Episode #27: Choosing Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is a critical component of self-care and resilience. And yet, many of us struggle to speak kindly to ourselves in the face of our perceived mistakes and shortcomings. In this episode, I explore how we can intercede on our own behalf to build our resilience through self-compassion, and to extend grace to ourselves through the seasons of our lives.

Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode. 

I am really excited about the resources I have in the works for 2020! And guess what, I want YOUR help! In the coming weeks and months, I will be asking for your input on what resources and programs would serve you best! So, if you haven’t already, please hop on over to @theboothandrews on Instagram and follow me there. Also, when you subscribe to my newsletter on my website, you will be among the very FIRST to know when new resources and programs are available!

Did you know that self-compassion is a stress management and resilience practice? No? I didn’t either!!

So what do I mean by self-compassion? Nataly Kogan talks about self-compassion as treating yourself the way you would treat someone you care about. Yes, I realize there is irony in that statement. Can you find it? TREAT YOURSELF THE WAY YOU WOULD TREAT SOMEONE YOU CARE ABOUT?!

The truth is that most of us are BRUTAL on ourselves when we make a mistake and we talk to ourselves in a way that we would NEVER talk to someone else. 

What are some of the things you say to yourself when you fall short of your own expectations? Do any of these sound familiar?

I suck

I am such a loser

I am so stupid

Everyone is mad at me

Everyone hates me

No one will ever forgive me for this

And so on . . . 

In contrast, how do we talk to someone we care about when they make a mistake? In most cases, we say things like:

It is going to be okay

This is not a terminal failure

I forgive you

We can fix this

I understand

Everyone makes mistakes

When we berate ourselves for making a mistake, we not only zap our own energy, but we actually reduce our resilience. 

Resilience is our ability to recover quickly from difficulties. In order to recover quickly from difficulties, we need to believe it is POSSIBLE to recover. But when we tell ourselves how stupid we are and what a failure we are as a basic human being, we are actually undercutting our belief that mistakes are recoverable. We are reinforcing the message that mistakes ARE fatal . . . an invalidation of everything that is good and worthy about who we are. 

One of the most important voices in a child’s development is the adult voice that says . . . “Everything is going to be okay.” The voice that assures us that even when we make a mistake, we are still worthy of belonging, connection and unconditional love. And it is our fear of separation, of losing connection and belonging, that sends our nervous system and our brain into overdrive when we make a mistake. 

Unfortunately, many of us did not have that caring adult voice in our lives . . . coming from someone who themselves knew how to practice self-compassion and to instill the skills and practices to support our well-being and resilience. Because they did not have the skills either. 

Or perhaps we did have that voice in our lives at one time, but other relationships along the way made us begin to question our worth and to fear the worst. Or maybe we have lost that person who was that voice.  

Whether we had the benefit of compassion and learning self-compassion from others, we can learn to intercede on our own behalf and learn to practice self-compassion, no matter what our stage in life.

Notice. Challenge. Choose. This formula is a carry over from Episode 26

If we want to learn to practice self-compassion, we must first notice the words we use when we make a mistake. Then, we challenge whether what we are saying to ourselves is true. And then, we can choose to write a new script. 

Not too long ago, I was cooking Pasta Roni (noodles out of a box). I was distracted. And the water/milk combination boiled over before I put the noodles in. And then, the noodles stuck together. And then they burned at the bottom of the pot. And the voice in my head said, “Well, you USED to be a good cook.”

And then I caught myself . . . my next thought was “WOW, that was harsh!!”

Here is the truth. I am a really good, intuitive cook. When I am fully present. But that night, I wasn’t fully present. I was distracted and doing other things. The fact that everything went wrong with the noodles had nothing to do with my capacity as a cook and everything to do with not paying attention!

Now, this time I was able to catch myself AND to know what is actually TRUE about my cooking ability. But sometimes it is hard to know the truth in the onslaught of negative messages we are receiving, either from ourselves or from other people. 

And so, it can also be helpful to have a short list of friends who we can ask to help us “challenge the story” when we are feeling lost in it. Brene Brown talks about having a short list (I think it is maybe 3 people) whose opinion matters . . . and these are people who have EARNED the right to hear your story, to hold space for you in your vulnerability and shame, and to speak truth to you when you need it. Think about 3 people in your life who fit this description and when you have a chance write their names down somewhere you can find the list when you need it. Because I have also found that when I am in the throes of shame or self-flagellation, I may not be able to remember in real time who is on my “safe” list. 

Whether you need to reach out for support or you are able to notice the unkind words you are using, challenge the story, and write a different script, the steps are the same.

Notice. Challenge. Choose.

So now I want to spend a few minutes exploring how recognizing seasons in our lives can help us reinforce grace and self-compassion for ourselves. 

We all go through seasons in our lives, just like we experience winter, spring, summer and fall. In every season, there are things that are happening beyond our control. And sometimes, these external factors seem to conspire to slow our progress, challenge our beliefs, toss our good habits out the window, overwhelm our capacity and send us into survival mode, and sometimes bring us to what seems to be a complete standstill EVEN IF we aspire to live our lives will well-being and intentionality. 

SO HERE ARE THE TWO THINGS I WANT TO TAKE WITH YOU TODAY with regard to the seasons in our lives:

  1. Seasons change. 

  2. There is no one size fits all formula and checklist for your ability to manage stress, build resilience and maintain well-being. For some of you, this may be frustrating because wouldn’t it be easier if there was a checklist!!

The practices and activities I am able to engage in in support of my well-being fluctuate regularly--subject to time, energy, resources, illness, injury, and so on. I realized recently that I had lost some ground in my intentionality around food and nutrition. It turns out, this started to slip in the late spring, and while I have tried a few times to get back on track, I seemed to lose focus and energy pretty quickly. 

Summer was hard on the family. I have mentioned all of the things we went through physically in prior podcasts and blogs. I found myself in full-on survival mode in some areas of life. Food being one of them. 

But lo and behold, as we transition into Fall (even though it is still 90 degrees where I live), I have found the energy to re-commit to intentionality around nutrition and fueling my body appropriately. Some of this new energy may truly be about the change in seasons (and I want to shout out to Kate Northrup and her book Do Less because it explores the effects of seasons). Part of this new energy is because the family has managed to stay mostly healthy and injury free for a little over a month (I am knocking on wood!). And part of this new energy is likely because there are other distractions and drains on my capacity that evolved and shifted. 

So connecting this realization to the practice of self-compassion, when we find ourselves lacking the space, time or energy to press forward as hard and fast as we would like, or when we find ourselves overwhelmed by our current circumstances, it can be extraordinarily helpful to remember that there are seasons of our lives. 

Because one of the stories that we tell ourselves is that we are less than, lazy and worthless and so on, when we are, in fact, in a season.  In truth our “lack of performance” so to speak has very little (or perhaps nothing) to do with personal failure, but it is simply a function of that season. And the good news about seasons is... SEASONS CHANGE. 

So, the next time you find yourself beating yourself up for your perceived shortcomings and failures . . . Notice what story you are telling yourself. Challenge whether or not that story is true. And choose to write a new narrative in that moment. 

And if you find yourself overwhelmed in a season, know that seasons change. And give yourself permission to take care of yourself as intentionally as you can during that season.

Because while seasons feel like they go on FOREVER while we are in them, in hindsight, they are just a blip on the radar. Much like parenting . . .when every day feels ETERNAL but then our babies grow up, and it seems that the time just flew by. 

Before you know it, you will look back with more clarity and say . . . OH, that’s what was going on. It was just a season. It had nothing to do with my failure as a human being!!

Herein is my permission to extend grace and self-compassion to yourself. Even if you think you don’t deserve it. The more you practice, the easier it will be. 

As I wrap up this episode, just a reminder that in the coming weeks and months, I will be asking for YOUR input on what programs and resources you need to manage stress, build resilience and prevent or recover from burnout. So please hop on over to @theboothandrews on Instagram and follow me there. And, if you subscribe to my newsletter which you can do through my website, you will be among the FIRST to know when new resources are available!

Thank you for listening. If you haven’t already, please hit subscribe and remember to rate this podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

I look forward to being back with you next time!