Would you talk to a friend that way? Building confidence through self-compassion
We all have an internal monologue – chattering away at us all day, making observations – and sometimes that little voice in your head can be a little unkind.
Negative self-talk is something that affects many of us, impacting heavily on our confidence and self-esteem, and can look like self-criticism, self-doubt or even self-loathing.
When our inner bully takes over, it can be pretty distressing and often results in us ‘getting in our own way’ or, at worst, taking out our frustrations on ourselves (through self-punishing behavior) or others.
Rarely would we speak to a friend the way we speak to ourselves, so why are you so mean to, well, you?
Learning self-compassion is urgent work. We live inside our own heads (and will continue to do so!), so it makes sense to become our own best friends – to respect, accept and appreciate ourselves. From this, we gain greater contentment, more resilience and empowerment – at work and at home.
Some people pride themselves on being self-critical with the belief that this pushes them towards achievement, but this is rarely the case. We can be ambitious and hard-working without the harsh self-talk; build ourselves up rather than tear ourselves down.
Challenging negative thoughts is not refusing accountability or ignoring where there’s room for growth. It’s part of the journey towards self-acceptance, rejecting perfectionism and shedding any unhelpful concerns about what others think of us.
Unfortunately, a negative outlook might be part and parcel of the human condition. Have you heard of the negativity bias theory? It proposes that when an equal number of negative and positive factors are impressed upon us, things of a more negative nature have a greater effect on our psychological state than things of a neutral or positive nature.
With this in mind, we need to acknowledge it may take some brain training for us to develop a sunnier outlook, both generally and when it comes to our feelings about ourselves.
Here are some tips, tools and exercises to help you manage your self-talk and develop greater self-compassion:
It takes confidence to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. It means we’re taking risks (which is essential to our growth) and that we have enough courage to give things a go.
That’s why we suggest consciously putting yourself in situations where you feel vulnerable. Start with something small – like promising yourself to speak at least once in the next Zoom meeting or giving a colleague a call instead of sending an email – and work your way towards those, building to things that feel further outside of your usual comfort zone.
By making a regular practice of embracing your vulnerability, you can begin to overcome that fear of failure that we all share, reenforce self-belief and help build your confidence.
Journaling is a great way to process our feelings about ourselves and our situation, as well as a helpful tool for keeping us focused on our goals and personal growth.
By externalising our inner monologue through writing, we can start to notice patterns in our self-talk and in our responses to failure or challenge. Once identified, we can work to counteract these negative patterns.
A good journaling exercise for recognising your strengths, and therefore reinforcing your value, is to reflect on the week just gone and make the following lists:
- A list of your strengths
- A list of your achievements
Doing this on a weekly basis helps us take pause to acknowledge our ‘gone wells’ and gives us an opportunity to appreciate ourselves and our efforts.
CURATE WHAT YOU CONSUME
The media we consume can have huge impact on our confidence. Therefore, it is important that we curate our feeds on social media and consume media that makes us feel good (in the main).
This usually comes from a place of comparison; looking at bodies, lifestyles and achievements of others that are aspirational or exceptional. But we should acknowledge this is not reality, merely highlights from someone’s otherwise humdrum life or a glossy marketing ploy. There’s no need to compare ourselves to others – we are all unique and we are all on our own path.
TRY COMPASSIONATE SELF-TOUCH
Being kind to oneself applies to both body and mind. Compassionate self-touch is the act of giving ourselves a comforting and supportive squeeze, pat or stroke.
It is a form of self-soothing, helping tackle anxiety and settle stress hormones. Showing ourselves some physical affection is quite a radical act of self-appreciation and acceptance.
This can take the form of a warm self-hug, putting your hand on your chest and feeling your chest rise and fall or giving your belly a tender stroke. Being thankful for the bodies we have and, ultimately, who we are, puts us in a more positive and self-assured headspace.
SPEND SOME TIME WITH THAT INNER VOICE
Confidence starts with deep self-knowledge, and being able to recognise your strengths and weaknesses alike is part of this journey.
Take some time out of your day (as little as 10 or 15 minutes) to get to know yourself. Perhaps this means talking a device-free walk around the block or sitting in that comfy armchair with just yourself for a while.
When we take this time to be in the present moment, no matter how we’re feeling or what’s going on around us, we can get the distance we need between ourselves and our thoughts, allowing us to examine them with interest. We can acknowledge our thoughts and feelings and perhaps come to understand why we might feel them, approaching them with a little more objectivity than when we’re caught up in the emotion.
Through practicing this kind of mindfulness, we too can come to observe our strengths and weaknesses more objectively, with less judgement or ego.
Practicing self-compassion means showing up for yourself, recognising when your inner-bully is taking over and working towards a more positive inner-voice.
It’s acknowledging we are not perfect – such a thing doesn’t exist – but that we can work towards self-improvement without the negative self-talk. And this, learning to be our own best friend, is key to feeling more contented and confident.