Welcome to our Youth Talk Blog, a section dedicated to youth lived-experiences with mental health and wellbeing, with weekly blog posts from diverse young people’s perspectives. This is a positive, fun and resourceful space, showcasing young people thriving and connecting with healthful activities, resources and support. This post has been written by Anna, our Community Education intern, who is a 20-year-old psychology student.
The New Year brings many challenges for us to tackle, and the way we go about doing so can make a difference to our quality of life. We are often our harshest critics and don't allow ourselves to consider our circumstances; despite our actions not existing in isolation from our experiences and environments. When we judge our actions out of context, we can beat ourselves up, which may lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. However, practising self-compassion may make a difference.
Positive self-talk is one way of practising self-compassion. The easiest way to understand positive self-talk is to compare it to how you would speak to a close friend. You would never judge the actions of a close friend out of context. You know them, their experiences and how they usually behave. So, when a friend makes a mistake or experiences failure, you support them with an uplifting response based on your knowledge of them. The question is why don't we extend the same courtesy to ourselves?
Personally, I didn't practice positive self-talk for a long time because I thought that it was just words, and I thought negative thoughts that came to mind were the truth or fair criticism. But eventually, I realized these negative thoughts were also just words that I had been hearing and accepting for so long that they had become automatic beliefs. I then saw that if I had trained myself into negative self-talk then I could replace it with positive and self-compassionate self-talk. In the past, I had accepted negative thoughts without question and resisted believing positive or kind words. Now, every time I notice negative self-talk, I challenge it, asking myself if it is true or fair. Eventually, this started to replace the automatic negative thoughts and I didn’t need to actively challenge the negative so often.
A common misconception is that self-compassion is just making excuses when, in actuality, self-compassion is about being aware of what leads us to make our decisions. Our circumstances and our histories may have a significant influence. Being informed about what particular aspects of these lead to specific thoughts and behaviours can allow us to make the changes we want. It also highlights what is and isn't within our control, enabling us to focus on what we can change instead of punishing ourselves for what we can't. Additionally, self-compassion allows us to practice internal validation, which provides more independence. As experts on our own experience, no one can do a better job at validating what we have accomplished than ourselves. Unlike others who may only see one stage, we see every step along the way and this awareness is what should be the basis of our self-compassion.
At the moment, I am using a self-compassionate approach to New Year's resolutions. I set larger goals instead of changing something weekly or daily so that if my progress is interrupted, that doesn't mean I have failed. Instead, I will take various smaller steps towards achieving my goals during the year, allowing me space for breaks, adapting to changing circumstances and celebrating each achievement along the way.