How to Cultivate Self-Compassion and Boost Your Self-Esteem

9 min read -
Man with his hands on his heart to show self-compassion
Table of Contents
Highlights: We’re our own worst critics, but self-compassion can change that. With insights from Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, discover how to practice it for greater self-love.
Contents

Picture this: You just got shut down by your crush, and you’re left feeling like you’re not good enough. Enter self-doubt, berating you for every little mistake you’ve ever made.

But, as Gramma Tala said in Moana, “Sometimes, who we wish we were, what we wish we could do, is just not meant to be.” She’s right—it’s not your fault that, in life, things just happen

It’s a familiar internal struggle we all face from time to time. However, what if you could break that cycle? Enter self-compassion, throwing you a lifeline from the depths of your negative self-talk.

That’s the thing about this simple practice—it reaches its hand out to you when you’ve fallen and helps you back up to your feet.

Plus, showing kindness to yourself can have a ripple effect on those around you. In the words of Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, co-founder of Mindvalley and author of Becoming Flawesome: The Key to Living an Imperfectly Authentic Life, “If you can learn to be kind and compassionate to yourself, you can learn to be truly kind and compassionate to others.” 

What Is Self-Compassion?

As stated in the name, self-compassion is compassion for yourself. It’s about treating yourself with kindness and understanding, even when you make mistakes.

Compassion is, by definition, relational,” explains Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research, in her book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. “Compassion literally means ‘to suffer with,’ which implies a basic mutuality in the experience of suffering.

It’s a concept from Buddhist thought, according to the American Psychology Association’s self-compassion definition, that involves self-forgiveness, patience, and grace. And this practice helps avoid the negative thoughts and feelings that come from being too hard on yourself.

For instance, imagine you’re feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed and you make a mistake. Instead of being hard on yourself, self-compassion helps you accept that, sometimes in life, you’ll slip up.

What self-compassion is not

Self-compassion is a lot of things—it’s kindness, love, acceptance, care, forgiveness, empathy, nurturing, support, understanding, respect, grace, and patience. But what is it not? Here’s a closer look:

  • It’s not self-pity. Feeling sorry for yourself can often lead to a victim mentality. But self-compassion involves approaching your own pain and suffering with kindness and understanding.
  • It’s not self-indulgence. When you give in to every whim, it’s usually at the cost of your well-being in the long run. With self-compassion, you care for yourself in a healthy, balanced way, like making difficult choices or setting boundaries.
  • It’s not self-esteem. High self-esteem, as Dr. Neff explains, is often linked to the “need to feel superior to others just to feel okay about oneself.” Self-compassion, on the other hand, involves accepting yourself as you, flaws and all, and responding to your struggles with kindness and support.
  • It’s not self-criticism. Judging yourself harshly may lead you to focus only on your faults and shortcomings. With self-compassion, however, you’re able to treat yourself with kindness and understanding even when you’re faced with failure or difficulty.
  • It’s not selfishness. Compassion has no room for the suffering of others due to your self-interests. It does, however, encourage you to take care of yourself in a way that allows you to better connect with others.

When you’re able to understand what self-compassion is and what it’s not, you can start cultivating a healthier relationship with yourself. It’s as Dr. Neff says, “Being human is not about being any one particular way; it’s about being as life creates you—with your own particular strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges, quirks and oddities.”

Why Should We Practice Self-Compassion?

We’ve all beaten ourselves up over a mistake at one point or another. That’s where self-compassion can show you how to better handle the situation. 

The emotion of compassion springs from the recognition that the human experience is imperfect.

— Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research

So here’s a list of reasons to be kinder to yourself:

  • Improved emotional well-being. According to one study, individuals who are kind to themselves report experiencing less anxiety, depression, and stress. This suggests it’ll help with self-soothing, especially during difficult situations. 
  • Better physical health. Research has shown that when you embrace this characteristic, you’re likely to have lower levels of inflammation and improved sleep quality. As a result, your immune function will be better.
  • Greater resilience. A 2009 study shows that self-compassionate individuals have the tenacity and perseverance to face life stressors, like job loss, relationship problems, or chronic illness. And this practice can help you be more resilient to negative emotions and thoughts.
  • Increased motivation. A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that the participants who received self-compassion training were more motivated to keep going when faced with a difficult task. Those who received self-esteem training didn’t have the same drive.
  • More satisfying relationships. When your inner self is kind, your external self will follow suit. And that will expand to those around you. As one study suggests, “self-compassionate individuals displayed more positive relationship behavior than those who lacked [it].”

Love is a wonderful skill, and I wish we all knew how to practice it properly,” says Kristina in Becoming Flawesome. “But where love fails, kindness remains.” And that includes kindness toward yourself.

How to Practice Self-Compassion: 3 Bookmarkable Tips From Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani

If Moana showed us anything, it’s that compassion is key to achieving goals. Even when Maui refused to help her, Moana didn’t beat herself up or give in to self-doubt. Instead, she cut herself some slack when she needed to and continued to find a solution to save her island and her people.

We could all take a cue from the princess of Motunui. And with tips from Kristina, here’s what to keep in mind when you start practicing self-compassion.

1. Practice radical self-honesty

When it comes to honesty, it’s, more often than not, the best policy. Even when it comes to yourself. And “radical self-honesty,” according to Kristina, is about being completely truthful with yourself about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

It requires two things from you:

  • To acknowledge and accept your strengths and weaknesses without judgment, and
  • To confront uncomfortable truths about yourself.

By doing so, you’ll be able to overcome the need for perfectionism. Instead, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of who you are and make more informed decisions about your life.

Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani’s tip: Your relationship with the world is a mirror reflection of your relationship with yourself. Once you fix your relationship with yourself, your relationship with the world will fall into place.”

2. Be kind to yourself

Kindness is a vastly disregarded and undervalued quality that we seldom hear about,” says Kristina. It’s not only an act of self-compassion but also an essential aspect of self-love

It involves a conscious effort to treat yourself with the same warmth, care, and understanding that you’d show the ones you love. And this can be done by practicing self-care, setting healthy boundaries, and speaking to yourself in a positive, gentle way.

Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani’s tip: Sincere kindness can be expressed in any circumstance when love cannot. You don’t need to love someone to be kind to them. You don’t need to condone or respect someone to be kind to them. You don’t even need to truly care, but you can still be kind. You can be kind when you are sad, grieved, upset, and angry. You can always be kind. Always.

3. Have the courage to accept your authentic self

There’s greatness that comes when you fully embrace your authenticity. It means welcoming all parts of yourself, including the ones you may be tempted to hide or deny.

But as Moana says, “Sometimes, our strengths lie beneath the surface, far beneath, in some cases.”

There are flaws you’ll have to accept, on top of the vulnerability that comes with acknowledging those imperfections. But on the other side, it can lead you to a greater sense of fulfillment and connection with others. It just takes some courage on your end.

Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani’s tip: Courage is an easily trainable skill. And the way to train it is [through] practice. To become more courageous, literally, you have to start doing things that you are naturally afraid of.

Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, co-founder of Mindvalley and author of Becoming Flawesome: The Key to Living an Imperfectly Authentic Life
Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, co-founder of Mindvalley and author of Becoming Flawesome: The Key to Living an Imperfectly Authentic Life

5 Mindfulness Self-Compassion Exercises

When it comes to mindful self-compassion, think of it as being like Moana’s pig, Pua—aware of your surroundings, but not judging them, and always ready to give yourself a gentle oink of reassurance.

And to cultivate that level of awareness for yourself, here are some self-compassion exercises inspired by Dr. Neff’s practices that you can try:

1. Take the Self-Compassion Scale

How compassionate are you? There’s a scale for that.

Created by Dr. Neff, the Self-Compassion Scale is a tool that measures how kind and understanding you are to yourself. The 26-item self-report allows you to recognize areas where you may need to be more aware of your self-talk and inner critic, as well as identify areas where you may need to practice more self-compassion.

2. Self-compassion meditation

This practice involves directing love, kindness, and well wishes toward yourself and others. And there’s power in what compassion meditation can do—it increases positive emotions, reduces negative ones, and improves your general well-being.

During the meditation, focus on your breath and repeat mantra phrases, like “May I be happy,” may I be healthy,” and may I be at peace.” 

And when you do this on the daily, you may find yourself shifting from a place of indifference to compassion.

3. Self-compassion break

Stress and overwhelm are like water in a boat—the more it comes in, the more the boat (and you) sink. It takes such a toll on your mental health.

So when you find yourself in these moments, take a pause. Then, take these three simple steps:

  1. Acknowledge your stress,
  2. Remind yourself that this is a part of life, and
  3. Offer kind words to yourself.

It’s a fairly simple practice to get away from worrying about the “what ifs” and back into the present state.

4. Mindful breathing

In this chaotic world we live in, there’s a need to calm the mind and get some peace and quiet. Mindful breathing can help with just that.

In her book, Kristina suggests the box breathing technique, which is “particularly good for restoring balance”:

  1. Breathe in to the count of four,
  2. Hold your breath to the count of four, 
  3. Breathe out to the count of four, 
  4. Hold your breath to the count of four.
  5. Repeat this technique for a few rounds.

Focusing on your physical sensations and actively relaxing will not only help you let go of tension and physical discomfort,” she adds, “but it will also shift your attention away from the painful emotions for a brief respite.”

Graphic for the box breathing technique

5. Gratitude practice

A ton of people are familiar with this practice—using a gratitude journal to reflect on the good things in their lives. For those of you who don’t, think of it as a mental high-five to yourself. 

That delicious salad you had for lunch? High five!

Your teen cleaned up their room without you asking so? High five!

You bought Kristina’s book? High five!

Focusing on the positive helps you develop a more optimistic outlook. It reminds you of the good things you have going for you, which in turn increases the compassion you have for yourself.

Celebrate Your Flawesomeness

Welcome to the compassion revolution—a movement that celebrates imperfection and self-love. In a world that constantly tells us we need to be perfect, Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani’s idea of “flawesome” (the awesomeness of your flaws) reminds us that being perfectly imperfect is what makes us human.

As Chief Tui in Moana reminds us, “There comes a day when you’re gonna look around and realize happiness is where you are.” By embracing self-compassion and accepting yourself for who you are, you can find the happiness you seek.

Kristina’s book, Becoming Flawesome: The Key to Living an Imperfectly Authentic Life, is a tribute to just that. And as you take in the wisdom she has imparted, you may just find yourself bathing in the beauty of your imperfections and welcoming with open arms the authentic you that you never knew.

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'Becoming Flawesome' is a book by Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani about embracing your individuality and imperfections. This chapter includes exercises that disrupt old beliefs and inspire authenticity, turning your flaws into strengths. Join the 'Flawesome' philosophy and start living genuinely and joyfully.Download now for FREE

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Written by

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani - Trainer
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Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani is the co-founder of Mindvalley, author of the best-selling Becoming Flawesome: The Key to Living an Imperfectly Authentic Life, and the trainer of Mindvalley’s Live By Your Own Rules, 7 Days to Happiness, and From Awesome to Flawesome Quests. Kristina speaks about personal transformation, authenticity, understanding and accepting oneself, and a path to happiness. She was recognized as one of the top 10 influential people online making a difference in the world today and was awarded the Influencers For Change (IFC) by the Global Impact Creators (GIC).

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We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. 

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To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.