Sometimes, even the smallest things can keep you from feeling happier. Think of this scenario: You spent weeks preparing to present your ideas for the church fundraiser to the entire congregation. But when you bumble a few sections, garnering giggles and awkward silence, embarrassment quickly spirals into a toxic tornado of self-judgment. Soon, you’ve convinced yourself that not only was your pitch useless, so are you.
“In moments when we’re caught up in shame or self-judgment, we get narrowly fixated on our imperfections and become disconnected from just how much we truly have to offer the world,” says Tara Brach, Ph.D., author of Trusting the Gold: Uncovering Your Natural Goodness (Buy on Amazon, $14). “It’s as if we’re all wearing a space suit made of defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from stress and pain, but we suffer when we start to believe that we are that suit, and forget what’s underneath—our heart, our goodness, our compassion.”
But simply pausing to recognize and acknowledge our most precious qualities underneath, or our “inner gold” — such as creativity, generosity, and spirituality—helps us see past that outer shell.
“When we trust our own goodness, it also strengthens our compassion for others, allowing us to forgive more easily and make deeper connections,” adds Brach.
Here, read on for her simple and empowering ways to shed insecurity and self-doubt and tap into greater hope, serenity, and resilience.
Lonely? Feel held by your tender heart.
“We all get lonely at times,” says Brach. “But when it becomes our predominant mood, it leads to fear and even self-blame, as our severed sense of belonging makes us question if we did something to deserve to feel this way.”
When loneliness is overwhelming, picture a moment when you’ve shown compassion, like the time you gave your best friend a shoulder to cry on when she was reeling from a heartache. “Then envision that gentle part of you holding your lonely heart,” urges Brach. This visualization reminds you that even when you feel stuck, there’s always a kind, tender, loving inner part of you ready to take care of you too.
“As you do this, place your hand over your heart—your warm hand soothes a nexus of nerves that triggers feelings of well-being,” Brach advises. “Breathe in deeply, and as you exhale, imagine letting go of loneliness and self-blame.”
Angry? Make a ‘U-Turn’ towards you.
“Anger lets us know there’s a threat to something we care about,” says Brach. “But it becomes painful when, instead of guiding our attention, it creates armor around our hearts.”
If you’re frustrated with someone, focus on you first. “Ask yourself, ‘If I couldn’t stay angry, what’s the emotion I’d have to feel?’ Is it fear? Hurt?” encourages Brach. Then offer compassion to the vulnerable feeling beneath your frustration by repeating, “You are loved.”
Now, bring to mind the person who was the focus of your anger. What difficulty might they be feeling? “This gives you more choice in how you respond so it’s easier to find mutual understanding. Whatever you decide, you’ll be intentionally responding, not just reacting, from a place of greater compassion.”
Fearful? Whisper your true feelings.
“The goal is not to get rid of fear, but to find a way to gain perspective on it, so that it doesn’t overwhelm you,” says Branch.
Rather than ignoring fear, take back control by naming it. Brach suggests that when you’re plagued by fear, you whisper exactly what’s intimidating you, as in, “I’m afraid I’m about to fail.” This transforms indefinable worry—and the self-blame that accompanies it—into something specific and also allows you to address it head-on by taking inspiration from the challenges you’ve overcome in the past.
“We’re not going to get rid of fear by denying it and pushing it away,” Brach explains, “rather we need to enlarge our perspective to make room for it.” This allows us to send our fear a message, like “Thank you for trying to protect me, but I’m okay right now,” which allows us to move on from it.
Feeling hopeless? Picture someone you love.
“Shame often makes us believe limiting stories about ourselves,” explains Brach. Rather than look at a setback as a challenge that you can overcome, you begin to see it almost like a bad part of you that can’t be changed.
When you’re caught in a loop of hopelessness, think about the most loving person you can imagine. “It can be someone you know, someone who’s no longer alive, or a spiritual figure,” says Brach. “Visualize this person and literally shift your position so you can imagine seeing yourself from their perspective.”
Turns out, the physical act of getting up and, say, sitting in a different chair to “embody” this change of perspective triggers a powerful mental shift, allowing you to see your situation, and, perhaps more important, yourself, in a more compassionate light. Adds Brach, “Shame and despair cut us off from ourselves and others, but trusting our own goodness means facing our imperfections honestly while remembering the love and endless potential that’s in all of our hearts.”
Next time you find yourself feeling uncontrollable, think of these steps to calm down and refocus. It’ll be the key to feeling happier.