Self-Compassion Is a More Powerful Motivator than Self-Criticism

Today’s accompanying Resource for Recovering Resilience – 8 Ways to Stay Motivated to Meet Your Goals – offers research to demonstrate that self-compassion – being kind to ourselves in moments of challenge or difficulty – gives us the strength to face our fears, both real and imagined. Even in moments of failure, people who practice self-compassion are more likely to learn from their failures and try again than people who don’t. Below is an exercise to help you face the sabotaging messages of your inner critic and find your compassionate voice that will help you stay motivated to meet your goals.

EXERCISE: SHIFTING MOTIVATION FROM SELF-CRITICISM TO SELF-COMPASSION

Finding Your Self-Critical Voice

1. Take out a sheet of paper/journal and pen/pencil. This exercise involves both reflection and writing.

2. Bring to your awareness a behavior that you would like to change – something you often beat yourself up about. Choose a behavior that is unhelpful to you and that is potentially changeable. (Don’t choose a permanent characteristic like “my feet are too big.”) Examples:

I eat too much.
I don’t exercise enough.
I procrastinate.
I’m really impatient.

Write down this behavior.

3. Write down what you typically say to yourself when you find yourself doing this behavior. How does the self-critical voice express itself? What words does it use? And what tone does it use?

4. Take a moment to notice how it feels when you criticize yourself. Consider how much suffering the voice of self-criticism has caused.

5. Try offering yourself some compassion for how hard it is to hear such harsh language, taking a sympathetic moment for yourself, perhaps by validating the pain, “This is hard. This hurts.”

6. Reflect for a moment on why the criticism has gone on for so long. Is your inner critical voice trying to protect you in some way, to keep you safe from danger, even if the result has been unproductive? Write down your reflections.

7. If you can’t find any way that your critical voice is trying to help you – sometimes the criticism has no redeeming value whatsoever – continue to give yourself compassion for you have suffered from self-criticism in the past.

8. If you did identify some way your critical voice might be trying to keep you safe, see if you can acknowledge its efforts, perhaps even writing down a few words of thanks. Let you inner critic know that even though it may not be serving you very well now, its intention was good, and it was trying its best.

Finding Your Self-Compassionate Voice

9. Now that your self-critical voice has been heard, see if you can make some space for another voice – your compassionate voice. This part of yourself is very wise, and recognizes how this behavior is causing you harm. It also wants you to change, but for very different reasons.

10. Close your eyes. Place your hand over your heart or any other place on your body that is soothing and comforting.

11. Now reflect again on the behavior you’re struggling with.

12. Begin to repeat, silently to yourself, the following phrases that express the essence of your inner compassionate voice:

I love you, and I don’t want you to suffer.
I care deeply about you, and that’s why I’d like you to make a change.

13. Open your eyes and begin to write, freely and spontaneously, using your compassionate voice to address the behavior you would like to change. What emerges from the feel feeling and wish, “I love and don’t want you to suffer”? What words of encouragement and emotional support do you need to hear in order to do your best – to make a change?

14. If you’re struggling to find the words, it might be easier to write down the words that would flow from your heart when speaking to a dear friend who is struggling with the same issues as you.

15. If you found some new words for your compassionate voice, let yourself savor the feeling of being supported. (If you had difficulty finding the compassionate words, that’s okay, too. It takes some time.) The important thing is that we set out intention to try to be kinder to ourselves, and eventually new habits will form.