I rank the self-compassion habit among the more important habits, along with meditation/mindfulness … simply because it has an all-pervasive effect on every part of your life.
And it goes so ignored by most people, despite its incredible importance.
The power of self-compassion becomes evident when you start realizing how often you suffer in your daily life.
Suffering includes (among other things):
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Irritation with someone
- Feelings of helplessness
- Feeling rushed
- Wanting to prove you’re right
- Feeling embarrassed
- Obsessing over something
- Wishing things were different
- Suffering from illness
- Feeling the loss of something
- Grieving over a death or serious family illness
- Feelings of unfairness
You can see the wide range of suffering. But actually, it’s all really the same thing: wishing things were different than they are, or than they have turned out, or worried that they won’t turn out the way you want.
We suffer, and this suffering has all kinds of effects on us and our lives.
From this suffering, we comfort ourselves with food and shopping and distractions and alcohol and cigarettes. We lash out at others. We are hard on ourselves, and don’t trust ourselves. We withdraw so that we don’t socialize. We procrastinate on everything important and difficult. We feel bad all the time — stress and disappointed and frustrated and angry.
This affects our mental health, our physical health, our careers, our relationships, our happiness. Everything.
So what’s the solution?
Self-compassion is a big part of the solution. So is mindfulness of the suffering in the first place — which is why we tackled mindfulness and the meditation habit earlier this year.
A Self-Compassion Method
This is a method you can practice through a daily habit, to help with suffering in all forms:
- Notice your suffering, in one of its many forms. This is where mindfulness is important.
- Turn towards the suffering, see it as it is, feel it fully, experience it mindfully and in the moment.
- Accept the suffering, instead of trying to ignore it, avoid it, push it away, kill it. Accept that it’s a part of life, a part of you, but temporary.
- Wish yourself happiness, wish for an end to your suffering. Give yourself a mental hug, comfort yourself.
- Let go of what’s causing the suffering. Just release it, or put it aside. The cause is likely something you wish were different. Instead, appreciate things as they are. Be present with reality.
- Be grateful for the reality that’s happening right now.
This is not always easy to practice in the rush of your daily life, and so I recommend a daily session where you turn inward for a couple minutes, and practice without the distractions of daily life. You’ll get better at the self-compassion habit with practice.
After-Effects and Compounding the Suffering
It might seem hopeless, if the suffering in your life is so pervasive and such a deeply-ingrained habit. Can you really change the way you think?
Well, you can’t necessarily stop the suffering completely (at least, not without years of practice), but you can ease your suffering as it happens, and thereby reduce the bad after-effects of the suffering.
The after-effects go something like this:
- Something happens that you don’t want to happen (someone treats you badly, for example).
- You get angry/frustrated, or suffer in some other way.
- After-effects: Due to the anger, you lash out at the person (hurting your relationship), eat crappy food to comfort yourself, feel resentful, are unhappy for awhile.
You can’t avoid the first thing (the thing that triggers the suffering), but you can deal with the second part, and avoid the third. The third part is the worst — when you lash out, or feel resentment, or comfort yourself in unhealthy ways, or are unhappy for awhile … you’re making the suffering worse than it has to be. It only has to last for a few minutes (if at all), but by not practicing self-compassion, we allow it to compound.