Think about when you make a mistake or experience a failure—do you shame yourself, or feel like you’re the only person this could’ve happened to? For many, these reactions are habitual. However, research shows that self-compassion—relating to yourself as a caring friend would—in these moments can promote several positive benefits, like improved mental health and reduced stress. Unfortunately, self-compassion interventions can be costly and time-intensive. Meanwhile, 55% of people with mental health concerns go untreated every year in the US—costing the US economy over $300 billion each year due to productivity losses. We tested whether practicing self-compassionate touch for 20 seconds/day for one month could improve self-compassion and other outcomes. Relative to active control, self-compassionate touch improved both self-compassion and mental health and reduced stress, but only when practiced regularly. Because over 60% of participants from this initial trial struggled to practice regularly, we propose to investigate whether improving habit formation of practicing self-compassionate touch improves outcomes. We will test whether self-compassionate touch plus evidence-based tools for promoting habit formation is superior to self-compassionate touch alone, and whether improved outcomes result from strengthened practice-habits. Results may inform cost-effective methods to improve outcomes of self-compassionate touch, and of contemplative practices more broadly.

Eli Susman

University of California, Berkeley