Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all? Who’s the smartest? Who’s the most successful?

If you’re like most women I know, you will look at your reflection in the mirror and knock yourself down, and look for ways to berate yourself.

Why is this so? In a New York Times article last week, author Stuart Bradford quotes Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor of human development at University of Texas at Austin.

I found that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. 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.

According to the author, research suggests “that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health.”

Do we ever give ourselves a break though? We set high standards for ourselves.  Sometimes we can’t possibly meet these standards.  Often our goals and expectations are unrealistic. That doesn’t stop us, however, from beating ourselves up when we fall short of where we think we should be.

When we don’t have confidence, we look to others for validation. We look to our partner to complete us. We measure our success by our wealth. But at the end of the day, there is really no one who can give us this confidence but ourselves. It needs to come from within us, not from any image in a mirror.

If we accept the fact that self-compassion is better for our overall health and well being, how do we get there? It is, after all, very difficult to unlearn years of behavior.

The first step in any personal development work is to be aware that you need to boost your self-compassion and confidence. Once you identify this is an area that you need to address, you can begin to look for methods that work for you. Dr. Neff recommends that we consciously work to develop a habit of self-compassion. She suggests positive affirmations, meditation, writing a letter of support. I would add keeping a journal of your successes.

It takes time and effort to change behavior and belief systems, but the next time you look in the mirror, try to see yourself as others see you. Be gentle with yourself. Recite your positive affirmations to your reflection and SMILE.