Self-compassion

When thinking about writing this blog I noticed my thoughts straying towards berating myself (“it doesn’t take long, you should be keeping on top of it”). This way of thinking is, of course, deeply unhelpful –  berating myself would simply make me feel worse, making it less likely I would settle down to write!

Instead I remembered self-compassion, an approach that considers the value of being kind to yourself and the benefits this can offer to emotional well-being and everyday life. So, I told myself “my life is busy, it can feel hard to find five minutes, maybe keep it short”. This acknowledged the problem, but offered kindness, not anger in response, creating altogether a different outcome (you are after all reading a blog!).

Self-compassion can take a lot of practice. If you think about it we spend much of our early lives being told not to do things (“no, don’t touch that”) or to do things better (“you could get an “A” next time if you do XYZ), so sometimes criticising ourselves can be like second nature.

This is an exercise I sometimes use to introduce self-compassion to others or to remind myself to use it!

Think back to a time recently when you were critical of yourself. Perhaps a difficult situation at work or making a mistake. As you remember, notice the kind of thoughts you are having – the tone of them and how it makes you feel. 

Now imagine that a friend is talking to you about the difficult situation (only this time you were not involved). What response might you give a friend and how you would say it? 

Is there a difference in how you talk to yourself verses someone else and if so, which of these approaches is likely to lead to a positive outcome? 

Often noticing how unduly (and unhelpfully) critical we are of ourselves creates opportunity to cultivate a compassionate voice, one that challenges criticism and offers support and comfort – just imagine how different life could be if we all challenged the inner critic!

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Neuro moment

I’m having a neuro moment today after brushing up on a new cognitive assessment at work. I’ve particularly been thinking about how the processes of our brains can sometimes limit us in doing the things we want to do (I.e. Change).Consider this; a newborn baby’s brain has the potential to make millions of connections. The connections that are made are shaped environment and early experiences, which is significant as these connections influence thought and action. So, if a child has wonderful sensory stimulation, is soothed at times of distress and has positive social interactions, their neural connections will likely reflect this (e.g. They may learn that distress can be soothed and doesn’t have to be feared). From this we can also understand the impact of more challenging early experiences.The first two years of life are thought to be critical in this period of development. After this point the brain goes through a pruning process (a bit like ‘use it or lose it’) and it also looses some of its plasticity (adaptiveness). This means means that new connections take longer to make. I always think this idea is useful when talking about personal change. I often notice people are hard on themselves if change isn’t quick, they’re ‘still’ struggling with distressing thoughts or they’ve slipped into old patterns. Perhaps it’s understandable that this is hard, after all we are working with brains that may have some unhelpful wiring and that don’t make connections as quickly as they used to!I wonder what would happen if instead of getting annoyed at ourselves for something we can’t control we had compassion for how hard change is on a biological level? So, instead of telling ourselves we’re not good enough we tell ourselves we’re trying our best even with our slow brains. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on the idea of compassion and whether this makes a difference to you. I’ll also update the reference section in case anyone wants to know more about neurodevelopment and early experiences.

The journey

Goals. We probably all have them, big or small, short or long term. Goals can be important to well-being for lots of reasons – if they are realistic they can help us to focus, motivate and succeed. It goes without saying that this contributes to a positive sense of self.

However, we can be so caught up in getting to the end point that we don’t take time to notice the journey. This presents a challenge as life (and indeed success) is not linear – goals shift, hurdles appear without warning…basically life happens and it takes us in all sorts of directions without warning. Hence why I love this image:

Noticing the journey as we go along allows us to be present in the moment and truly engage with experience, noticing the small successes that we might otherwise overlook. For example, keeping a diary of learning how to to play guitar ensures we notice and take joy in the success of learning each new chord instead of focusing solely being able to play the whole song.

It can also be important to look back on a journey in order to appreciate what success is. What were you doing this time ten years ago, five years ago, three years ago? How have you grown, what lessons have you learnt, what adversity have you overcome that felt insurmountable at the time? Sometimes the answers to these questions can remind us how far we’ve come or how resilient we are, which is particularly important if we’re at a point where we need to harness strength to keep going.

At the moment i find myself using a mixture of these approaches. I have some longer term goals and the journey towards these is like a rollercoaster, but I’m happy with the fact I’m aware of this and each day I’m making space to notice this. For example this week a day started out feeling hard but I ended the day having noticed how much kindness is around me in my day to day interactions, which gave me so much happiness and hope.

If you are working towards a goal, good luck! I’d love to hear about it and whether you hold the journey in mind and whether you think this is helpful.

me-time

Is it just me or is the pace of life getting faster? Here I am, nearly at the end of another week, and i think this one was busier than the last!  When we’re in the middle of everything, trying to maintain the pace it can feel hard to slow down and space to care for ourselves. But if we don’t we actually make it harder to get things done – we face becoming frazzled and burnout.

The idea of self-care is not new but often it is put off due to competing demands. What I find interesting here is how much time is required for self-care to be effective. I wonder if this guides goal setting and likelihood of success. For instance, doing a focused two-minute relaxation exercise can have just as much positive impact on emotional well-being as a forty-minute run. The difference here is that I can find two minutes each day, whereas I can’t find forty.

For me it remains important that i’m realistic and start low (aiming to do something a couple of minutes a few times a week). This goal achievable and I notice my confidence grows and I remain motivated – sustaining things can be hard! I’m a fan of mindful breathing in the morning. I think it’s really grounding and prepares me for the day. Plus I can do it anywhere (I’ve been known to practice at the traffic lights driving to work).

I would love to hear what others do to look after themselves and good luck if you’re thinking of trying something out, let me know how it goes!

 

 

Who am i?

Talk about a deep question! But let’s keep it simple. I’m Sarah and i’m a Clinical Psychologist based in the UK. I also do lots of other things, such as horse riding, running and growing vegetables, but psychology (or more specifically an interest in emotional well-being) is the main thing that leads me here.

Life can be emotionally challenging, whether this is on individual, community or global level – from facing ill-health in your family to turning on the TV and seeing the latest terrorist attack.  The fact that life is unpredictable (no matter how hard we may try to get absolute certainty!) means that in one way or another, we are all learning to live, survive and thrive the best that we can.

For me, this is where psychology comes in. Psychology can offer opportunity to set goals or pause and reflect. To learn new things about ourselves and others. It can help us address issues that need addressing and enable us to step away from things we cannot control. Importantly, it can encourage us to look after ourselves whilst also having compassion for the journey that somebody else may be on.

This blog is not about preaching or telling people what to do – I am learning myself and i would love to learn from you. But i do want to use psychology and consider how it could be used to inspire well-being and compassion (both for ourselves and others). This in particular feels so important to me at a time where every day seems to bring a new news story of distress. I would love for this blog to be interactive with comments, support and kindness, but one step at a time!

positivity vibs