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How to Build a More Compassionate Mind

Compassion toward the people we don’t love or even like has the most impact.

Key points

  • Compassion is good for your brain and your body.
  • When we respond to ourselves and others with awareness, courage, kindness, and love, we can navigate life’s challenges effectively, together.
  • Ways to build a more compassionate mind include breathing and meditation practices and journal exercises.

Our brains are organized around nurturing and generosity. We evolved cooperative, caring brains in order to care for our vulnerable young, and because we were more likely to survive if we worked on teams. Being kind is built into our nervous system, and part of our nature—it is who we are.

If you zoom out and consider the highs and lows of your life up to this point—the challenges, losses, milestones, and growth—compassion makes a lot of sense. Compassion also makes sense considering the scope of the suffering of all humans across our planet.

Compassion is different from love or kindness—it’s willingly turning towards pain with courage, acceptance, and care. And, it’s often compassion towards the people we don’t love or even like (including ourselves) that has the most impact.

When we respond to ourselves and others with awareness, courage, kindness, acceptance, flexibility, and love, we can navigate life’s challenges more effectively, together.

*Note: This post was inspired by the work of Dr. Paul Gilbert, founder of Compassion-Focused Therapy and Compassionate Mind Training, and author of numerous books, including The Compassionate Mind and Mindful Compassion. Listen to my podcast with Dr. Gilbert here.

Compassion Is Good for Your Brain and Your Body

Benefits of compassion include:

  • Enhanced emotional well-being and an increase in positive emotions.
  • Increased psychological flexibility.
  • More prosocial behavior.
  • Activation of brain activity that can help with resilience and empathic distress.
  • Correlation with posttraumatic growth.
  • A healthier immune system, particularly during times of stress.

Five Ways to Build a More Compassionate Mind

  1. Explore your inner blocks to compassion and take a self-assessment with the Fears of Compassion Scale.
  2. Use a soothing rhythm breathing practice to calm your nervous system.
  3. Try a loving-kindness meditation to build compassion for yourself and others.
  4. Use a visualization practice to grow more compassion for your body.
  5. Use a sleep meditation to cultivate peace and safeness before bed.
  6. Try this journal exercise to build a compassionate inner voice:
  • Imagine yourself as a child. What was something you struggled with?
  • If you could give your child self-compassionate words of wisdom about this struggle, what would it be?
  • Imagine a friend who is struggling right now. What are they struggling with?
  • If you could give your friend, compassionate words of wisdom about this struggle, what would you say?
  • Now write down something you struggle with today.
  • Take the words you wrote to your child self, and your friend. Write them down for yourself. If you could give yourself words of wisdom about this struggle, what would they be?
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