As kids, we’re told to treat others as we’d like to be treated, but as adults, many of us have trouble extending that “golden rule” to ourselves.
How often do you find yourself thinking, saying, or believing things about yourself that are so unsavory you would certainly never say them to others? What if instead of trying to fight those inner demons, we decided to give them a high five, maybe even a hug?
For a variety of reasons, most of us carry internalized stories about ourselves that don’t serve us that well anymore.
I can go first and say that at my worst I’m constantly telling myself how mean, judgemental, selfish, and attention-seeking I am. It’s uncomfortable to write or say out loud, and for most of my life, I’ve been trying to shove these parts of myself away. I often think that I’ve conquered them, but then they come rushing back, looming over me with greater power.
After watching the TED Talk I’m going to share with you, something has changed. Instead of holding these parts of myself in contempt, I’ve started having compassion for them. And while I haven’t interviewed my family and friends to see if I’m becoming a better version of myself, four simple phrases have started to help me evolve.
How Often Are You a Jerk to Yourself?
In 2004, news anchor Dan Harris experienced the worst nightmare of many: he had a panic attack on live television. In his subsequent search for a way to deal with the anxiety and depression that he experienced, he eventually turned to the practice of meditation. He came to it as a skeptic—a huge skeptic—but after adopting the practice he found it had a profoundly positive impact on his overall well-being.
Wanting to know if his inner work was having any outer results, he decided to get a 360-review from his coworkers, family, and mentors—an exercise typically utilized in the corporate world that is designed to help you see your strengths and flaws from the anonymous perspective of those around you.
In the summary of this review, the first few pages were positive and reassuring, but what came next was horrifying to him. The aspects of himself he was most ashamed of, the very attributes about himself he tried to hide away–being angry and self-centered–were on full display to others.
On a new mission to try and make improvements on the pages of his failings, he eventually found a new kind of meditation practice–the Lovingkindness meditation–that helped him. Now, if you’re a meditation skeptic, or the word “Lovingkindness” seems too soft for you, I’ll remind you that Dan Harris is not a stereotypical meditator, and he too was leery of a practice as seemingly squishy as wishing others and himself happiness and health.
But after finally giving in to the practice, he now believes that adopting this simple meditation–that just takes a few minutes to try–has the power to make us all a lot happier and kinder to ourselves, and others.
Here’s Dan Harris from the TED stage with a talk that I have found life-changing: The Benefits of Not being a Jerk to Yourself. Take a watch:
May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.
These four phrases are the backbone of the Lovingkindness meditation that had such a profound impact on Dan. It’s a simple enough meditation that involves taking a few minutes to think of people in your life–and yourself–and wish them well. I have been using a rendition of it since I was 19 years old when I first learned about it by reading Happiness is an Inside Job by Sylvia Boorstein, Ph.D.
As a cynical teen, I forced myself to give it a try when I read, “I can seriously dislike people, or not like what they do, and still not make them my enemies. Wishing people well means I’ve stopped being afraid of them…Relieved of the sense of needing to be defensive…I am changed.
For years, I was primarily applying this meditation to others, but after hearing Dan Harris’ talk I realized how true this statement is for our inner demons, too. If we can stop being afraid of them, we can relieve ourselves of constantly being defensive.
The Lovingkindness Meditation
1. Start with the people you love
Start by closing your eyes and bringing to mind somebody you love. Picture them with a smile on your face, and now meaningfully say “May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” Repeat this process with a few other people who you love. I urge you to do this with a smile and really mean it—after doing this practice for over a decade now, it really helps.
2. Turn this compassion and love on yourself—all aspects of yourself
Now, turn this practice on yourself. Picture yourself, picture those parts of yourself that you work so hard to push away, and say “May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” Do this a few times if you need to in order to really mean it, really feel it. Think as though you are wishing the very best to a beloved child or person in your life. It might feel dumb when you do it, and if it does, say it again to that self-judgmental part of you, too.
3. Repeat with others and the world
Now, repeat this process, thinking of a neutral person, and then somebody in your life you find difficult. And end the practice of wishing happiness, safety, health, and ease to all beings.
4. Embrace any self-judgment
Will this feel silly in the beginning? Well if you’re a skeptic it for sure will. But I urge you to lean into that feeling and go with it. Wishing that self-critical part of your mind happiness, safety, health, and ease. Have some compassion. That self-critical part of yourself was developed after a lifetime of trying to protect yourself from feeling ostracized, judged, or hurt. It’s just trying its best to do its job. Even if its job isn’t serving you right now.
It’s Time to High Five—or Hug—Your Demons
If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna to love somebody else?– RuPaul Charles
Like anything, this takes practice. The things you beat yourself up about will happen. You will find yourself in downward spirals, wrestling with what you believe to be the worst parts of yourself.
And while sometimes those parts that we are most embarrassed about are there, fighting them can be a lifelong battle. Instead, we can embrace them, have compassion for them, give them a hug or a high five, and thank them for their service.
I hope that you leave today with more of a spring in your step, more compassion for yourself, and a new practice you can start using today!
Stay beautiful & keep laughing!
This article was first published on Goodness Exchange and is now being shared here in partnership with Mindvalley.