How to Practice Self-Compassion

By Jennifer Jimbere, Business Coach

Can you practice self-compassion when you need to?

Difficult situations become even harder when we beat ourselves up over them, interpreting them as a sign that we’re less capable or worthy than other people. In fact, we often judge ourselves more harshly than we judge others. Especially, when we make a mistake or feel stressed out. That makes us feel isolated, unhappy and even more stressed. At times, it may even make us try to feel better about ourselves by denigrating other people. In my work coaching and consulting with clients, I believe we are all creative, capable, wise and good and invite others to see situations and people through this same lens.

What is self-compassion?

Rather than harsh self-criticism, a healthier response is to treat yourself with compassion and understanding. According to psychologist Kristin Neff, “self-compassion” has three main components: mindfulness, a feeling of common humanity, and self-kindness. The five steps below walk you through all three of those components when you’re going through a stressful experience. Research suggests that people who treat themselves with compassion rather than criticism in challenging times experience greater physical and mental health.

Woman blowing dandelion.
Mindfulness is important for self-compassion

How much time do you need for self-compassion?

How much time is required for self-compassion? It can take less than 5 minutes. If this is a new practice for you, it may be difficult to do this practice every time you face a stressful situation. Can you make an initial goal of trying the steps outlined at least once per week?

In many situations, we do not treat ourselves with the same compassion we do for others around us, such as our friends, children, and co-workers. Here are 5 steps to help you show yourself the same kindness.

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5 steps to practice self-compassion:

  1. Think of a situation in your life that is difficult and is causing you stress.
  2. Call the situation to mind and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.
  3. Now say to yourself, “This is a moment of suffering.” This acknowledgment is a form of mindfulness - of simply noticing what is going on for you emotionally in the present moment, without judging that experience as good or bad. You can also say to yourself, “This is uncomfortable,” or, “This is stressful.” Use whatever statement feels most natural to you.
  4. Next, say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life.” This is a recognition of your common humanity with others. Recognize that all people have trying experiences, and these experiences give you something in common with the rest of humanity rather than mark you as abnormal or deficient. Other options for this statement include “Other people feel this way,” “I am not alone,” or “All of us struggle from time to time.”
  5. Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch on your chest, and say, “May I be kind to myself.” This is a way to express self-kindness. You can also consider whether there is another specific phrase that would speak to you in that particular situation. Some examples: “May I give myself the compassion that I need,” “May I accept myself as I am,” “May I learn to accept myself as I am,” “May I forgive myself,” “May I be strong,” and “May I be patient.”

This practice can be used any time of day or night. If you practice it in moments of relative calm, it might become easier for you to experience the three parts of self-compassion - mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness - when you need them most.

Going through these steps in response to stressful experiences can help people replace their self-critical voice with a more compassionate one. One that comforts and reassures rather than berating them for shortcomings. That makes it easier to work through stress and reach a place of calm, acceptance, and happiness. A little self-compassion goes a long way to support you, your team or organization to increase positive emotions, unleash strengths and maximize performance.

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Jennifer Jimbere is a certified coach with over 17 years of experience in learning & development and co-author of the international best-selling series Dream Boldly I Dare You. She uses her rich knowledge to coach individuals, teams, and organizations to improve their leadership, change resilience and build positive relationships. If you want to work with her, have a look at her profile on Coachilla.

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