Two Quick Steps to Being Kinder to Yourself — and Why it Matters

The data on self-compassion is compelling, including lower anxiety and depression. Still, the concept can feel a little too “soft” for genuine application in the workplace and can be a hard-sell with driven, achievement-oriented women. And that’s probably a mistake.
 
Which is why the often-irritable former ABC News anchor (now host of the hugely successful podcast, 10% Happier) Dan Harris, is adamant about helping people understand why self-compassion matters. Rather than turning you into a weakling, research shows that being kind to yourself promotes growth by enabling you to embrace mistakes and learning opportunities, and by promoting a greater sense of resilience.
 
Consider running your own experiment with these steps to being a little kinder to yourself and see if it makes a difference in your relationships with others, your reputation and even how motivated you are to stretch more than you might otherwise. Harris calls these the “benefits of not being a jerk to yourself.”  
 
Kindness is the new toughness
It was a 360-degree review (with anonymous input from supervisors, colleagues, direct reports and family members) where Harris got the wake-up call that he might be more of a jerk than he realized. Reviewers described him as authoritarian, a diva, and having a habit of being rude to junior staff members. The worst aspects of his personality that he thought he had kept hidden were consistently coming through in his interactions with others.
 
He decided to get serious about working on his flaws. He signed up for a nine-day silent meditation retreat focused on practicing “loving kindness meditation” because of its track record in helping people boost their capacity for warmth. He approached it with a dread he describes as, “Valentine’s Day with a gun to my head.”
 
Four days in and miserable, Harris struggled to accept his teacher’s advice that being less of a jerk to others starts with being less of a jerk to yourself. He filed that advice under, “the kind of thing you hear from Instagram influencers and spin instructors.” Yet he continued to struggle with his twin demons of anger and self-centeredness.
 
Hand on heart
Continuing to spiral downward in frustration and self-flagellation, Harris finally caved. As instructed, he put his hand over his heart and verbally offered himself the same comfort he might give to a loved one who was struggling. He reassured himself that he no longer had to fight his fears and defensiveness and could simply yield to the discomfort and uncertainty of being human. He now calls that process “radical disarmament.”
 
He describes two options available to him, and others, in such moments. One, when you feel unhappy with some aspect of who you are and how you behave, you can head into a downward spiral of self-loathing which is likely to result in being less kind to yourself, and to others. Or, you can acknowledge your faults and shortcomings with a little more compassion and allow that kinder internal world to help soften your interactions with the external world as well.  
 
“That’s the whole point here,” Harris explains. “Self-love, properly understood, not as narcissism, but as having your own back, is not selfish. It makes you better at loving other people.” The flip side is true too. When you’re torturing yourself with criticism, it tends to show up in more negative relationships with others too.
 
Love as a skillset
Harris points to love as a requirement for addressing many of the world’s largest problems because they require a baseline level of caring about others. And that’s so much harder to do when you’re engaged in a cruel relationship with yourself. So, if you’re willing to try, love is likely a skill you can build. Here are two relatively easy ways to start. 
 
  1. Practice Loving Kindness Meditation. There are plenty of guided meditations you can find online that walk through these steps, including from Tara Brach, Ph.D., the psychologist, meditation teacher and author of the best-selling book Radical Compassion. It involves using statements such as, “May I be well,” “May I be healthy,” “May I be at peace,” applied to yourself and then to a widening circle of others. 
 
  1. Consciously counter-program against your inner critic. When harsh self-criticism arises, you can practice the process of placing your hand on your heart and offering comfort. “For ambitious people, this may be a little scary,” Harris acknowledges. “You might fear it’s going to erode your edge. But research shows that this process of replacing your sadistic inner tyrant with a supportive inner coach, who has high standards but is not a jerk about it, makes you more likely to reach your goals.”
 
In a follow-up 360 evaluation, Harris was pleased at how much positive change others saw in him. And he credits much of it to first being kind to himself. You can run your own experiment by replacing relentless self-critique with an equally strong dose of acceptance and encouragement. Chances are, you will come out stronger.

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