5 Steps to Get Your Self-Compassion Flowing
The ‘all or nothing’ approach tends to leave us closer to the ‘nothing’ than to the ‘all’, and in my experience, alienates self-compassion.
Let me paint a picture. It’s Sunday night—11:50pm to be precise. And you’re still awake (your plan was to be in bed two hours earlier). Now, you’re hoping that when the alarm goes off at 5:30am you’ll wake up energized and twirl your way to the mat in one gymnastic-style jump. Fast forward five hours and Monday makes its triumphant entrance with an alarm ringing at 5:30am sharp. You open your eyes, try to lift your body half-way up pressing your hands to the mattress, and as you’re almost in an upright position, hesitation kicks in.
Within a few seconds you voluntarily disregard any positive outcome from waking up this early (while also disregarding the commitment to yourself of getting back into that morning routine you love so much), and your head finds its way back to the pillow.
After snoozing the alarm for over an hour (it happens to the best of us) you’re left with 15 minutes to dedicate to yoga, reading, or anything else on your morning ritual list. Because by 8:00am, you need to Zoom into work—and before then, there’s coffee to drink, kids to wake up, pets to walk, and so on.
Enter the All or Nothing Approach
The inner debate begins: To use your 15 minutes wisely or to do nothing. Weighing in all options, you decide to do nothing now, because you honestly believe you can do everything later.
Your reasoning goes something like this: “Only 15 minutes? Not good enough. After work I’ll roll out my mat and do some yoga, some meditation, and then I’ll read a chapter of that book.” (If you ask me, 15 minutes will always kick 0 minutes’ butt.)
It’s 6:45pm and you just closed your laptop. Now it’s time to do everything you said you’d do, and—plot twist—you’re exhausted. This Monday beat you up, and evidently the only thing you want to do on your mat right now is lie down. With a blanket. And a sleep mask.
But you don’t. Instead, you badger yourself for wasting another day, for being lazy, for lacking discipline—neglecting everything else your amazing self got done today. While consciously or unconsciously feeding self-pity vs. giving yourself a break, lying down, and trying again tomorrow. And that’s the heartbreaking part. Why are we so hard on ourselves?
Enter Mindful Self-Compassion
I dare to say that many of us have adopted the habit of over compromising our available time and energy to the extent of depletion. Overbooking our calendar in favor of productivity (however that looks like for you) and failing to factor in our basic needs (and, the unexpected—because life), can inevitably lead to disappointment and self-judgement.
Setting unrealistic expectations of what we can accomplish in any given day or time slot, makes us prone to dismiss our little wins, to focus on all that we didn’t achieve and to engage in negative self-talk. The type that highlights (and blames it on) everything we dislike about ourselves. In my experience, this happens because I tend to forget that I’m only human, that I get tired, that I will make mistakes, and that no one is chasing me with a perfection stamp to validate my worth.
Honoring the work in progress that I am, I keep reading, listening, and therapy-ing my way into a more sustainable and realistic way of living. Or balance – call it what you prefer. All in the hopes of breaking patterns that don’t serve me anymore.
On this path to self-discovery, I learned about Dr. Kristin Neff, a developmental psychologist who pioneered the research on self-compassion and is one of the world’s leading experts on the subject. And I must confess, that after a quick Google search I was devouring all content on self-compassion.org. In collaboration with her colleague, clinical psychologist Dr. Chris Germer, Neff developed an eight-week training on Mindful Self-Compassion.
In its simplest form, self-compassion is all about treating yourself as you would treat a friend who is going through a tough time. She might have forgotten to press the mute button in a zoom call while blurting out an honest (yet not public) opinion, gotten ridiculously drunk at happy hour, said something horrible to her kids, or is simply going through a shitty situation in her life – like you, from time to time.
And mindful self-compassion (MSC) is a mix of mindfulness and self-compassion, which provides a valuable tool for emotional resilience. According to Dr. Neff’s website, randomized controlled trials have demonstrated that MSC considerably increases self-compassion, compassion for others, mindfulness, and life satisfaction. It also mentions that MSC has demonstrated a decrease in depression, anxiety, and stress.
In short and in my experience, mindfulness allows you to feel the feels without resistance, while self-compassion makes sure you’re kind to yourself while feeling them. It helps lower the noise of self-judgement and can potentially help you become your number one fan vs. your number one critic. And in case you were wondering: Self-compassion is not self-pity. Self-compassionate people understand that, from time to time, life is hard for everyone, not just for them.
Five Actions to Potentially Boost Your Self-Compassion
Not only reading can get you thinking about being more kind to yourself. Yes, that’s already a major win, however, if you’re up to it, I deeply encourage you to grab a pen and a notebook (or open the notes app in your phone—you do you) and let’s get started, shall we?
Remember that Struggling Friend. Think about a time when you supported a friend, or someone close to you who you truly care about. The one who forgot to press the mute button on that zoom call, or the one who sent the wrong text to the wrong group chat. Or the one who went through a tough time at work. Most of us can relate to a best friend messing up, being deep in that shame spiral and you being there with her – trying to bring in some perspective. How did you react? How did you talk to her (you, being at your best)? Write down what you did, or said, and pay attention to the tone in which you talked to your friend.
Hold Up that Mirror. Now, remember a time where you felt inadequate, when you were going through a difficult period at work, or in your personal life. And when the volume of that negative self-talk was maxed out. In as many words as you want to share, write down how you reacted (or tend to react), how you treated yourself, and pay close attention to the tone in which you talked to yourself.
Compare and Contrast. Did you notice any difference int the way you responded to your crisis vs. the way you responded to your friend’s? If so, ask yourself why. Which factors get you treating yourself so differently from the way you treat others you care about?
Imagine Change. Grab that pen again and write down how you imagine things could change if when you are having a really hard time, you treated yourself with the same kindness as you’d treat a close friend.
Keep this in Mind. Next time you face a challenge at work, in life, big or small (anything that makes you feel ashamed, that makes you doubt of all that you are capable of), try to acknowledge that you’re going through a difficult situation, try to shift your negative inner narrative, dare to extend your kindness and compassion to yourself – and see what happens.
Common Humanity: A Friendly Reminder
A key component of mindful self-compassion is common humanity. The fact that everyone faces hardship at some point in their lives. Reminding yourself that you are not alone, that you are human and imperfect, has the potential to grant you the perspective you need for self-compassion to become the rule in your life, not the exception.
This piece was written and contributed by:
Jit is a PR & marketing person trained in journalism, health coaching and yoga—writing about most things wellness. She helps entrepreneurs PR the ef out of their superpowers, specializing in content strategy, copy makeovers and spotting PR-able angles.
She finds joy in a cup of coffee, in a nourishing read or an inspiring podcast, and in rediscovering paradise in her native Panama—where she lives with her husband, his son and their Shih Tzu, Valentina.