Learn / Nurturing Self: 13 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion

Nurturing Self: 13 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion

Sarah Shawaker
 March 6th, 2024|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

Key Points

  • Self compassion can improve your well-being and decrease anxiety.
  • Gratitude journaling, meditation, and positive affirmations bolster self-compassion.
  • Professional treatment is a way to compassionately nurture your mind.

Self-compassion focuses on treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, which can provide a plethora of benefits. Regularly practicing self-compassion can increase happiness, optimism, curiosity, and connectedness1. It can also decrease anxiety, depression, rumination, and fear of failure.

Implementing self-compassion into your daily routine is more simple than you may think. As you utilize the following 13 practices, your well-being may begin to flourish.

1. Understanding Self-Compassion

Dr. Kristen Kneff2, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, defines self-compassion3 as “the process of turning compassion inward. We are kind and understanding rather than harshly self-critical when we fail, make mistakes, or feel inadequate. We give ourselves support and encouragement rather than being cold and judgmental when challenges and difficulty arise in our lives.“

Self-compassion can motivate you to create positive change in your life because you love yourself and want to see yourself succeed. Creating a personal cheerleader as your inner dialogue can ensure that all your thoughts and actions benefit you. 

2. Cultivating a Positive Mindset

Self-compassion begins with a positive mindset as its foundation. To become that cheerleader for yourself, you first need to create positive thought and behavior patterns. You may say positive affirmations to yourself every morning or create a list of 5 things you’re grateful for every night. Small steps like these compound to a happier mindset. 

If you’re naturally a more pessimistic person, that’s okay. Self-compassion doesn’t ask you to change your personality completely but rather make a cognisant effort to reframe certain thoughts. 

For example, you can identify negative thought patterns that appear regularly for you. Then, become curious. Instead of getting mad at yourself, ask yourself where those feelings stem from. As you uncover why you feel negatively about certain things, you can actively shift your perspective to a more neutral or positive one. 

Explore Holistic Treatment Centers

3. Embracing Imperfections

You wouldn’t expect your friend, partner, or family members to be perfect, so you shouldn’t expect that of yourself. Perfectionistic tendencies can often lead to stress and unrealistic expectations. They can also hinder your personal growth if you can’t accept progress unless it is exceptional. 

Growth is important for your goals, dreams, and relationships—but the growth doesn’t need to be linear. Even when it’s messy and imperfect, progress is still progress (and it’s better than no progress at all). Accepting yourself for all your positives and negatives will allow you to move forward and evolve as a person.

For example, if you tend to be hard on yourself when learning a new hobby, such as surfing, try to reframe your mindset. Although you are not perfect, are you better than when you first started? And are you proud of yourself for taking that leap and going to your first surf lesson? Did you have fun while doing it? Building a positive mindset can help combat unhelpful desires for perfection. 

4. Mindful Self-Compassion Practices

Mindful self-awareness allows you to realize which habits or ways of thinking contribute to a negative mindset. Practicing mindfulness can help you identify and refocus your thoughts to support self-compassion. 

To practice this, you can do a mindful body scan. As you sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed, begin to pay attention to your head, then your shoulders, then your arms down to the tips of your fingers. As you scan down your entire body, you’ll mindfully release any tension. You can accept how you’re feeling in this moment and breathe out stress.

Mindful journaling can provide a great outlet to acknowledge all the emotions that you’re feeling. As you write, reflecting without judgment is key. Seeing your thoughts written out may provide insight into how you can change your mindset. 

Incorporating simple practices like these into your daily life can reduce stress and rumination and boost focus and cognitive flexibility4. Reap the benefits of mindfulness and see how it can transform your thoughts.

5. Compassionate Reflection

The first step toward self-compassion requires becoming aware of what areas of your life you want to change. Reflecting on your actions, thoughts, and feelings allows you to see what positive or negative energy you expend and where. 

Compassionate self-reflection takes inventory without judgment. It’s okay if you realize you’d like to shift some negative behaviors to more positive ones. This can be the start of a beautiful self-growth journey. Compassionate self-reflection can also bolster the thoughts and actions that you feel contribute to self-love.

To begin the reflection process, consider journaling the answers to questions such as

  1. What are the 3 most important things in your life? How do you prioritize them?
  2. What people and activities bring you joy?
  3. What would it be like to be free of commitments you feel trapped by?
  4. What change can you make today that will create a better “you” tomorrow?
  5. List 5 things you love about yourself. Do you tend to surround yourself with other people who also have these qualities?
  6. How did you initially respond to a recent challenge, and how might you respond in the future with self-compassion in mind?
  7. What is stopping you from being kind to yourself? What actions can you take to overcome this?
  8. What feelings do you tend to avoid? Why? 

6. Self-Compassionate Self-Talk

When your friend tells you they made a mistake and feel awful, or they were just short of achieving their goal, how would you respond? You would remind them of all the progress they made, help them create a plan for how they can do better moving forward, and, most importantly, comfort them.  

Now, begin to view yourself as your own best friend. You are human, and you will make mistakes. When this happens, offer yourself kindness. Progress isn’t created with negativity, but rather through confidence in yourself. 

If you engage in negative self-talk, try to change the narrative. Give yourself a compliment instead of an insult. You may leave sticky notes around your home with positive qualities about yourself, or you can say 5 positive affirmations about yourself every morning when you wake up. At first, it may not feel natural, but over time you can train your brain to focus on the positive. 

7. Setting Healthy Boundaries

Setting boundaries with friends, family, coworkers, etc. is not only important for your relationships but is also a practice of love for yourself. Without boundaries, you may say “yes” to things you don’t want to, avoid necessary conversations, and be consumed by others’ negative feelings. Prioritizing your boundaries ensures that you’re living your life in alignment with your beliefs and well-being.

If you want to create personal boundaries, begin by taking inventory of where you invest your time, energy, and emotions. Do all of these things matter? Do they require as much energy as you’re giving them? Do you give the most energy to your top life priorities?

Once you’ve decided what areas of your life you’d like to prioritize, clearly communicate this with your loved ones. Be firm in your decisions, and explain how this might affect your relationship moving forward. For example, you may tell a friend, “I can’t hang out on weeknights anymore because I like having alone time to decompress after work. We can still hang out on the weekends, though.”

Stay consistent with your boundaries; this will help others respect them. Be sure to let loved ones know that you appreciate their trust. 

8. Gratitude Practices

Practicing gratitude (giving thanks to the good things in life) can boost your overall well-being5. Fostering positive thoughts allows you to see and focus on the beauty in your life. Gratitude can also help you reframe the narrative of a difficult situation. 

To practice self-compassionate gratitude, try writing a self-appreciation letter. Describe gratitude for the qualities, skills, and achievements you value in yourself. Be specific about the traits you appreciate and their positive impact on your life. You can look back on this letter if you’re ever feeling down.

You can also create a gratitude jar. Write down one thing you’re grateful for daily on a small scrap of paper and place it in a jar. You could also write down your achievements and what you’re proud of. At the end of every month, sift through what you wrote and swell with gratitude and love for yourself.

9. Acts of Self-Care

Self-compassion and self-care go hand in hand. Nurturing your mind, body, and spirit are acts of self-love. Finding activities that recharge you helps maintain a healthy mindset. 

Self-care can be physical, with routine exercise, nourishing foods, and a regular sleep schedule.

Self-care can also be mental. Setting a boundary with family members to prevent emotional burnout6 is one example. Practicing meditation, gratitude journaling, and positive affirmations also provide self-care.   

10. Self-Compassion Meditation

Self-compassion meditation can foster a positive relationship with yourself, reduce self-criticism, and promote overall well-being. In fact, compassionate meditation can alleviate mental health conditions and symptoms like depression, anxiety, anger, and stress7

If you’re looking to mindfully tap into self-love, try following this adaptation of The Self-Compassion Break meditation script8:

Take a few deep breaths and settle into your body.

Then bring to mind a situation in your life that is causing you stress (begin with a mild to moderately challenging issue). 

Bringing this difficulty to life in your experience right now. Where do you feel it in the body? Be present with the sensations.

With the difficulty present, now try saying to yourself, slowly:

1. “This is a moment of struggle”

That’s mindfulness, the first component of self-compassion. Recognizing the struggle while we’re struggling, validating how we feel while experiencing it.

2. For the second stage of the Self-Compassion Break, try saying to yourself: “Struggle is a part of life.”

That’s common humanity, the second component of self-compassion. 

For the third stage of the Self-Compassion Break, experiment with offering yourself a simple gesture of soothing touch. One option is placing your hand over your heart or trying another gesture of soothing touch of your choice somewhere on your body. And try saying to yourself:

3. “May I be kind to myself,” or “May I give myself what I need.” That’s kindness, the

third component of self-compassion.

Continue experimenting with this practice and becoming familiar with it. The next time you are struggling or stressed, you can pause for a moment and acknowledge what you are experiencing with the 3 stages of the Self-Compassion Break.

11. Connecting with Others

Having a strong social circle is the strongest predictor of a happy life9. When you surround yourself with people who make you feel loved, lift you up, laugh with you, and support you through thick and thin, it makes it easier for their kindness to replicate in self-compassion.

Wisely choose the people you surround yourself with. Often, they can reflect many of your traits (or they can influence your characteristics). If you wish to improve certain aspects of your life, such as having a more optimistic outlook, hang out with people who have that optimistic outlook.

If there are unavoidable people in your life that have negative characteristics, set boundaries with them. Clearly communicate that your interactions might be restricted, or that you won’t be discussing certain topics.

12. Creative Self-Expression

In getting to know and love yourself, creative outlets allow you to compassionately tap into your feelings. Creativity provides ways to access thoughts and feelings that you may be unable to reach with words. Creative thinking also helps you embrace imperfections in your hobbies and in yourself. 

For some, drawing and painting speak to their souls. Others may find joy in music and dance or expressing themselves through fashion. However, you choose to access your creativity, live it authentically. 

13. Learning from Challenges

Learning to ride life’s lows and highs helps you adapt to changes and promote personal growth. When a challenge, or a low, happens, you can view it as a learning opportunity—not only to learn how you can adjust your actions for the future, but also how to practice self-compassion. It’s okay if you didn’t perfectly respond to a challenge. You did the best that you could with the knowledge that you had at that moment.

You can learn from challenges by reframing your view of the situation. For example, if you are rejected from a job interview, a positive mindset would see the situation as a redirection to another job opportunity that will be better suited for you. You may be better prepared for the next job interview, too. A relationship break-up teaches you what you prioritize in a partner and how you can be a better partner. 

Seeking Professional Support

If you need help for addiction or mental health issues, one of the best things you can do for yourself is seek professional treatment. Licensed providers can offer evidence-based therapies and holistic modalities to heal the root cause of the conditions. By caring for your mind, you’re showing self-compassion. Nurturing yourself is a lifelong process that can always be prioritized.

Return to Resource Library

Our Promise

How Is Recovery.com Different?

We believe everyone deserves access to accurate, unbiased information about mental health and addiction. That’s why we have a comprehensive set of treatment providers and don't charge for inclusion. Any center that meets our criteria can list for free. We do not and have never accepted fees for referring someone to a particular center. Providers who advertise with us must be verified by our Research Team and we clearly mark their status as advertisers.

Our goal is to help you choose the best path for your recovery. That begins with information you can trust.