The Power of Self-Compassion.
Why is it so hard to change? Is it simply a lack of desire or willpower? According to science, the answer is no. The reason we don’t change is because most of us are missing one crucial ingredient: self-compassion.
Too often we try to change our lives by pushing harder, judging ourselves and beating ourselves up when we don’t succeed. But research shows that shame and self-criticism don’t work in the long run. Shame actually shuts down the brain’s learning centers—so that every time we judge ourselves, we rob ourselves of the very resources we need to change.
Treating ourselves with compassion is the surprising solution. When we are kind to ourselves we turn on both the learning and motivation centers of the brain. The key to lasting transformation is a compassion mindset, not shame.
Self-compassion can help us rediscover our dignity and our purpose. The revolutionary act of treating ourselves kindly can begin to reverse years or even a lifetime of self-judgment and shame. Like a guiding light, self-compassion allows us to face our darkness.
And yet, self-compassion can be difficult. It requires practice. For me, it has required a lot of practice.
I learned one of the most powerful self-love practices while I was going through a difficult divorce. I remember waking up every morning with a pit of shame and fear in my stomach, so afraid of how I was going to survive and what could happen. My meditation teacher saw how I was struggling and suggested a specific practice of self-kindness. She suggested I begin each day by saying, “I love you, Shauna.” I immediately balked. Yuck! It felt so contrived, so inauthentic.
Noticing my hesitation she gently suggested, “How about simply saying, ‘Good morning, Shauna’?” Then, with a wink, she added, “Try putting your hand on your heart when you say it. It will release oxytocin—which, as you know, is good for you.”
She knew the science would win me over. The next morning, when I awoke, I resolutely put my hand on my heart, took a breath, and said, “Good morning, Shauna.” Much to my surprise, it felt kind of nice. Instead of the avalanche of shame and anxiety that usually greeted me upon awakening, I felt a flash of kindness.
I practiced saying “Good morning, Shauna” every day, and over the next few weeks, I began to notice subtle changes—a bit less harshness, a bit more kindness.
I continued this practice for weeks. And then one morning, as I put my hand on my heart, an image of my grandmother arose, and the next thing I knew, I was saying, “Good morning, I love you, Shauna.”
The dam around my heart gave way and a flood of love poured in. I felt my grandmother’s love. I felt my mother’s love. I felt my own self-love and a sense of peace flow through me.
I wish I could tell you that my life has been a bubble of self-compassion ever since, and that I’ve never again experienced shame or self-judgment. But of course that’s not true.
What is true is that I continue to practice. Every morning, I put my hand on my heart and say, “Good morning, I love you, Shauna.” Some days I feel awkward, some days I feel lonely and raw, and some days I feel profound love. Whatever I feel, I keep practicing, and every morning, this neural pathway of self-compassion grows stronger. Over and over, we can all learn to bring kindness, affection, and tenderness to our own suffering. We learn to be on our own team, instead of berating or rejecting ourselves. What you practice grows stronger.
If would like to cultivate greater self-compassion in your life, and learn both the science and practice, please join me and MEA founder Chip Conley for an incredible week of adventure, discovery, and truth seeking during the October 16-23 workshop, The Academy offers a limited number of scholarships and the deadline for registration is approaching soon. Apply HERE.
Shauna Shapiro, Ph.D. is a professor, best-selling author and mindfulness expert who’s published over 150 papers and three books including Good Morning, I Love You: Mindfulness & Self-Compassion Practices to Rewire the Brain.