You’re working hard, but at times it might seem that it’s even harder than usual to stay on track. Some days you might be angry with yourself or even feel like a failure. You wind up stressed, anxious, and self-critical. You might think beating yourself up for perceived flaws and mistakes is okay. But research has shown that this way of thinking actually tends to sap motivation, which only perpetuates the cycle.

When you’re struggling, research has shown that there’s a better way to cope and bounce back: self-compassion. Simply showing yourself kindness and understanding can shift you into a positive mindset, reduce stress, and motivate you to act in healthy ways to reach your goals. It can even inspire you to be physically active!

Before exploring how to practice self-compassion, let’s talk about what it’s not.

It’s not self-pity
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, self-compassion allows you to acknowledge difficult emotions in response to a challenge—and then to move on.

It’s not self-esteem
Self-compassion is internal, an active acceptance of who we are. Self-esteem is passive and variable, based on an external judgment of your self-worth.

It’s not making excuses
You’re not letting yourself off the hook. You’re accepting yourself as you are, which makes you more likely, not less likely, to take personal responsibility.

It’s not selfish
You’re actually better able to care for others when you address your own emotional needs.

There are three elements to self-compassion that work together to powerful effect:

1. Mindfulness
You observe the situation and how you’re feeling in the moment, without judgment.

2. Recognizing that we are all human
You understand that none of us are perfect; we are all struggling in some way, and you are not alone.

3. Self-kindness
You treat yourself gently and with empathy, as you would a friend.

Here’s how you could put self-compassion into practice:

“I am feeling guilty and ashamed; these feelings are painful for me. Many people struggle with these feelings—I am not alone. I had a rough day, but every day I am learning what works and what doesn’t. I am worthy of care and respect.”

The next time you need to try a little self-compassion, include each of the elements above in your self-talk. Even better, write down what you would say. The act of committing it to paper can help you clarify your thoughts, boost the effectiveness of the practice, and keep you on track to accomplish your goals