In last week's blog, I talked about a powerful way for boosting your level of happiness and for rewiring your brain to increase your capacity for happiness, and it was about, "Stop talking to yourself with negativity, pessimism, and criticism...stop being your own worst critic." If you did the exercise I shared, what difference did you notice when you focused on your pain versus giving yourself compassion and encouragement? How hard was it for you to give positives to yourself?
Well, "stop being your own worst critic," is only half of the equation. The other half is to start becoming your own best friend and begin responding to yourself with compassion and encouragement. How well do you do that? For a lot of people it's hard, it's uncomfortable, and it doesn't feel true. I couldn't tell you how many people I've worked with through the years who are really good at giving compassion, encouragement, affirmation, and even wisdom to other people but don't know how to give it to themselves. Sometimes they're actually reluctant, even resistant, to doing that.
And why is that? Maybe they didn't receive much of that when growing up and they don't know how to give it to themselves now. Or perhaps they think it would be an indication they really are insecure, weak or needy. Maybe they think it would be self-centered to talk to themselves that way. Or perhaps they think they would be lying to themselves. Yet, being your own best friend and giving yourself compassion and encouragement are powerful forces for changing your life. If you do it enough, you literally, can re-wire your brain to help you overcome the negative impact of shame, trauma, and regret in your life.
The good news is that if you have ever responded in a compassionate, encouraging way to someone - a good friend, family member, neighbor, a child, an animal, or even towards a group of people who experienced some kind of natural disaster - then you already have developed the wiring in your brain associated with giving compassion and encouragement. Now all you need to do is to use that same neural network to respond to yourself in a similar way.
Here's an exercise to help you do that:
First, recall a memory of a time when you cared about someone, and you responded to them with encouragement or compassion. Who was it and where were you? What was happening in their life that stirred caring within you? Recall that memory through any of your five primary senses that were active at that time...sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations in your body. Remember what you thought, what you did, what you said, your tone of voice, and your body language. Let yourself re-feel the emotions you experienced when that event happened. The idea is to re-experience that memory in as much detail as you can so the networks in your brain associated with those positive emotions get fully activated.
Next, once you have reconnected with the good feelings in that memory, let yourself recall a time in your life when you needed encouragement or compassion. (Note of caution...just be sure to hold onto the positive emotions and resist sliding into the ones you had when you were needing emotional support). What would happen if you were to imagine responding to yourself the same way you responded to someone else when you gave them encouragement and compassion? Imagine using the same kinds of words, the same tone of voice, and the same body language. Look at yourself through the lens of caring and notice what then happens for you. Try it, and see how you feel emotionally and physically...
So, what happened for you during that exercise? What was your emotional reaction? Your physical reaction? What changed in your thoughts?
And what might happen if you were to do this kind of exercise every day for a while? In his book, Evolve Your Brain, Dr. Joe Dispenza talks about repetition being the key for making permanent changes. The more you repeat a thought or action, the stronger the wiring in your brain becomes that is associated with that thought or action, and the more it becomes programmed into your mind.
Through the years, I've seen many people do this exercise and become open to the idea of choosing the path of no longer being their own worst critic and, instead, becoming their own best friend. It's a powerful, transformative process!
(Photo credit: Aaron Amat)