3 Outstanding activities to cultivate self-compassion and develop courage
Alice* used to believe that she needed to be tough and cold in her approach when dealing with life challenges. She thought that this would make her stronger and independent, the way she has always considered herself to be.
Alice used to be harsh on herself much more she was with others.
Her marriage was just fine, they would hardly ever argue. However, she felt she was missing something. She had some friends but those relationships were rather superficial and lacking in meaning.
Her relationships in the workplace were always professional. She would always keep her distance and would not be interested in her co-workers’ lives or happiness, although she was very supportive when they needed her.
She would worked really hard at home and work, to keep developing and to be great. She wouldn’t “have time” to dedicate to every other important area of her life but her profession. She was always on achievement mode, always onto the next thing. She was a busy bee.
The key to this story is that Alice would never express compassion, never for herself, and hardly ever for others.
She thought this made people weak. That it is only an excuse to waste time, to stay comfortable, and never change those parts of the human personality that could be polished.
Furthermore, it was easier for her, a sensitive and empathetic lady who would feel emotions intensely. Compassion for her meant to face real or uncomfortable emotions.
One day she faced a situation where she had to consider changing. She lost her partner, her neglected friendships were mainly absent and being harsh on herself in this life changing situation wasn’t being helpful at all.
Her well-being decayed and her lack of self-compassion wasn’t doing her any favour. It was contributing to her anxiety and her depression.
Psychology studies has shown that the cultivation of compassion for ourselves and others is a source for living a meaningful and happy life.
Compassion can be hard, especially when you are a sensitive human. It requires courage. However...
Connection and compassion are crucial in living well awake, preventing many mental problems and increasing satisfaction with life.
Our thoughts and fantasies have a huge power over our brain, how we feel and how we behave. Deciding what we want to focus on is a potent tool for change. When we choose to focus on kindness and compassion we are stimulating our brain in ways that bring health and well-being.
When we choose compassion, we are choosing courage
You are being bold when you choose self-compassion, and self-compassion will feed your bravery.
In many areas of our lives we have to manage feelings of anxiety, frustration or anger. Doing so requires us to develop compassionate courage.
It takes courage to look within, to spend a moment with your inner self, a time of introspection where you stop to observe what is going on inside.
Also, choosing to soothe your Self-critic with a kind and warm voice and feelings of self-compassion is a courageous act.
Is this same practice that will allow you to deal in a much easier manner with emotions like anger, frustration or anxiety.
Developing this part of yourself, that does not condemn those uncomfortable emotions, has the incredible power of supporting you to tolerate them.
This means you will manage them by not acting on them and creating a more balanced view of your reality.
Training your mind for happiness and contentment
Learning to cope with the frustrations, challenges and anxieties of life requires us to train our mind for happiness and contentment.
Having gone through The Compassionate Mind of Paul Gilbert’s book, an invaluable read, I have chosen 3 outstanding practices to help you cultivate your well-being and happiness.
These exercises are all about training your brain to choose a different and much more helpful route to the one your harsh self-critic is familiar with.
Creating a different state of mind requires practice, but remember, you are learning to cope with the anxieties and frustrations of life. So, why not try?
THE COMPASSIONATE SELF
These exercises will require you to take on the role of an actor, where, from the inside, you generate a state of compassion and take on compassionate postures and gestures.
First of all, create a space where you feel relaxed and content. Breathe deeply until you are in a calm state. Willing and ready to practice.
You must think about all those characteristics that a compassionate and wise person has. It could help to think about someone you know or a famous person that has those attributes.
Then imagine the components that you, as your most compassionate and wise self, would love to possess. What you would look like, how you would feel like and how you would act.
Finally, imagine becoming that person, embodying those gestures, postures and facial expressions. Having those feelings and being that person.
I have created this printable and editable pdf to support you with this practice. When you download you have all the step by step instructions to follow and space to note down your reflections.
BUILDING A COMPASSIONATE IMAGE
You can get into the flow of compassion by relating to those who show compassion.
Hopefully, looking at your relationships during your lifetime, you would have experienced feeling cared for, and the kindness and compassion from others. In those encounters you would have noticed how you respond to that kindness and compassion.
From those memories, or from your imagination (if you haven’t ever experienced it) you are able to activate the psychological systems that allow you to feel that sense of safety and care, when interacting with other compassionate beings.
With this activity you will be able to stimulate the soothing system that will manage your self-critic and create contentment.
You will play with the idea to discover and develop compassionate imagery. An image you can relate to and use to stimulate self-compassion, when you most need it.
Try to imagine a colour, the sounds, a person or icon, the qualities of compassion.
Something or someone that is wise, that understands what it means to be human, to struggle.
Something that has strength to tolerate difficulties and to protect from challenges if necessary.
Something that radiates warmth and kindness.
Give it every quality that feels important to you, it is your ideal, your unique creation.
Think about how you would like this image to relate to you and how you would like to relate to this image. How you want it to make you feel in times of difficulties, what wise words you would want it to say to you when you most need its support.
Stay some time with it and perceive what you notice.
Once you have it, you will be able to bring it back, reactivate and stimulate self-soothing system of your brain. This will support you to bring compassion in times of stress and frustration, deal with your inner-critic and difficult emotions.
As you may already know, in mindfulness practises you experience being a non-judgemental observer.
It is about having a look at your feelings, the way your body reacts, your thoughts and your behaviours without getting hooked on them. You don’t try to change them but rather, you practise being curious and passionate about what is going on and how they emerge and evolve.
Mindfulness is about observing your own relationship with your thoughts or emotions.
While practising mindfulness you can give a voice to what you are noticing. Ex: “I am feeling some anxiety” or “I am feeling the urge to eat that piece of chocolate”.
Compassionate mindfulness requires you to monitor those thoughts, images and feelings with kindness, gentleness and warmth.
Let’s get into the practise.
When you are feeling any type of emotional reaction, take some time to explore it and practise compassionate mindfulness.
Sit down, take a couple of deep breaths and imagine that you are describing how you are feeling to your best friend, your therapist or your ideal compassionate image (if you have created it already).
It is not about explaining yourself and why you are feeling that way. It is about describing just how you feel. Where you feel it. How it evolves and changes.
Imagine your therapist, best friend or ideal compassionate image has a genuine interest in listening to you and understanding how you feel, that they cannot be shocked by anything you may tell them. They understand all kind of humans suffering. All they want is to offer you a safe space where you can express your emotions.
Once you have finished, stay still for a few moments noticing what bubbles up.
You can always take some time afterwards to note down some reflections.
Having read through these different practises, choose the one that you identify with the most.
Plan when you will take time to be courageous and dedicate time to the exercise.
You can do them at any time, first thing in the morning, before going to bed, or right in the middle of a challenging situation (although this last one would be more beneficial if you have taken some time to practise previously, when you are at peace).
Practicing self-compassion will support you in dealing with life’s- challenges, with uncomfortable emotions and ultimately to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. It requires courage on your side to sit down with yourself and explore what is happening in your mind, but this self-awareness also feeds bravery. Compassion and connection can prevent many mental health issues and increase well-being. If this is not a natural and easy skill for you, be willing to train. It will be worth it.
Which of those 3 exercises would you be more willing to test?
Lydia Garcia Martin
Confidence & Well-Being Coach
(*)Used names are not real in order to keep confidenciality.