16th February 2021

In the month of love, show some self-compassion

By Dr Caroline Horner

I’m always interested to see how people respond when I mention self-compassion. It’s an easy concept to grasp, but a hard one to put into action.

This is particularly the case for leaders who tend to deprioritise it or ignore it.

Self-compassion is often associated with self-indulgence, or of going easy on oneself. For some, showing self-compassion feels like selfishness or laziness. Some feel that by going easier on themselves, it will lead to a loss of mojo and effectiveness.

Many simply don’t know how to ‘do’ self-compassion or have not practiced it enough to establish the habit. Therefore, their responses range from a wince to a blank look.

I thought I’d explore the idea of self-compassion, explain what I think it means and how it can help increase your effectiveness as a leader. I'll also share my tips on how to bring it into your everyday lives.

I like the explanation of self-compassion put forward by Rich Fernandez and Steph Stern: ‘It means taking a perspective toward yourself as you would with a friend or colleague who is facing a setback or challenge.’

Self-compassion is important for a number of reasons. It makes us more emotionally intelligent, more resilient, more generous to others. At a very obvious level, we feel better, happier, healthier and more ourselves when we practice self-compassion.

1. Be a friend to yourself

The clinical psychologist Christopher Germer, reminds us self-compassion is, ‘a simple reversal of the Golden Rule: Learning to treat ourselves as we naturally treat others in need — with kindness, warmth, and respect.’

I see leaders motivate themselves with blame, guilt and self-criticism. As Germer says, self-compassion should motivate like a good coach. Take a moment to understand how you motivate yourself and your self-talk — is it punishing or affirming? Simply put: are you kind to yourself?

For some of us, our inner critic can dominate our thoughts. While this voice can help us, when the inner critic is the loudest voice, it is likely to become a derailer.

Working with a coach may help you to calibrate this inner critic and help you unlearn thinking patterns which may have passed their sell-by date.

If you are curious about working with a coach, get in touch. Together we can explore whether this may be a useful approach for you determine which coach in our team might be a good ‘fit’ for you. info@i-coach.co.uk

For manager and leaders who are trying to unlock self-limiting beliefs and develop self-compassion in your teams, you may wish to further develop your coaching skill-set. i-coach developed Coaching Essentials with the concept of ‘self’ as primary instrument at its core. If you are interested to learn more, join our free “Could you be a coach?” webinar. We host them regularly so there are plenty of opportunities for you to learn more.

2. Prioritise your peace

Prioritising your peace is a more positive way of saying ‘pick your battles’.

Prioritising your peace is akin to making choices about what you are going to care about. We typically only get stressed about things we care about. And if you care about everything you may well be heading to burn-out.

Why not experiment with not answering every call you receive or responding to emails immediately. Perhaps say ‘no’ a bit more or agree to help but set boundaries when others drop the ball and look to you to rescue them.

It might mean not cutting the crusts off your kid’s sandwiches and fashioning them into perfect equilateral triangles (they will survive).

Small acts of peace prioritisation will cumulatively enable you to relax and recharge.

The idea of prioritising your peace is backed up by research from Professor Kristen Neff who suggests there are three elements to self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Neff has developed a number of guided meditations and we included links to a few of these on our website along with other ‘self-compassion’ resources which you may find useful.

Not sure what you care about? Perhaps take some time to pause and reflect on what truly matters to you and use this awareness to support your prioritisation. Our Values Tool is free to use for a limited time and is a good starting point.

3. Ask for what you need

We are, on the whole, not great at asking for what we need. From my experience, this is the result of three blockers.

The first is that you feel you don't know what you need. I would gently offer the challenge: I think you do. You might not be used to thinking about your needs and you might therefore need a bit of help to discover what your needs are, but you know you best.

The second is that you expect others to know what you need – to be mind-readers – so you don’t ask for what you need and feel disappointed when others don’t respond. Or perhaps you avoid asking for what you need because you think it will make you look weak or selfish. Learning to confidently express your needs in a clear and unapologetic way is a skill that requires courage and practice. As is the acceptance that at times others may not always be able to give us what we need at that time and that doesn’t mean they don’t value us or want to support us.

The third is that you worry that others are over-burdened, busy and don’t have the time to support you. In my experience the majority of us love helping others – it makes us feel needed, valued. By not asking, you deny that person the opportunity to support you. You are also assuming that they will not be able to say no if it feels too much at that time. Give others the opportunity to help you. Ask without expectation, you may be surprised by how delighted someone is to support you.

Start small. Reach out. Practice.

4. Treat yourself

When it comes to treating oneself, lots of things are out of the question: foreign travel, spa appointments and dining out to name but three. But let’s not forget, lots of things are free and very much available. A long bubble bath, a walk in the forest, playing ball with the kids, a piece of decadent chocolate cake, reading a novel or a call with a special friend.

Catch yourself when your inner critic interferes and brings guilt or negative thoughts to stop you from enjoying something that will nurture you, give you energy and joy.

You might want to buy yourself some flowers or try a stress relieving class. If you want to know how to reduce stress, stay youthful and healthy you may want to treat yourself to our next MELT session where Katie Takashima, one of London’s top bodyworkers. Find out more.

5. Make self-compassion a habit

Leadership burnout is something I’ve discussed before. An article by Annie McKee and Kandi Wiens makes the link that by practicing self-compassion, you can avoid burnout. They write: ‘Self-compassion involves seeking to truly understand yourself and what you are experiencing emotionally, physically, and intellectually at work; caring for yourself (as opposed to shutting down); and acting to do something to help yourself.’

Whether it’s through guided meditation, taking walks at a certain time of day, or just noticing your breathing, you can, with small actions, build up a healthy sense of self-compassion throughout the day.

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