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7 tips for living a more self-compassionate life and improving self-esteem

We all deserve to live a happier life. Who would have thought it starts with us being kinder to ourselves? Here's how to do it.
/ Source: TODAY

The key to happiness might be having a bit more compassion and kindness toward yourself. Yes, you read that right. Instead of criticizing every little mistake, changing your thoughts and how you feel about yourself can positively impact your life.

Smiling woman at beach
Practicing self-compassion can lead to happier thoughts.Shutterstock

So how can we start being kinder to ourselves?

Jenny Taitz, a clinical psychologist at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy and author of "End Emotional Eating," helps her patients conquer their low-confidence and start showing more compassion for themselves.

“Some people have the belief that self-critical thoughts will motivate them,” Taiz told TODAY. “They have positive beliefs about negative thoughts, like, 'If I’m stressed out, I’ll perform better.’”

That's not going to help. Instead of attributing value to our thoughts and feelings, Taitz recommends a different approach.

“One of the best ways to deal with thoughts is to look at them as an older person would look at children playing in the playground, and that is with perspective, compassion and curiosity,” Taitz explained.

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Research scientist and cognitive-behavioral therapist Hooria Jazaieri echoes Taitz's take through her research. Jazaieri, a researcher and instructor at Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley, found in her 2016 study that when people practiced self-compassion through both informal and formal practices, they reported less mind-wandering to unpleasant topics.

We can rid ourselves of unpleasant thoughts, too, with a daily practice. Exactly how to employ that compassion takes some work. Taitz and Jazaieri developed a list of tips to help you make it an everyday reality:

1. Begin your day by paying attention to your thoughts.

Start with checking your breath for ten minutes and then, if your mind wanders, notice where your mind wanders to; observe and describe what you are thinking. Do not judge or believe your thoughts, though. Your thoughts are only thoughts.

“Self-compassion is perspective that our thoughts are just our thoughts. Mental events that don’t hold much significance,” says Taitz.

2. Treat yourself as you would a beloved family member or friend.

In the most basic ways: Eat three meals a day, exercise, and practice good hygiene. Don't beat yourself up if you miss a workout, make a mistake at work or don't say the right thing — would you scold a family member for doing one of those things?

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3. Ask for what you want and need.

People can't read your mind — you need to advocate for yourself.

4. Make nice plans with yourself.

Don't spend your free time watching your Facebook friends living a fun, fulfilling life. Find activities that inspire and challenge you, and make them a priority.

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5. End your day reflecting on three things that you did well.

This is linked to your values, and will help your mind shift to more compassionate thoughts.

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6. Practice a nonjudgmental stance toward yourself.

“Instead of changing your relationship with your thoughts, which can leave us playing Whac-A-Mole, we can say, thoughts just arrive and we can be above the mind,” says Taitz.

7. Redirect attention back to the present moment.

Whenever you find yourself in a mental rut or ruminating, simply acknowledge your thoughts and then turn your mind to focus on the present task.

"You're not pushing bad things away," Jazaieri said. "That only amplifies the experience, but instead you acknowledge and problem solve. It seems counter-intuitive to acknowledge the suffering. It is happening regardless if I want it or not."

We all deserve to live a happier life. Who would have thought it starts with us being kinder to ourselves?