As humans, we often feel that we must be perfect in order to reach our goals. We set a plan of action, and we think that we must execute it flawlessly to achieve success. But inevitably, we will deviate from our high expectations of ourselves at some point, and it is at this time that we must learn to practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the practice of providing kindness and understanding to ourselves, particularly in light of our disappointments or failures. Because it is human nature to wish for perfection, being kind to ourselves in the face of these setbacks is difficult, but it is also essential for positive growth and habit change.
Our wish to be perfect is unrealistic; in fact, imperfection is part of the human condition, and we must learn to accept that. How we respond to our own imperfections will determine how we grow and evolve. Being cruel to ourselves over our imperfections is detrimental to positive growth, but cultivating kindness and understanding toward ourselves makes us more likely to engage in positive behaviors and achieve the success we’re reaching for.
So how can you learn to practice self-compassion? There are 3 main elements:
1. Practicing Self-Kindness, Not Self-Judgment
How you respond to your imperfections matters. Do you have a sense of kindness and understanding when you experience failure, or do you judge and criticize yourself? If you’re like most of us, you probably have a habit of judging yourself and feeling inadequate, but science shows that this affects our ability to “get back on the wagon” and continue with positive choices and healthy behaviors.
Instead, try to treat yourself with care and kindness when you have a setback. Acknowledge that this one instance does not determine your value or your ability to make changes, and keep trying.
2. Acknowledging Our Common Humanity
When we suffer disappointments in ourselves, we often imagine that we are the only ones. However, you are not alone in this struggle. No one is perfect. No one can always be what they want, have what they want, or get what they want.
Suffering imperfections is simply a part of being a human being. When we consider that we all suffer the same imperfections, it allows us to develop a sense of common humanity and feel less alone in our struggles. Knowing that others go through the same things may help you to have more kindness toward yourself in those moments.
3. Practicing Mindfulness
Self-critical thoughts are another normal part of the human condition. Often these thoughts are so quick, routine, and habitual that we don’t even realize we‘re thinking them, they’re just automatic.
Try to be mindful of your thoughts. With time, you will catch yourself in these thoughts and be able to question them and their validity. Through mindfulness, you can learn not to engage or over-identify with your negative thoughts, remembering that just because you think it does not make it true.