July 30, 2018

Think back to the last time you helped a friend through something tough—maybe a breakup or a work decision.

Were you supportive?

Calm?

Open-minded?

Now, think back to your own recent speedbump—a stressful deadline, perhaps, or a snub from a family member. Chances are, your mindset wasn’t all self-forgiveness and roses.

While we tend to treat our friends with love and kindness, we’re often tougher on ourselves.

Research backs this up: Studies have found that people who treat friends and family well often chastise themselves over perceived failures, scoring low on tests that measure self-compassion. The solution, experts say, is to think of yourself as a friend and apply the same empathy.

Studies have found that people who treat friends and family well often chastise themselves over perceived failures.

Of course, you probably already know this.

But if you’ve tried to treat yourself like a pal, than you also know that applying self-compassion is easier said than done. Part of the holdup, researchers say, is the mistaken belief that treating yourself poorly can be a good thing.

“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin, told the New York Times. “They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

Instead, the opposite is true. Treating yourself kindly can boost your health, happiness, and even your work ethic.

Treating yourself kindly can boost your health, happiness, and even your work ethic.

“Self-compassion is really conducive to motivation,” Neff told the Times. “The reason you don’t let your children eat five big tubs of ice cream is because you care about them. With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”

Remix Your Inner Frenemy

The key to actually making it happen? Recognize when you’re cracking the whip and change your mindset.

“We all know our personal sign that we need more compassion,” psychologist Elizabeth Cohen, Ph.D., tells Shine. “For me, it is when I scream irrationally at my pre-teen children."

When she notices herself acting that way, Cohen says it’s her cue to pause, take a few breaths, put her hand over her heart, and say, “You got this,” in the same way a good friend might. It helps Cohen catch herself before she spirals into a Regina George-style negative thought cycle.

“We can become our own cheerleader,” she says. “We can treat ourselves as we would a child we saw spiraling out of control if they dropped their ice cream. We can be kind, compassionate, and understanding.”

In honor of International Day of Friendship, we came up with a few common scenarios where our inner frenemy likes to pop up.

The goal: Don’t beat yourself up if you notice you’re being tough on yourself—just use it as a cue to switch into friend mode.

Here, some simple ways to tap your inner BFF.

You wake up and...

Feel guilty for pressing snooze instead of fitting in a workout: Remind yourself that sleep is just as important as exercise. Chances are, you needed that extra rest.

Think about skipping breakfast to balance out last night’s heavy dinner: Would you stop your pal from nourishing his body? No way. Treat yourself with the same kindness.

Get to work and...

Feel a rush of panic while you check your emails: Remember that every great success happens one step at a time. Just put one foot—or one word—in front of the other.

Start thinking through your last interaction with your boss—did she seem a little frustrated?: Focus on what you can control, and remember—we’re not as good at guessing what people are thinking as we think we are.

Get some passive-aggressive feedback from a coworker: Any angst says more about them than it does about you. Brush it off. Let it go.

Think about applying for a new job, but can’t decide if you’re qualified enough: Want to know a secret? No one is ever perfectly qualified for any job. If you’d encourage your friend to apply anyway, consider doing the same.

Can’t make yourself focus: Would you force a friend to sit still and pay attention? Probably not. Go for a walk, breathe for a few minutes, then reset.

Get ready to leave, then remember that one thing you had to do… and then another, then another: Tomorrow is a new day—and tomorrow morning will bring fresh energy and a new set of eyes. It's OK to focus on recharging.

Swipe through Bumble and...

Come up with a million reasons why your last date ghosted you—all pointing to you as the issue: Maybe the Bumble bae had a tough week at work, or maybe their cat got sick. Or their spouse caught them using the app. Remember: What happens in other people’s lives has nothing to do with your own self-worth.

Stress about whether to take the next step: Would your friend advise you to cut through the BS and just be honest?

Wonder why no one seems that into you right now: Again: Your worth isn't up for other people to determine. And you are enough. For proof, try reaching out to a friend a chatting IRL to remind yourself of your charm.

Meet a friend for drinks and...

Feel bad for venting about all your problems: Do you complain when your friend vents to you? Do you even mind? Chances are you don’t, because a) other people’s problems always seem less stressful than your own, and b) that’s what friends are for. So dump away, and be sure to return the favor.

Wonder how quickly you can dip and go to bed: Would you insist your friend stifle their yawns and keep hanging? Put self-care first and call it a night—after putting another date in the books.

Hit the sack and...

Replay all the day’s mistakes: You know how it feels like there’s a giant spotlight on you every time you mess up? That doesn’t exist in real life. Give yourself the same advice you’d give a friend: No one will remember it as much as you.

“We need to have self-compassion when we mess up—inevitably—so that we can try again," Cohen says.

Forgive yourself—like you would a friend—then, rest up.


Read next: 3 Ways to Break Up With a Toxic Friend

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