And if you’re someone who thinks lambasting yourself is a strong motivator, the evidence is not on your side. “People often feel like criticizing themselves is going to help them overcome failure,” Dr. Gooden adds, but research suggests it can actually destroy your self-esteem and prevent you from reaching your goals.
5. Make sure to focus on positive stuff too.
The human brain has a natural tendency to fixate on the bad. For instance, you’ll probably remember that criticism from your parents more than the praise for your many accomplishments; that one embarrassing comment you made at a party more than the fun you had overall. In order to counteract this “negativity bias,” it can be helpful to put your “bad” moments into perspective by consciously focusing on the positive.
If you’re down on yourself for letting a friend down, for example, you can think about or write down three times you were there for that person. Or, if you can’t think of anything positive about the situation you’re fixating on, you can get more general and note a few things you’re grateful for in your life to help shift your focus away from the negative, says Dr. Bonior.
Positive affirmations are another way to challenge the negative narrative in your head and remind yourself of your worth. It might feel silly at first, but “after a while when you start repeating them you begin to recognize, ‘Maybe this does make sense. Maybe I am as worthy as anybody else, and I deserve to give myself some grace that I would automatically give to other people,’” Dr. Bonior says. If you’re not sure where to start, try some optimistic yet realistic phrases like, “I have what I need to succeed” or “I am in charge of how I feel, and right now I choose peace.”
6. If self-affirmations aren’t for you, do an activity you enjoy.
If complimenting yourself or giving yourself a pep talk feels unnatural and scriptlike, that’s totally okay. Instead, Dr. Gooden suggests replacing your negative thinking with an activity that gets you out of your head and leaves you feeling soothed. For example, if you’re drawn to nature, you can go outside on a leisurely walk and tune into your surroundings. If you prefer to express yourself with art, maybe try an adult coloring book. Or maybe you love to blast a throwback playlist and dance around your living room with abandon.
What you do doesn’t matter so much, as long as it allows you to shift your focus away from self-criticism. “Generally doing things that ground you in the present moment can be very helpful to give you some relief from all of the mind activity,” Dr. Gooden explains.
7. Remember that self-compassion is not selfish.
Self-kindness involves making yourself a priority. And no, that doesn’t make you a selfish person. “I think many of us, women especially, believe on some level that we should be there for others first and foremost, and that every minute we spend taking care of ourselves takes away from helping other people,” Dr. Bonior says. However, the reality is that treating yourself with compassion will only make it easier to be physically and emotionally present for your loved ones, she adds. It’s kind of like a muscle: The more you exercise kindness and care in your own life, the more you have the physical, mental, and emotional strength to show up as your best self for others
That said, you don’t need a reason—even one as beautiful as wanting to be there for others—to be kinder to yourself. You, as much as anyone else, deserve kindness for the simple fact that you’re alive. Give yourself a break. Take good care of yourself. Things may not always go the way you want, but you still deserve compassion. We all do.