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This month for the Live Happier Book Club we are reading Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind by Kristen Neff.
According to Neff, a leading expert on Self Compassion, the definition of self compassion:
“entails being warm towards oneself when encountering pain and personal shortcomings, rather than ignoring them or hurting oneself with self criticism”
Neff’s research has shown that people who are compassionate about their imperfections experience a greater sense of well-being than those who are self-critical. When you practice self compassion–your feelings of security and self-worth are more stable and last longer when self-esteem fails you.
Self-Compassion is a buzz word we here a lot. It is something we know we SHOULD do. It is something we WANT to do and it is something we feel better when we do it. But why is it so hard?!?!?!
I believe one of the reasons it is so hard, is because it is counter-intuitive to how many of us were raised and what western culture dictates. Many of us are hard-wired to believe that if we aren’t self critical we will be lazy, do nothing bums who watch TV all day and do nothing. The belief is by being critical of ourselves we are more productive. Neff is actually saying the opposite that by being compassionate of ourselves we will accomplish more and have a higher sense of self-worth.
Sadly, we can apply this principle to other people much easier than we can to ourselves.
Let’s take an example of learning to play the piano.
Fran is teaching Billy how to play the piano. Fran is very compassionate and understanding of Billy’s learning curve. She is encouraging and understanding when he struggles and falls short. And therefore, he will learn more. Billy associates the piano with fun memories. He knows that while it is challenging and takes a lot of practice he is learning slowly but surely.
Fran is teaching herself how to play the piano. She expects herself to be perfect. She doesn’t have the patience for her learning curve, or her imperfections. She forces herself to practice and spends most of the time criticizing herself. After a few sessions, she gives up because it is just too painful.
The difference in those examples is obvious. The compassionate example not only makes life more fun and enriching it takes away the negativity. But self-compassion takes practice. It takes awareness of when you are driving yourself harder and harder. It takes lovingly reminding yourself that you are not a lazy goof by nature—and honestly when you drive yourself less you not only accomplish more but you accomplish it in a better state of mind.
Want to know more? Here is Kristen Neff’s Ted Talk