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by David N Johnson

June 14, 2022

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Relationships are a cornerstone of living a happy, healthy, and productive life. Having strong relationships with others is a powerful and worthwhile endeavor but no relationship is as powerful as the relationship that you have with yourself.

Being one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as treating yourself the same way you would treat a friend who is having a hard time.

Let that sink in a moment. Think back to a time when a close friend of yours was having a hard time. How did you treat them? Odds are you didn’t yell at them and point out all the things they did wrong. You didn’t call them names or belittle them. You didn’t tell them that they were worthless and deserved whatever they were going through. You did none of that.

Why then, do you do that to yourself?

Why, when things are hard do you talk down to yourself? What you say and how you say it to yourself is every bit (even more so) as important as what you say and how you say it to a friend that’s having a tough time.

It’s time that you changed your inner dialogue.

Become more uplifting towards yourself. Be quicker to forgive and more understanding. Show yourself more compassion, love, and patience.

Would you be friends with someone that spoke to you the way you speak to yourself?

Probably not.

So, how do you turn the toxic relationship that you have with yourself around?

The same Dr. Kristin Neff that I mentioned earlier, says that you need three things: mindfulness, self-kindness, and a sense of shared humanity.

Let’s break each of these down.

Mindful Self-Compassion

Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more aware of the present moment. Life can be hectic and many times we don’t see the full importance of any moment until it’s in our rearview and we’ve had time enough to slow down and examine it.

Imagine if your superpower was to slow each moment down so that you didn’t miss the nuances that make those moments special in real time. That you had the wherewithal to respond to those moments in the best possible way. How would that change your life?

This is exactly what being mindful is all about it. It’s a way of becoming more aware of what’s going on around you so that you have more cause over it.

When you’re more aware of the moment, you give yourself the ability to respond to it in the best possible way. This limits future regrets and what ifs.

How does being mindful help you with being more self-compassionate?

It’s pretty easy to go down the path of negative self talk, and before you know it you’ve gone and hurt your feelings. Or worse, you’ve convinced yourself that you’re not smart enough, not good enough, or aren’t deserving enough of the rewards you’ll receive by completing some task.

That’s where being more mindful of the world without and the world within will help you to become more cognizant of those moments and will allow you to recognize those moments for what they are: self sabotage.

As humans we rely heavily on bias to get through the day. Our subconscious is at the helm most of the time as it uses mental scripting to reduce our bodies consumption of energy. This causes us to jump to conclusions that we wouldn’t if we were more mindful. Being more mindful allows our conscious mind (where you logic resides) to take over and, eventually, rewrite out subconscious scripting to be less critical of ourselves.

Start Small – Training Yourself to Be More Mindful

Becoming more mindful takes practice. But, its well worth the time investment as becoming more mindful has a long list of benefits:

  • Relieve stress & anxiety
  • Improves sleep
  • Better memory
  • Stronger relationships
  • Better self-control
  • Reduces distraction
  • More self-compassion

The list goes on.

Becoming more mindful will aid you in all aspects of your life but let’s stay on topic, mindful self-compassion.

Start Small. Start with something you do everyday, like brushing your teeth. Try to concentrate on what you are doing. Feel the tooth brush in your hand. The direction you move it. Is is up and down, back and forth, or in circular motions?  Your mind will start to wonder after a few moments, don’t worry just pull it back to the tooth brush.

As I write this I’m in the back seat of the bus, heading into my office in Manhattan. I live in New Jersey (almost to PA) so the trip is long, but it’s a beautiful trip (yes, New Jersey is beautiful!).

Let me describe what I see. We’re driving down a winding country road with heavily wooded areas butting right up to the road. It’s a mixture of both evergreen and deciduous trees with dozens of different shapes, sizes, and shades of green. A light breeze is jostling the branches as my body sways when the bus hits another curve.

Since I’m sitting in the rear of the bus, I can see the back of my fellow passengers heads as their bodies lean side to side, almost in unison at they track with the movement of the bus around each curve. I’ve never noticed that before but find it pretty neat to watch.

My mind starts to wonder toward how I would describe this moment to you, about how I would apply it as a lesson, but then I pull myself back to the moment.

This is what I mean by start small. Just be in the moment. Pull yourself away from these words and just look at the space around you. The way the light plays around the edges of objects. The sounds you hear. The temperature of the air around you. Do you notice something that you haven’t before?

Do this as often as possible. Don’t worry about your mind being pulled away as one thought or another enters your mind, just keep nudging yourself back into the present. Soon, you’ll notice that your focus is becoming stronger as you live more mindfully in the moment.

Become More Curious

You can’t be angry at yourself and curious at the same time. Start to approach everything with an air of curiosity. Don’t go into each moment thinking that you know everything, or even anything. Be curious. Ask yourself how you know you’re right.

Being curious about something will put you in a better headspace. Instead of telling yourself why you suck, ask yourself what you need to do better next time.

By becoming more curious you are opening yourself up to the moment. As we get older we tend to focus more on finding the answers than we do on curious thought. By being more curious, we take an active role in the moment instead of a more passive one.

  • Listen without judgement (this limits your reactive bias and helps to rewrite your subconcious scripting)
  • Be willing to be wrong
  • Love to learn
  • Ask questions so that you understand
  • Be more empathetic

How do you become more curious?

Look Up and Breath

Duh. Breath! Breathing keeps us alive, but intentional breathing helps to pull us back into the moment. Look up from your phone and take 3 deep breaths.

Intentional deep breathing will help to both calm you and focus your attention back on the present. Do this often and it will become a habitual reminder of the importance of mindfully being in the moment.

Be Kind To Yourself

Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Self-kindness is choosing to be compassionate to yourself when external life circumstances become difficult. Instead of berating yourself about what you may or may not have gotten wrong, focus on reminding yourself to be patient and on what can be learned. This is how we grow.

Acknowledge Your Inner Critic

Be aware of your inner critic. Don’t ignore it. Ignoring your problems won’t make them go away, confronting them will.

Acknowledge your inner critic. Remind them that you’re a work in progress. That you may not be the person (yet) that you’re destined to become but you’re closer to it than you were yesterday.

You don’t have to bullied into undermining how you feel about yourself. That’s the opposite of motivation and if you allow your inner bully to reign over you, you’ll never accomplish anything.

The first step in conquering your inner critic is to notice what you’re thinking about.

Step 1: Pay attention to the words that you’re telling yourself. Let your inner critic know that they no longer have power over you. That you are not your thoughts. From now on, you are in charge.

Step 2: Replace that negative self talk with something more positive. Instead of telling yourself that you failed because you weren’t good enough, tell yourself that you learned another way how not to do something

Ignoring your inner critic won’t make it go away. You must respond to it. Convince it that you have what it takes.

Step 3: Release your inner critic. You don’t have to keep them around. Once you’ve reminded it that they no longer have power and replaced their negative words with positive ones, it’s time to release them.

Only the thoughts that you give power to have the ability to change you. Release your inner critic, don’t allow it to have power over you any longer.

Step 4: Embrace your imperfections. We’re all flawed. None of us are perfect. Own your faults AND your ability to overcome them and let your own words of encouragement move you.

You Can Be Tough And Compassionate With Yourself

You can be tough on yourself without being belittling. Your first instinct shouldn’t be to talk down to yourself if you failed at something, it should be to focus on the why. From there, it’s a matter of doggedly going after the knowledge or skills that you need to ensure your success the next time around.

Starting today, give yourself the permission not to be perfect. This isn’t letting yourself off the hook to reach your goals, rather it’s giving you permission not to do everything right 100% of the time. Failure is a huge part of being successful, it shows that you’re willing to risk to get bigger rewards.

Our Shared Humanity

Compassion means “to suffer with.” To be a compassionate human is to acknowledge that we’re an imperfect species. That we are fallible.

Feelings of inadequacies, disappointment, and self-doubt are universal. We all feel them. When we understand this, we are better able to move past self-pity and into self-compassion.

Self-pity says poor me, it’s a way to let yourself off the hook. Self-compassion helps you to understand that suffering is part of the human experience and connects us as one.

When we understand that the pains we feel are universal, we become better equipped to show ourselves more compassion. When bad things happen, especially those that are outside of our control, we tend to feel alone in our grief.

This thought process is automatic and adds to our pain, causing us to spiral even further out of control. However, when we understand that we all feel pain and grief we don’t feel so alone. Our common humanity allows us to see our pain as something that we all feel. It helps us to be less judgemental and more compassionate to others and to ourselves.

A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Albert Einstein

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David N Johnson

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David N Johnson

  • T Lavon Lawrence says:

    That was an excellent read with plenty of practical advice that I can apply to my own life. Thanks, Dave!

    • David N Johnson says:

      Stay tuned for part 2 in our next podcast episode!

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