Written by Jude Johnson, MA, LMFT
According to neuroscience, our brains our wired to focus on the negative as a survival strategy, so we are more likely to obsess over a snide remark made by a colleague, than we are to focus on a compliment given to us moments later. If we are in physical pain, we are likely to focus intently on what hurts, rather than surrounding parts of the body that are at ease. Since we are wired to judge and focus on the negative, we can find some relief by showing more compassion to ourselves when we recognize this familiar pattern.
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., has pioneered research on self-compassion and notes three major components: 1. Having a sense of friendly and kind attention to yourself even when things go wrong. 2. Understanding that while everyone’s life is unique and has its own set of ups and downs, we are not alone in our struggles. It is about seeing how we share in suffering when difficulty arises, rather than feeling all alone. 3. Having a mindful awareness which recognizes the pain we are experiencing without judgment. While we acknowledge our pain in experiencing that “this hurts!” we don’t allow ourselves to create a story about how bad the pain is, or how it is going to affect our lives. Research has shown that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCT) is one of the most effective treatments for major depression. The key component in MBCT that seems to aid in unraveling the depressive thinking is self-compassion
Our brains are shaped by our habits as well as how we direct our attention. Developing new habits and attention patterns can occur in as little as 21 days. We have the ability to reshape our brains and change our relationship with the world we live in for the better by focusing our attention with an attitude of self-compassion. It is one thing to think, “Hmmm I should be more kind to myself” and entirely another to be intentional about using self-compassion on a regular basis. One way to incorporate self-compassion in your life is to start meditating with the assistance of a guide. You may consider taking a meditation course like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), attend a mindfulness workshop, or explore other avenues like yoga and Tai Chi.
If you decide that meditation is worth a try, then be committed to the process and don’t expect anything in particular. Just notice your experiences and keep practicing. It is not helpful to engage in a few sessions of meditation or even a couple of weeks of practice and then determine that it doesn’t work or that it’s too hard. Meditation is not something that you strive to be “good” at, it is rather a practice that allows you to be more aware of the present moment. While awareness is not always good news, having a greater awareness can be a catalyst for making positive changes.