondering how they are doing all the things you want to be doing and more, when you feel constantly overwhelmed. You start beating yourself up for all that you’re not doing, and your thoughts go downhill from there.
Here’s something you can do: Pause. Take a deep breath (mindfulness), and remember that what we see on social media is not the full story, ever.
Remind yourself that you are doing your best.
From here, you can do one of the other tips in this post: journal, dance, etc.
Adopt self compassion affirmations or mantras
Sometimes a mantra or two is all that is needed to get grounded and to a space where you can practice one of the other tips for self compassion. I personally love mantras. Sometimes, I journal (see first tip) and just write down different mantras.
Mantras are also great because you can write them down almost anywhere for reminders throughout your day.
Here are some examples of mantras that can help you practice self compassion:
- I am not perfect, and that is OK
- I am a human being and I will make mistakes, and that’s OK
- I accept myself as I am
I am enough
Related post: 5 Ways to Meditate without Actually Meditating
Live according to your values
Sometimes when we find that we’re not being compassionate towards ourselves, it can be because we’re not living within our values. Or, we can use those moments as a compass to bring us back to things that better align with our values.
Let me explain.
According to one source, “treating ourselves with kindness and understanding can help us more proactively align our life with our values.”
So how does this apply in real life?
Self compassion example:
Pretend you’re at work, and told to do a task that doesn’t seem quite right, ethically speaking. You question the person about it, and they gaslight you. You still don’t feel right about their response, but you tell yourself that you’re overthinking things, that they’re the expert, that you don’t know as much as them, etc.
In this case, your inner critic – your uncompassionate self – is overriding your intuition. If we can determine that this is happening, we can practice self compassion in order to hear our intuition better.
Be aware of classic anxiety terms
“Should”, “Never”, “Could”, “Always”. These are classic ego/anxiety terms. “I always screw this up”, or “I should be doing this better for my kids” are not only not helpful, but I’m going to bet that they aren’t true!
If you can catch yourself saying these types of phrases, you can acknowledge that this is your anxiety/ego talking, and then apply one of the other tips mentioned in this post above or below.
Self compassion example:
Me: Ugh, I should really be cleaning today, but my body is tired and I want to rest. I should clean…
With compassion: I notice my thoughts are saying “I should”, which is a classic anxiety/ego term and not necessarily the truth. I’m tired today, and the cleaning can wait until tomorrow or after I rest. I’m human and I deserve to rest too.
Related post: The Top 3 Ways to Reduce Mental Clutter
Accept that you’re imperfect
I used to glorify my perfectionist tendencies. I used to think it meant I was detail oriented, and that I cared so much about my work I spent as much time as needed making things perfect. While I am still detail oriented, I now know that perfectionism is just a manifestation of anxiety.
When I would spend hours making something “perfect”, it really was because I was scared of x, y, z (impostor syndrome, fear of looking foolish, fear of being called out, fear of….)
I know that I’m not perfect. And I can’t be perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist. If you’re human, you’re not going to be perfect. That’s really all there is to it. By truly acknowledging this, it lets off some of the pressure we put on ourselves.
Self compassion example:
Me: Getting frustrated that I can’t finish a blog post because it is not “perfect”.
With compassion: I can see that I’m spending a lot of time on this blog post. Am I feeling nervous about publishing it? Why? Is that going to change if I keep working on it?
Start practicing self compassion mindfulness
Is there anything that mindfulness DOESN’T work on? I’m thinking NOPE. In fact, mindfulness is one of the core components of practicing self compassion (as noted above.)
According to mindful.org, here are some ways that mindfulness and self compassion go hand in hand:
Mindfulness focuses primarily on acceptance of experience itself. Self-compassion focuses more on caring for the experiencer.
- Mindfulness asks, “What am I experiencing right now?” Self-compassion asks, “What do I need right now?”
Mindfulness says, “Feel your suffering with spacious awareness.” Self-compassion says, “Be kind to yourself when you suffer.”
The great thing is that mindfulness can be incorporated into every aspect of your life, and can be a gateway into practicing self compassion.
Self compassion example:
Me: I find myself feeling frustrated and being hard on myself because I made a mistake on a project for work/volunteer/whatever.
Mindfulness: I can see that I’m being really hard on myself for messing up, and saying/thinking things I would never tell a friend.
Compassion: What would I tell a friend in this exact same situation? I would tell them that we are all humans, and we make mistakes. Try to acknowledge that you are a human being and will make mistakes, and that’s OK. Everyone makes mistakes. What is important is not dwelling on the mistake, but moving forward in determining how it can be fixed.
Loving kindness meditation
If you need to practice self compassion, loving kindness meditation is a good start. The meditation walks through sending love and kindness (hence the name) not only to yourself, but other people in your life. It usually is a shorter meditation – about 15 minutes or less – and really helps get into the self compassion mindset.
You can find loving kindness meditation all over the internet, but I really like ‘Flower Garden – Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta)’ by Aya Khema on Insight Timer (a free meditation app.)
Additionally, if you are looking for more meditations, here are some others for practicing self compassion.
Related post: 2-Minute Self-Guided Mindfulness Meditation
Celebrate your wins
When we’re so hard on ourselves, we often just focus on the things we didn’t do well (according to us), instead of looking at all of the things we’ve done well.
There is a reason our brains remember negative things over positive ones, and it has to do with how we evolved as humans. Back in the day (like, way, way back), we had to remember “bad” things like the plant that is poisonous, or that saber tooth tigers may try and eat us.
Nowadays, when our brain perceives something as a threat, it holds on to that as a means of protection, even though most of the things we don’t need.
By reminding ourselves of our accomplishments, we can work to break up the pattern of non-self compassion thinking. Need help? Take a few minutes to write a list of the things you’re really proud of in your life. Any time you are having thoughts that aren’t productive and downplay your abilities, take a look at the list for a reminder.
Self compassion example:
Me: Man, I really screwed up this morning when I raised my voice at my son out of frustration. I am always doing this and then feeling so guilty.
Yes, I raised my voice. But I apologized and talked with my son about how I make mistakes too. One thing that I know I do well is make sure to spend a little time each day playing with him, one-on-one.
Don’t fall into the comparison trap
There hasn’t been a time (at least that I can remember) where I found comparing myself to others has left me feeling good. To practice self compassion for yourself, this has to be an activity we stop.
Unfollow people on social media who don’t make you feel good about yourself – as social media tends to be a common area that breeds comparison. I’m sure you know, but social media, our friends’ lives, our neighbors’ fancy stuff…this is all the highlight reel that they’re putting out. Underneath the highlights are all the common struggles we all face. Reminding yourself of this can be helpful.
If you do find yourself in a comparison trap, interrupt those thoughts with gratitude in order to practice self compassion. This works because when we compare, our mind looks for what we are lacking, but when we counter those thoughts with things we are thankful for, we are reminded of all the good things we have.
Self compassion example:
Me: Man, Chrissy seems like she has it all together. She’s got the Pinterest/minimalist kitchen, home cooked meals every night, and takes her kids to the park every day. Meanwhile, my son ate macaroni and cheese for lunch, and the leftovers for dinner. Cold (his choice, but still.) Cue feeling crappy about myself.
Gratitude: I’m so thankful I have a kid who is perfectly happy eating cold macaroni and cheese for dinner, so I can catch up on some work I didn’t get to during the day.
Reminder: Chrissy may seem like she has it all together, but I’m sure she cleaned up her kitchen for the photo, and she should be proud of her hard work. It looks great.
Know you’re not alone
Often when we deal with anxious thoughts, or when we beat ourselves up, we are convinced that we are alone in whatever we are experiencing, which can then make the thoughts worse. But here’s what I’ve learned. NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING, that I’ve thought about has been something my mind and my mind alone cooked up (yes, I’ve asked my therapist.) And even more, I would beg to argue that these things are so much more common than we realize. Realizing and reminding myself that the things I’m experiencing are what other people experience takes away some of the power of the thoughts, and allows peace and calm to slowly seep in.
Self compassion example: Mom guilt. I think we, as moms, all feel it at some point or another. So why is it that we feel so alone in our guilt? When I start feeling guilty about something, I try to remind myself that I’m not alone in this guilt. If I’m still feeling down, I’ll talk to a trusted person – a fellow mom friend, my husband, my mom, etc. – and tell them how I’m feeling.
If no one is available, or if I’m not feeling in the mood, I’ll practice what I would say to a friend experiencing the same guilt, and write down what I would say. Then say it to myself.
Related post: Anxiety Stories | Normalizing Anxiety in Today’s World
Know that you probably don’t have the full story
Earlier this year, while working through some traumas with my therapist, I adopted the mantra of “that’s not my story.” See, my anxiety LOVES to make up all sorts of stories, and they usually don’t come out in favor of me. The truth of the matter is, our brains like certainty. They like to have the perception of being in control. So when we don’t have the full story about a situation, it will try to fill it in based on past experiences and beliefs, because that’s all it has to go on.
Self compassion example: I have major health anxiety. Often, whenever something in my body feels “off”, my mind immediately goes to the worst case scenario. Once I become aware of that, I calmly tell myself that in the here and now, whatever catastrophic thing I’ve come up with is not my story, and that I am OK. Because even if something was wrong that I didn’t know about, as far as I know in that immediate moment, I am OK.
Showing ourselves and practicing self compassion can be tricky to navigate, especially at first if we’re not used to it. However, with practice (and self compassion for ourselves and our learning process – see what I did there?), we can move forward with showing ourselves more kindness every day.
Want to learn how to adopt a reduction based lifestyle (through mindfulness, minimalism, anxiety management, and zero waste living but not sure where to start?