January is mental wellness month, and the start of the new year is the perfect time to check in on your overall mental health and wellbeing. As we close out this month, take a minute to consider this mental wellness strategy that you can easily adopt in your life.
Mental Wellness Strategy: Cultivate inner kindness and compassion by noticing moments of self-criticism. One of the best techniques for overall mental wellness is to consciously notice when you internally criticize yourself. When you notice an internal voice criticizing another part of yourself, see if you can take a minute to focus on your breathing and what your hands and feet are touching. Once you’re more grounded in your present moment, it may be easier for you to say, internally, “Something in me is criticizing something else in me.”
For example, perhaps you’re walking your dog during your lunch break. You walk outside and the sunlight feels good on your face, your legs move easily, and you and your dog are walking at a steady and synchronized pace. After a few minutes of walking, though, you realize that you’ve stopped looking ahead and are now looking down at the ground. You notice a tightness in your chest. If you allow yourself another moment of reflection then you may also notice a voice in your mind that is criticizing another part of you. “You’re not working hard enough,” that voice says. “All you’re ever going to do is fail.” Noticing this internal voice is the first step toward being able to listen to it with compassion. By noticing this internal voice, you’re acknowledging that you — the “you” that is self-aware— are separate from this voice. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to see it from an external perspective.
This awareness allows you to acknowledge the part of you that is being aggressively self-critical. You could internally turn towards that part of you and let it know that you hear it. You may say, “I hear you. You’re really worried that I am not working hard enough and that this means I will fail. You really don’t want me to fail. I hear you and I see that.” By addressing this part of you and acknowledging that you hear and understand what it is saying, you’re taking an enormous step towards fostering inner kindness and self-compassion. By allowing yourself to have some space between you and the part of you that is doing the criticizing, you’ll be better able to treat yourself in a more positive manner; it is much easier to feel compassionate toward a part of you that is worried — and therefore being critical — than it is to try and feel compassionate toward yourself when all of you feels critical and/or criticized.
For a few days this month, give yourself the simple goal of working to notice every time self-criticism pops up. Instead of disregarding or ignoring it, use the mindfulness strategy discussed above to help recognize it and see it for what it is — only one part of a much larger You. Remember also that you can use this strategy anywhere, at anytime. You do not need to be sitting down quietly with your eyes closed in order to cultivate this kind of mindfulness. You can be driving, walking, eating, at work — anywhere at all. All that is required is that you take 1-2 minutes to direct your attention internally.