Hate Meditating? Here Are 3 Ways to Reap the Self-Compassion Benefits Without Sitting on a Cushion

Photo: Getty Images/Wille B Thomas
Like cilantro, meditation is a divisive topic: When the practice comes up in conversation, people either offer words of enthusiasm ("It works wonders on my mental health!") or dismiss it with the verbal equivalent of the shrugging emoji (¯_(ツ)_/¯). The latter crowd may well be interested in the results of a recent study because it found that it's entirely possible to reap the brain-boosting benefits of meditation—specifically the practice's ability to boost compassion toward yourself and others—without actually sitting down on your cushion. How? Well, it turns out that self-compassion is something you can exercise and practice with your eyes wide open.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, the study of 828—only half of whom would label themselves as "meditators"—used a statistical technique called structural equation modeling (SEM) to study what, exactly, makes mindfulness so effective. Ultimately, researchers concluded that the brain benefits include finding deeper meaning in life, better overall mental health, and, yes, way more self-compassion. But even if you don't meditate, psychotherapist Michele Burstein, LCSW says you can still get in on the goodness of that final particular benefit.

Researchers found benefits of meditating include finding deeper meaning in life, better overall mental health, and more self-compassion. But even if you don't meditate, you can still boost your self-compassion.

"In order to have self-compassion, you have to give yourself understanding, acceptance, and, of course, forgiveness," says Burstein. "We usually are our own toughest critics and give ourselves little room for mistakes, and then—when they happen—we have trouble accepting and forgiving ourselves. We end up leading with negative self-talk, which is the opposite of self-compassion." Self-compassion practices abound, but Burstein and and her colleague, psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW, swear by the following three with their own patients.

3 self-compassion practices fit for meditation-haters

1. Journal your wins

"Journaling is a really effective way to practice self-compassion, but not just a free-flowing journal," says Burstein. "I recommend a journal prompt that encourages you to reflect on what went well that day—or better yet—what you did well that day. This is effective because not only is it allowing us to focus on the positives, but it’s often more challenging for people to identify what’s going well and could take some practice to encourage positive self-talk." Silvershein calls seeking out the things you did well finding your "golden nuggets," and she says identifying two each day will do the trick.

2. treat yourself to something you enjoy on a daily basis

When the week gets busy, your self-care rituals may get pushed back on your calendar to Saturday and Sunday. And sometimes, that's just the way it goes. But Burstein wants you to do your absolute best to schedule at least 30 minutes of your choice of me-time activity every single day, as one of your standing self-compassion practices. "This could be something as small as watching an hour of your favorite TV show when you get home from work," she says. "This is effective because it gives us a break from work, school, or whatever else in life may be stressing us out."

Stretching before bed? That what I call self care:

3. Practice turning negative self-talk into something positive

"When you find yourself asking 'how could you have done that?', can you answer this question with understanding," ask Burstein. For instance, if you forget your wallet at home, remind yourself that you were running on a tight timeline or had to carry about a million bags to work and just forgot. "By answering these negative self-talk questions, you’re able to give yourself better understanding and acceptance as well as take away some of the harsh criticism." Consider it a self-compassion-boosting win.

Shadow work can help you transform your least-desired traits into self-love. Plus, here are three tips for loving yourself exactly as you are, right this minute. 

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