How to Banish the Inner Critic and Cultivate a ‘Kindness-to-Self’ State of Mind

Day #8 of 30 Days of Insights, and turning them into actionable wisdom I can use in my life.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

The question occurred to me; if I’m not always kind to myself, what is the quality of kindness I show to others? Truly? What is it that I am really giving?

One must be compassionate to one’s self before external compassion

Dalai Lama

There is plenty of research pointing to numerous positive impacts that self-kindness has on our well being; a greater sense of happiness, an increased satisfaction with life and a greater sense of connected-ness to others.

There is an increase in positive states of being such as curiosity, optimism, wisdom and an greater engagement in life. Self-criticism goes down and with it levels of depression, anxiety, fear of failure, and perfectionism, according to Kristin Neff (The Mindful Self Compassionate workbook).

A little kindness goes a long way

There is no doubt about it. A little kindness indeed goes a long way. I’ve been wondering how much farther that kindness might go coming from someone who regularly practices self-kindness. Someone who is continually generating ‘kind to self’ as a way of being in the world. Could that kindness be more authentic? More powerful? More abundant? It seems to me the answer could be yes.

The inherent double win

Self-kindness then creates 2 inseparable results; a concurrent happier ‘self’ and a greater positive impact on others. A commitment to join the numerous kindness movements seems infinitely best served by cultivating a primary commitment to self kindness. An intention to continually ‘fill my own cup first.’ A little kindness then, really can go much, much farther.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy

Being kind to ourselves isn’t easy. In my life long career of deep work with people, the presence of self criticism has been as common as ‘stress’. And I have to admit, it took me much of my own life to see it clearly in myself. To understand that in this American culture, self criticism is ‘a thing.’

The bottom line insight that inspired me? If I’m not great at self-kindness due to conditioned self criticism, then I may not be as kind to others as I thought I was. So this insight was targeted for the light of my attention.

Why it’s so hard

We’re just so conditioned to judge, we do it all the time. And reinforcement to do so is constant. We learned to have expectations and be harsh and self-critical. We often aren’t sure where those expectations came from, where we learned them, yet they are internalized which continually perpetuates them. They become our filter.

We measure our success by comparing ourselves to an ideal or to others and the internalized criticism constantly points out that we aren’t good enough or don’t measure up. To make our lives even more unpleasant, we not only turn this filter on ourselves, we apply it liberally to others as well. What kind of impact does that have on our relationships?

The more you look into and understand yourself, the less judgmental you become towards others.

Tariq Ramadan

And yet, we are who we spend our lives with, we are our primary relationship. It ought to be our best one. Enter the kindness-to-self life preserver.

How do we do it?

There is a lot written on the ‘how to’ of being kind to yourself. Here are some examples;

In your attitudes

Cultivate your inner cheerleader.
Release your inner child.
Appreciate mistakes as your perfect teachers. 
Accept and embrace your uniqueness.
Realize there is no ‘perfect’, only perfect for you right now.

In your regular practices

Set aside time for yourself.
Follow through with your word to yourself. 
Forgive yourself-blame belongs to the learned inner critic.
Practice good boundaries with harmful people, places or things.
Show yourself compassion.

In your actions

Track your progress from where you’ve been to where you are. 
Appreciate and celebrate your wins.
Take care of yourself, rest and rejuvenate. 
Ask for help and allow yourself to receive it.
Soothe, pamper and treat yourself.
Make your environments pleasing to be in.

Change first requires awareness

The key to this insight is not understanding ideas for how to do it. The‘aha’ is in how to increase my awareness of when I’m not doing it. The internal critical monologue is so easily triggered. I can implement all kinds of ways practice kindness to myself, but unless I can catch myself being unkind, I’ll continue to reinforce my default, self-critical tendency.

What if I created a filter FOR self-kindness? Activating self kindness intentionally and regularly would begin to nudge out the deeply conditioned filter for criticism. I wouldn’t be dependent on catching myself in self judgment.

2 ways I am creating a filter FOR self-kindness

1) Kind words- I work diligently on the words I use externally, which automatically results in a kinder internal dialogue. My self talk needs to make me feel happy, inspired, appreciated and unconditionally supported by myself. That’s me being my own best support and ally.

2) “Is it kind?” I use this question to continually prompt myself to check the ‘kindness quotient’ of what I’m thinking, feeling or choosing in any given moment. The question interrupts any internal monologue that might be running in the background, outside of my awareness.

This combination of personal interventions has been powerful. I not only get the answer immediately, I feel ‘heads up’ that shifts my experience of the moment and creates the space to choose self-kindness. I’m noticing self criticism in others more quickly as well, and that absolutely makes me a better coach!

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