We hear a lot about "self love" these days when it comes to mental health, careers, relationships, confidence, and well, basically everything in our lives. On the surface, self love might sound a little "woo-woo" or perhaps a little selfish, but psychology studies back up its importance. "Self compassion," as researchers call it, is different than self-esteem and can lead to better health outcomes, a more positive mindset, less procrastination, and paradoxically, more motivation to improve.
While all of that might sound great, the concept of self compassion can feel a little intangible. Are you just supposed to wake up one morning and decide "Hey, I love myself!"? Is it about positive affirmations or mantras? Mindset is a piece of the puzzle, but there are also lots of tangible ways to cultivate more self love. Here are a few to try!
Practice Mindfulness - and Maybe Even Meditation
Mindfulness Self Compassion Training is a set of techniques created by Harvard Medical School researchers that involves loving-kindness meditation, "affectionate breathing," and other informal practices like self-compassionate letter writing and soothing touch which have all been shown to help study participants develop self-compassion while lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
While the formalized program showed great results, many mindfulness exercises can be helpful for developing self-compassion. You can access free, research-backed meditations from University of Wisconsin or browse through various exercises from self compassion expert Dr. Kristin Neff.
Practice True Self Care
Self care has become a trendy catch-all phrase that's often associated with face masks and fancy baths, but it looks different for everyone at different times. Yes, sometimes self care might mean treating yourself to a spa day or a meal at your favorite restaurant or a Netflix marathon, but other times, it looks less glamorous. It might mean booking that therapy appointment, getting in a good workout, making a healthy meal, getting outside, or calling a friend. Whatever you choose, just consider what you need to stay centered and moving forward. Self compassion means recognizing what you need, not lowering your standards.
Treat Yourself the Way You'd Treat a Loved One
I once had a conversation with a friend where I offhandedly mentioned something negative about myself, and I've never forgotten how she responded: "Hey, don't talk about my friend that way." The way we talk and think about ourselves is often so much harsher than the way we'd ever consider talking about someone we love. When you begin to hear that negative soundtrack in your mind, pause and think, "Would I ever say this to a friend?"
The same concept applies to our actions. When a child or family member is exhausted or sick, we don't force them to push forward - we bring them a blanket and a cup of tea and tell them to rest. If a friend is stressed and overwhelmed, we don't tell them to toughen up - we ask if they want to grab coffee and talk or volunteer to bring over a meal. Think of yourself the same way. Whatever you're facing, consider how you'd help a loved one in the same scenario and take action accordingly.
Be Compassionate Toward Others
It sounds counterintuitive, but compassion toward others can help heighten our compassion for ourselves. In a study from UC Berkeley, researchers created a set of experiments in which they asked one group of participants to give support to another person, such as writing down suggestions to make a friend feel better after causing a fender bender. Those who gave the support went on to rate themselves higher in self-compassion than participants who had been asked to recall a fun time with a friend or just read about the suffering of others.
“There was a unique benefit to giving support...as many people intuitively discover, taking the opportunity to support other people can make you feel better about what you're going through,” explained the study's lead author Juliana Breines.