Dacher Keltner We all need breaks. Lunch breaks, coffee breaks and Happiness Breaks. I’m Dacher Keltner. Welcome to Happiness Break, a new series by The Science of Happiness.
On each episode will guide you through research back practices to develop more empathy, kindness, human connection and resilience all in under 10 minutes.
We’ll release new Happiness Break episodes on alternating weeks from the science of happiness. So we’ll return with another episode of The Science of Happiness next week.
Today, we’re going to try a practice to help us be more self-compassionate.
Self-compassion is simply kindness turned inward. Think about when someone you care about is struggling in some way. You listen to them, you’re there for them. You’d do anything for them.
We often believe that we need to be hard on ourselves to be motivated, that self-kindness is being soft and that if we’re kind to ourselves, we won’t get things done. But the opposite is true.
Kristin Neff If you told your friend, “I hate you, you’re horrible,” what would the result be? You know, the similar result ends up with ourselves.
Dacher Keltner Research from psychologist Kristen Neff at the University of Texas at Austin shows when we practice being self-compassionate, we can feel less stress, less burnout and less anxiety, and we’re more productive.
Kristin Neff: And so really, it’s a way of relating to suffering that’s much more helpful.
Dacher Keltner: Today, Kristin is going to lead us in a short version of the Self-Compassionate Break practice she’s created and studied really from so many angles.
So sit back, get comfortable, and let’s practice a little self-kindness.
Kristin Neff Self-compassion operates on our physiology. It actually works with the nervous system. So when we’re criticizing ourself, usually we’re in sympathetic nervous system activity. Our cortisol rates are high, we get inflamed inside of our body.
So when we give ourselves compassion, we actually help calm ourselves. We reduce sympathetic nervous system activity and increase parasympathetic activity.
And so what the research shows is that lowers cortisol, for instance, and it increases heart rate variability. So it’s not just an emotional response. It actually helps calm and center our bodies. And because of that, we know that it’s linked to better physical health.
And really importantly, people with more self-compassion sleep better. And being able to sleep better is also linked to all sorts of health benefits.
Actually, if we just did a study with college level athletes, we taught them self-compassion, and we found that after learning self-compassion, their athletic performance actually improved as rated by their coaches.
Because, again, when you have some way to deal with failure in a way that’s not so overwhelming, it keeps you going and it helps you learn in a really productive manner.
So do this practice, think of something real in your life that’s troubling you. It could be something you’re stressed about. You’ve got a deadline coming up. Or maybe it’s some relationship issue you’re struggling with. Or maybe you just made some mistake. Or you’re just feeling inadequate in some way. See what pops up.
And the first thing we want to do is bring in some mindfulness. Just be mindful of the fact that this is hard. Say something to yourself to acknowledge and validate that, like this is really difficult right now. I’m really struggling.
You’re actually turning your attention toward the pain, acknowledging it, but also making some space for it. This is hard.
There’s nothing wrong with you by having this happen. You’re certainly not the only one who feels this way. You aren’t alone. This is actually part of being a human being. It’s not just me. Nothing wrong with me for feeling this way.
And then we want to bring ourselves some kindness because it is difficult. And one way to bring yourself kindness is actually through physical touch, because that actually works with our physiology, helps calm our bodies down.
So you might try putting your hands over your heart or maybe cradling your face or holding your own hand, some sort of physical gesture of kindness that helps you feel supported, soothed, cared for. It may feel a little weird, but see if that’s you can just let it be a little odd.
And then try saying some words of kindness to yourself, some words of kindness and support about this situation you’re dealing with. You may just consider, well, what if I had a really dear friend going through the exact same situation I’m going through? What would you say to your friend? How would you say it? How would your tone of voice be?
You may feel a little awkward. That’s okay. It also may feel a little phony.
Remember, you aren’t saying things are great. Maybe they aren’t great. You’re just saying I’m here for you. I care. I want to help. Just like you would to a friend.
And that’s the practice.
Mindfulness, common humanity, kindness. You can do it in one minute. You can do it in 5 minutes. It really can be done, really, any time you’re suffering. So really, it’s a way of relating to suffering that’s much more helpful. And it also makes us feel happier, more able to cope with things. So it’s worth doing. Often.
Dacher Keltner That was psychologist Kristin Neff leading us in her Self-Compassionate Break. If you want more tips on how to do the Self-Compassionate Break practice, check out our show notes wherever you’re listening to this podcast.
We’ve also shared links to Kristin’s research as well as courses she teaches.
I’m Dacher Keltner. Thanks for joining our Happiness Break. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of The Science of Happiness.
How did trying the self compassionate break make you feel? Email us at bappinesspod [at] berkeley.edu. Or share your experience with hashtag #HappinessPod. Happiness Break is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX. You can find us on Amazon Music or visit us online at www.GreaterGood.Berkeley.edu/podcast.