Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering.
BetterWorld Partners has a theme every year. Well, in reality, BetterWorld has only been a “thing” since August, so we had a theme last year (“Dare to Begin”) and we have a new theme for 2019, “Be Nicer to Yourself.”
Why is that our theme? What does that mean? I thought I knew. The idea is, after all, embedded in one of our organizational values, “We prioritize care for ourselves and others.” Then, in December, my colleague Martha Lee and I attended a Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute course in San Francisco, an intensive two-day retreat focused on mindfulness-based emotional intelligence. And I realized being nicer to myself meant a lot more than self-care respites like getting a manicure or lounging on the couch all evening after a long day.
While the entire experience was an exercise in intention and attention, one activity in particular stuck with me. Kristin Neff, author of “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook,” talked about the three components of self-compassion (see video in Resources below) and then the facilitators asked us to do the following journaling exercise:
- Imagine writing a letter to yourself from the perspective of a close friend or mentor.
- They know you well, understand you, want the best for you.
- What would they say to you about the challenges and opportunities you are facing?
I thought, “No problem. I write every day.” I tried to imagine that I was writing to a friend who had been dealing with the things I was going through. To my surprise, this is what I wrote:
Thanks for your note last week. Wow! You have a lot going on these days. I’m so excited that you are finally finishing grad school. I know that has been one of your long-term goals! Congratulations. I know it wasn’t easy going back and it sounds like you had some difficulty with some of the lessons. I hope you will remember that nothing worth doing is easy and forgive yourself for not being the best student. Honor those difficult moments, be kind to the student you were rather than berate her for not being better…and if you find yourself in that position again, you can do it better:)
I am also pleased to hear about the business. You have some strong beginnings. Stay mindful, and stay focused and keep talking about your dreams and goals. You are a bright, energetic human with a lot to offer and we all want to see you succeed!
As for the kids, I know it isn’t easy to parent. Take those moments when you wish you would have done something and just remember it for next time. The lesson will come back around, trust me. If it helps, maybe talk with Dan about the big values you want to teach the children and perhaps spend some time talking it through. He isn’t easy but he does listen and you both love each other and your family so deeply, I know you will be able to get better at it.
So much more to say but time is short. I hope you will write more often. I love these opportunities to talk to you.
Why was this surprising? Well, rather than getting mad at myself for not being the best student, I recognized it and gave myself some context and forgiveness. I didn’t let myself off the hook, and I didn’t leave myself on it either. I encouraged myself professionally and I reassured my parenting self. And I did it in about four minutes and without overthinking it.
As I read back over the letter, I loved that I ended with asking myself to write to me more often. It was true. I deeply appreciated the opportunity to talk to myself like a friend. This was a change from my regular inner voice, who is very good at catching me not doing things quite right. She is very good at catching other people, too, but when she does that I have managed to tell her to shut the hell up and be nicer, so she is quieter about others.
Which brings me back to “Be Nicer to Yourself.” If you want to take yourself out for a manicure or give yourself permission to stay on the couch, go for it. And I encourage you to treat yourself like a friend. The journaling exercise is a great way to start.
It was a real eye-opener for me that I hadn’t been as nice to myself as I could have been. My mean inner voice is still too loud. The letter gave me a new narrative. I felt like I could trust the person writing that letter, that she had my best interest at heart, and that she really liked me.
Good thing. She is me.
Questions to Consider
- How can you be nicer to yourself?
- What does it look like to be a friend to yourself?
- What can you do differently today to be a better friend to yourself?
- Further reading: Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)
- Video: Kristin Neff on “The Three Components of Self-Compassion”
- Workshop: Reclaim Your Clarity and Calm: Steps you can take to improve how you respond to life’s little (and big) ups and downs. March 29, 2019, in St. Paul. Details here.