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The Power of Self-Compassion in Transforming Your Life

In this blog, Lucy explains the true meaning of self-compassion and its crucial role in long-term habit and behaviour change. She also shares four effective practices you can use to start being more self-compassionate immediately.

One of the most surprising lessons I've learned on my journey of transformation is that while changing our habits and behaviours is undoubtedly challenging, practising self-compassion significantly boosts our chances of success. During my struggle with overcoming an alcohol use disorder, I never responded to blackout nights with compassion and self-love. Instead, I would harshly criticise myself, intensifying my shame, lack of self-worth, and deepening my alcohol-induced anxiety.

I had no idea that this was keeping me stuck in the shame and drinking cycle. I wish I had known then that my self-loathing was worsening my negative behaviour cycle. Had I realised that self-compassion, not self-criticism, was the key to breaking free, I could have spared myself some anguish and accelerated my behaviour-change process. The moment I began to build the desire to change from a place of self-love and self-compassion, I felt much more motivated, and day by day, the transformation began.

We often feel stuck in our lives, whether it's struggling to find a partner, breaking an unhealthy habit like binge-eating, feeling trapped in a job we dislike, or procrastinating on starting to exercise. As we strive to make changes that stick, we can lose motivation and feel hopeless and helpless. Why do so many people fail to make long-term changes to their habits and lives? It's not due to a lack of ability—thanks to neuroplasticity, our brains can change throughout our lives and we are capable of developing new habits and lifestyles and releasing old ones. Instead, it's often because of the critical, judgmental voices of our inner critics that tell us we're not good enough and berate us for our mistakes or shortcomings.

Studies indicate that when we experience shame and self-judgement, it can deactivate the brain's learning centres, hindering our ability to believe in ourselves and develop new, healthy behaviours. As Brené Brown explains, "Shame corrodes the part of us that believes we are capable of change."

On the other hand, over 3,000 studies show that self-compassion strengthens resilience, confidence, and motivation, and even improves physical health. By cultivating a daily habit of self-compassion, we boost our self-confidence and motivation to become the person we aspire to be or to eliminate unhelpful behaviours. This practice encourages us to succeed out of self-care, motivating ourselves with love and support, and committing to personal healing and growth, which helps us stick to our long-term behaviour change goals. Self-compassion triggers the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the "love hormone," fostering feelings of safety, connection, and support. This enables us to embark on our behaviour change journey from a calmer, more stable starting point. Studies show that individuals who cultivate self-compassion are more successful in achieving goals, overcoming unhealthy habits, and pursuing behaviour change. Being kinder to ourselves grants access to additional resources that bolster this process.

When I was navigating the breakdown of my marriage and subsequent divorce, I dedicated myself to a daily practice of self-compassion. It helped enormously by supporting me through the emotional turmoil and empowering me to make decisions with clarity and from a place of self-worth and self-compassion.

Scientific evidence indicates that fostering a mindset of kindness is the foundational step toward a happier and more fulfilling life. No matter the challenges we face, cultivating self-compassion can propel us towards achieving our goals and aspirations.

So how can you be more self-compassionate immediately?

Kristin Neff, Ph.D., widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, defines self-compassion as: Mindful awareness of oneself, which involves treating oneself kindly and understanding oneself during difficult and challenging times by realising that such experiences are common among all humans. She breaks self-compassion down into three parts:

  1. Mindfulness: Being aware of our experiences without judgement. Slow down, breathe, and see your suffering clearly.

  2. Kindness: Support yourself as you would a struggling friend. Offer love, support, and kindness instead of self-criticism.

  3. Common Humanity: We are not alone in our struggles. Many face rock bottom, divorce, and financial issues. Self-compassion helps us view our challenges as part of the shared human experience.

There are four practices I recommend my clients incorporate into their daily lives, no matter what stage they are at in their journey:

  1. Make a habit of regularly asking yourself, "What do I feel?" and "What do I need?";

  2. Commit to prioritising yourself and your needs;

  3. Show yourself the same compassion you would offer someone you love unconditionally;

  4. At the end of every day, reflect on what you have done that has made you proud, no matter how minor it may feel.

Kristin Neff states, "When we exercise self-compassion when we fail, we are more likely to pick ourselves up and keep trying. It gives us more grit."

Practising self-compassion reveals inner strength, resilience, and wisdom, helping us weather storms and navigate future challenges. It is one of your biggest allies on your behaviour change journey. Why not give it a try and experience its supportive and powerful effects? If you'd like some guidance, feel free to book a complimentary consultation here.

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