Next time you make a mistake or something doesn’t go your way, don’t beat yourself up! Instead, practice what’s called self-compassion. It’s when you focus on the positive, even during an incredibly disappointing situation. It sounds a little corny, but science backs it up!
15 separate Duke University studies found that self-compassionate people are drastically happier than people who are quick to bash themselves. They also cope significantly better with upsetting things - everything from losing their keys, to a bad breakup.
Typically, we’re more forgiving of the mistakes others make, and more critical of ourselves, but the experts say, we’d all be better off if we could train our brain to be more self-compassionate. And it can even work for total pessimists!
All of this is rooted in neuroscience. Basically, there are 3 things that determine whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. First, there’s genetics, you may be chemically prone to depression, second are our experiences, maybe you were dealt a bad blow, you were laid off or you were in an accident. And the third thing that influences our perspective on the world is our "cognitive bias," which means the way we look at, and handle, those bad experiences. We can't change our genes or our experiences, but experts say we can change the way we react to those experiences - and that’s self-compassion.
We all have a tendency to beat ourselves up for the mistakes we make. Say you get in a car accident. You may think to yourself, “I’m such an idiot! If only I hadn’t been texting!” But you’d never call a friend an idiot. You might say, “I’m so glad you’re okay. The car can be fixed and you have insurance, but please don’t text and drive again.” And neuroscientists say, if we treated ourselves the way we treat our friends, we’d be happier and more resilient when bad things happen to us. And although these tools may seem hokey, they’re backed by science. For example:
Start writing! Keep track of every positive and negative thing in your day, from meeting a friend for coffee, to getting a flat tire. Dr. Mark Leary is a Duke University psychology professor, and he says that even if you have a list overflowing with negative things, the exercise teaches you to recognize that positive things do happen every day. And the more you do it, the more easily you’ll recognize them, because to feel good, people need four positive emotions to counteract one negative one. People who see life as grand, generally have one positive emotion for every negative one.
Also, resist the urge to make your problems worse. Ask yourself, “How much of my stress is because of a real problem, and how much is stuff I am heaping on myself unnecessarily?"
And the last way to make yourself more self-compassionate: Give yourself a reality check. Call up a friend who’s going through a tough time, or go volunteer at a hospital. When you help other people, it puts your own problems in perspective, while simultaneously giving you a mental mood boost from being of service to others.