No matter what your goals are, or what your obstacles are, or what your schedule is like, self-compassion is an essential ingredient to wellbeing. All the more so during a stressful season.
Self-compassion will not make you lazy. It will not hold you back. It doesn’t negate your abilities, your passions, or your desire to accomplish more. It gives you a healthy way to engage them.
Dr. Kristin Neff, one of the leading researchers on self-compassion, says that at its simplest, self-compassion means that you treat yourself the way you’d treat a good friend.
Based on Dr. Neff’s research, there are three main components to self-compassion:
- Recognizing our common humanity – and the inherent imperfection and common struggle that comes with the territory of being human. So often, we tell ourselves we’re the only ones struggling to get it together, but we’re not!
- Noticing when we criticize ourselves, and questioning the negative stories we tell. Self-criticism actually undermines our motivation. We experience double the stress when we attack ourselves because we are both the attacker and the attacked. That stress is not conducive to building a balanced, meaningful life. It’s when we feel safe that we are in the optimal state of mind to do our best.
- Being kind to ourselves instead of judging ourselves. Often this means asking ourselves: “What can I do to help? How can I support you?” Self-kindness involves recognizing our disappointment, grief, and frustration, and offering ourselves the same understanding we would offer a good friend.
All the time, I talk to people who have goals and dreams, but not the time or energy to chase them. I’ve been there myself. Many times. It can become a frustrating and debilitating mashup of external obstacles and internal self-judgment. Self-compassion helps us step outside the cycle and regain our balance so we can move forward.
Most of us recognize both the grace and logic in self-compassion, but there is a chasm between intellectual agreement and personal experience when it comes to how we treat ourselves. When we find ourselves surrounded by half-finished projects, or mired in chaos, self-compassion may not come naturally.
I want to offer you four perspectives which may help you integrate self-compassion into the pursuit of your goals:
- Your body is begging to be understood. The way your energy flows throughout the day is one of its ways of communicating with you. Yes, there are some ways we can increase our energy levels, but the ebb and flow will still be there. And, the things that give us energy should feed and fuel our bodies, not punish them.
Before the end of the day, take a few minutes to check in with yourself. What is your body telling you? What is your heart telling you? What do you need?
When you’ve been under stress for a long time, it’s normal to lose sight of what you need, but keep asking the question. Keep your ears open to different ideas and suggestions that come your way, and pay attention to what resonates. Be open to experimentation. Over time, you will find the practices that help you work with your body, not against it.
2.Your rhythms of energy are to be tended, not battled. As we see in Dr. Neff’s research, self-criticism is demotivating. When we are at war with ourselves, we are not in a state of mind to create quality work.
Pushing ourselves to keep going past exhaustion is damaging our health and ultimately decreasing our productivity. Our bodies are created for rhythm. Work is good. Rest is good. We tend to believe this in theory, but struggle to put it into practice, which is why I love the image of tending.
Picture your energy as a fire. When you add more wood to a fire burning low, you don’t see much happen at first. It takes time for the new fuel to be incorporated. It also takes rhythm, patience, and persistence. You can’t put 16 hours-worth of fuel on waning embers and expect a roaring bonfire.
3. Your gut reaction deserves a second look. Do you feel any resistance come up when we talk about self-compassion? Do you feel the need to put qualifiers or requirements on your self-compassion? If so, what are they?
“People sometimes think self-compassion is self-indulgent, or selfish. It’s not! Because the more we are able to keep our hearts open to ourselves, the more we have available to give to others.” – Dr. Kristin Neff
Try not to judge your first reactions. Just cultivate curiosity about the stories you’ve been telling yourself. Where did they come from? Are they absolutely true? Is there a healthier way to look at it?
4. Give yourself the same advice you’d give a good friend. We’re often too close to our own patterns and circumstances to see them objectively, but taking an outside view can help us think more clearly. It’s easier to give each other credit. It’s even easier to believe in each other than to believe in ourselves. And it’s easier to offer one another grace than to give it to ourselves.
So, picture a close friend, and imagine they’re in your situation. Are you holding yourself to a higher standard than you would hold them to? Would you ever talk to them the way you talk to yourself? Is it okay for someone else to ask for help, but not you?
Taking an outside view can help us question the patterns we’ve adopted to while we were in survival mode. We adopted those patterns for a reason, but we don’t have to keep them forever.
Let me offer you some grace today. Self-compassion will not make you lazy. It will not make you settle. It will not make you selfish. It will not make you a bad parent or partner. In fact, it will likely make you a better able to love and live with others. It will put you in a better frame of mind to pursue every goal. And you really do deserve it.
Grace and peace.
You can learn more about Dr. Neff’s work and explore self-compassion practices at self-compassion.org, or watch her Ted Talk on the difference between Self-Compassion and Self-Esteem.