x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Charity begins at home

Being nice to yourself is harder than it seems.

It's well-meaning advice many of us have heard throughout the years.

"Be nice to yourself," friends would caution, and in my case I would casually brush it off as a simple task.

But recent studies suggest it may not be as clear cut - some people just can't give themselves a break. And in an ironic twist, they are often the same people friends look to for cheering up themselves.

I must admit I am one of them. I have often prided myself - and this mostly due to my upbringing - in finding the best in others, and this helped me maintain tight friendships and excel in the workplace.

But after the work shift and friendly banter is over, I would come home and castigate myself, second-guessing certain comments I made, feeling they were inappropriate.

The pioneering psychologist Kristin Neff states many of us lack self-compassion because we question its merits.

"They are afraid they'll become self-indulgent," she explained to The New York Times last year. "They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have got it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be."

This couldn't be more true. It is hard to be "nice" to oneself when songs and slogans warn us that such people finish last.

In fact, the definition of the word "nice" was somehow transformed from its original meaning of kindness and being courteous to being akin to a modern-day definition of a social leper.

According to Neff, however, being self-compassionate is easier and cheaper than mugging ourselves into signing a one-year gym membership.

One step she recommends is to actually sit down and type out a letter of support to yourself - as you would do for any friend - listing your best attributes.

Another is to take "compassion breaks", reminding yourself with the repetition of mantras.

If you are like me and find this too wishy-washy, turn the compassion breaks into weekly movie sessions or dawn walks.

Or if you can suspend your good taste, you can do what the self-help guru Stephen Covey suggests and write a eulogy for your own funeral. Despite the macabre nature of the exercise, you might be pleasantly surprised at how kind you can be to yourself when you are about to be buried six feet under.

Not only does the task unlock wells of self-regard you never thought you possessed, it gives you a clear image of the person you already are, and that is someone happily worth living for.