This post was written by Leo Babauta, originally for Zen Habits. Republished here with permission.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
When we’re frustrated with others, or feeling bad about ourselves … we often turn toward habits that comfort us, like distractions, food, and shopping. These don’t often work, because they tend to make us feel worse in the long run. We become unhappier, more stressed, and then need to seek comfort in these things again … and the cycle continues. Here’s how to practice self-compassion instead.
These are sometimes the only ways we know of comforting ourselves! I know this because for a long time I always turned to all of the above for comfort when I was feeling stressed or bad about myself. It made me very unhealthy and it took a long time to change my patterns.
Today I’d like to suggest a method of self-compassion that I’ve been learning, that has worked wonders.
The Self-Compassion Method
Try this now if you’re feeling stressed, frustrated, in pain, disappointed, angry, anxious, worried, or depressed:
1. Notice. Take a moment to turn inward and notice your pain in this moment. Now notice where it is in your body, and how it feels. Describe the pain to yourself in physical terms, in terms of quality, in terms of color or shape or motion.
2. Accept. Now tell yourself that it’s OK to have this pain. It’s perfectly OK to feel bad about yourself, to feel bad about your body, to feel frustrated with someone else. Let yourself feel the pain.
3. Comfort. Now treat this pain with compassion, like you would with a friend who is suffering, or your child who is in pain. Be gentle with it, kind to it, like a suffering child. Comfort it. How would you comfort your friend whose parent just died?
4. Smile. Finally, try wishing your pain well, wish it happiness. Give it love. Smile at your pain in compassion.
This method takes a lot of practice, for sure. I’m still learning it myself, and I don’t claim to be an expert at self-compassion. But I’ve found it to be truly amazing, because we very rarely do this for ourselves. We’re good at being kind to others when they’re having a difficult time, perhaps, but not always with ourselves.
And it can be transformative. If you practice compassion with your pain, it becomes less of a burden. You realize that it’s temporary, you feel less bad about being frustrated. And you feel loved — by yourself.