There was a time when I was hustling hard to become an illustrator. Like most industries, it’s competitive and the bar is *pretty* high. Well, I set the bar even higher for myself.
I told myself that I “sucked” each time I drew something, and even though I was improving, it felt like I was just too stupid to get better at art. I struggled with so much depression and anxiety that there were days that I wouldn’t get anything productive done. I would cry because of how terrible I thought I was, and even asked if I should “give up” just because I would never be good enough.
That mentality was so ingrained in me that I was shell-shocked when the big jobs came in.
Looking back, I wonder how often I held myself back just because of that mentality. What if I had been kinder to myself? What if I had enjoyed the process more? I began to look around me and noticed that many of my favourite artists were incredibly kind to themselves and had a positive outlook on their work.
So, surely, it is possible to be successful and kind to oneself.
After learning about what self-compassion does for our overall well-being (mostly thanks to Kristin Neff), I realized that self-criticsm simply made my journey miserable. It did nothing more than make me feel incompetent, to the point where I didn’t even want to pick up a pencil some days. I think that if I had understood self-compassion, I could have become an illustrator without beating myself up every step of the way.
But what is self-compassion?
Does it mean that I can get away with eating ten cookies just because I’m stressed out?
Absolutely not. Self-compassion is not self-indulgence.
Think of self-compassion as a loving parent. Parents want their kids to make healthy and positive choices. A nourishing parent will encourage, uplift, and gently nudge their child in the right direction.
So, no. You won’t eat ten cookies. You’ll tell yourself: “It’s difficult to cook dinner after a long day, but it’s going to be worth it.”
You won’t tell yourself: “You’re too lazy to cook dinner. Eat this crap instead.”
Compassion literally means to “suffer with”. When you are self-compassionate, you are acknowledging your state and how you are feeling. This feeds directly into mindfulness, and we already know the incredible host of benefits that comes from mindfulness and meditation.
According to this study, people with self-compassion are less likely to be critical of themselves, and therefore less likely to be anxious or depressed. This can lead to greater life fulfillment. Instead of beating yourself up, you can nudge yourself to change in small, healthy, and positive ways. And you’ll know you don’t need to change because you’re “unworthy”, but because you care deeply for yourself and your own wellbeing.
So, how can we start plugging into self-compassion?
Acknowledge your personal values. Yep, you hear it around here a lot, but it’s true: spending time learning and acknowledging your values is a form of self-compassion. You’re getting to know yourself, and you’re understanding how you tick and what creates fulfillment for you. By getting to know what creates fulfillment for you, you will understand the importance
Practice self-compassion meditations, like this free one from Yoga with Adrienne. Repeating words like, “May I be kind to myself” and “May I be happy”, “May I forgive myself” can help solidify this mindset within you.
Practice physical touch. The act of simply putting your hand over your heart can feel incredibly soothing. Try to remember this the next time you’re in a period of stress.
Reframe your negative self-talk. I’m sure you can think of a few things you’ve called yourself over the years. But it can be sneaky too. Even self-comparison thoughts like, “I wish I was as pretty as [x]” or “I don’t have as much money as [x]” are forms of toxic self-talk. Try to take these phrases and reframe them with self-acceptance.
“I wish I was pretty as [x]” ----> “My body is worthy of love and care as well; self-comparison won’t benefit me in any way.”
“I’m so lazy.” ----> “I’m doing the best I can and acknowledge that life is difficult. I can take this small step to feel healthier and more productive.”
- Find common humanity. When we remember that our suffering is part of a larger human experience, we understand that we are imperfect by nature. This can take pressure off of you to isolate incidencies upon yourself, and help you stay compassionate and connected to the rest of the world.
Practicing self-compassion is definitely worthwhile. And yes, I have goodies to share! In my planner, you’ll notice that there’s a heart at the end of each week. This is great for setting personal value reminders, self-care items, or words of self-compassion.
I've also included a mindset reframing exercise in the planner. If you want to download the exercise for free, click below!
And finally, please check out Kristin Neff. She’s a wonderful psychologist who has done a lot of the leading research on self-compassion. You can learn more on her website.