Compassion. It’s not a word that many of us would call powerful. And, just like resilience, there are plenty of very poor definitions of it out there (e.g. ‘sympathetic pity and concern’). Where resilience has often been co-opted as a term for toughness, survival and control, compassion frequently gets rolled out to shore up ideas of being soft, directionless, letting yourself off the hook. Neither of these is true – and both misinterpretations hold us – individually and as a human race – back.
I recently interviewed Manley Hopkinson, who is an expert in compassionate leadership, for my podcast. And his definition of compassion is: positive action based on understanding. This makes a lot more sense to me. Compassion is an active force and it’s driven by empathy (not sympathy) and understanding. It’s actually incredibly powerful because it creates the space for humans to be humans and for experimentation, change, failure and growth.
When it comes to self-compassion this is sometimes pigeonholed as self-pity. But actually you’re much more likely to feel self-pity if your levels of self-compassion are low. That’s because not enough self-compassion creates a harsh internal environment where very little can thrive, including self-esteem. If you fail, you punish yourself. Judgment levels are high so your nervous system is constantly activated. Other people’s views of you are more valuable than your own. There is very little self-awarness so you don’t really understand how you think or what drives you. You can never relinquish control. Taking responsibility for mistakes feels hard and like you’re broken. There’s no option to try again if something doesn’t go well. I feel exhausted even reading that.
The benefits of self-compassion
A whole heap of research has now been done on self-compassion – the idea of treating yourself like you would someone you really love and value – and found just how powerful it really is. Like resilience, it contributes to satisfaction with your life, motivation, physical and emotional wellbeing and stronger relationships. These are just some of the benefits:
- Looking at your challenges and weaknesses as just being part of the human experience.
- Being able to deactivate the threat-defence system in your body and get out of fight or flight mode.
- More emotional intelligence because you have the space to understand yourself and others.
- Stronger social connections as a result.
- Feelings of emotional safety. Self-criticism activates the sympathetic nervous system, pushing up stress hormones. Self-compassion on the other hand activates our biological nurturance and soothing system.
- Being able to be mindful of emotions without over identifying with them – better emotional regulation.
- Being able to stay calm in the face of rejection or criticism.
- An antidote to shame – instead of shutting down when you make a mistake, self-compassion provides the fuel to improve, evolve and do things differently.
- Giving yourself the freedom to fail and take the risks that allow you to be creative.
- Strengthens immune system and helps to protect against illness – one study found that self-compassion is associated with lower levels of stress-induced inflammation.
30 days of self-compassion
There is no moment in life where someone ever really says to us, “hey, do you want to be happier and more successful? Then it’s self-compassion that you need.” Instead, we get pushed towards other actions, thoughts and narratives in terms of what is going to help us get the most out of life e.g. buy this and you’ll feel better. However, while self-compassion may not sell products it will change you life. Which is why it’s worth getting into the habit of practising it – every day. Try the 30 day self-compassion challenge where you make time to develop this habit daily for a month. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Tell someone how you feel without any expectations about their response.
- Play, be silly without any restrictions.
- Be mindful about the media you consume – self-acceptance and self-compassion don’t sell products. Which is why most of the messaging we get from brands today is about comparing yourself to others and erasing your weaknesses.
- Make a note of the critical words and narratives you use on yourself – would you say those to a friend?
- Practice pausing before you react to anything, give yourself time to be mindful.
- Remind yourself that messing up is not failure, its human.
- Give yourself space to feel your feelings and start identifying where they come from, what triggers them and where you feel them in your body.
- Let go of the need to prove how you feel.
- Accept a compliment without having to justify it.
- Try doing something new without any judgment
- Question if fear is driving your life and the way that you set your goals.
- Learn how to let your thoughts just flow without believing all of them.
- Listn to your self-doubt and then do one thing that it is telling you that you can’t do.
- Push yourself. Even if only a little bit.
- Rest. Really rest. Without trying to justify or earn the rest or convince yourself that you deserve it.
- Get to know yourself – what do you believe in, what do you value, what makes you feel?
- Forgive yourself for what you didn’t know when you were younger.
- Do something your younger self would get excited about.
- Try. Then try again.
Self-compassion is like a glorious fertiliser that we can use to nurture who we are and ensure that we grow. It’s part of the flexibility we need to make us resilient and it’s a strength that is built through habits.
If you’d like to learn more about self-compassion – or get support in learning how to practice it – book in for a free resilience coaching intro call and let’s have a chat about your challenges.