self-compassion

What Is This Idea of Self-Compassion That Everyone’s Talking About?

Photo by  Fares Hamouche  on  Unsplash

“Through self-compassion, we become an inner ally instead of an inner enemy”.  

-Kristin Neff, PhD


We’ve all had the concept of self-esteem thrown down our throats, which usually teaches us that the ultimate goal is to have high levels of self-esteem. While the idea of feeling good about ourselves is absolutely essential, we’ve learned that our “feeling good” is based on:  how many trophies we have on our mantle, how many A’s we earn in school, and how many points we scored in the last game. What happens when we don’t score that last point or we end up with a B+ instead of an A? For some of us, our sense of self can crumble and our self-critic can begin screaming at us telling us that we’re not good enough, smart enough, or strong enough. It doesn’t have to have such a strong voice, though. Self-compassion provides us that cushion and soft blanket to catch and cradle us when we do fall short of our goals and expectations.


The concept of self-compassion is broken into three categories:  self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. Through the interweaving of these three ideas, we’re able to shift our focus from the potentially superficial feelings of goodness that self-esteem can bring, and replace them with a  solid embracing of who we are through self-compassion. Let me break down the three components of self-esteem:

  • Self-kindness – Think for a second what you would say to a close friend who has come to you expressing feelings of sadness and low self-worth.  Perhaps they just failed an exam and said to you, “I just knew I’d fail that test! I’m so stupid!!” Would you agree with them and tell them that they are indeed stupid?  Well, no, of course you wouldn’t. You would amp up your compassion meter and do everything in your power to help them feel better and dispute their negative self-talk. Now let me blow your mind for a minute; what would it be like if you were to display that same level of compassion and kindness to yourself?  What if you were to change your harsh thoughts of, “This is so stupid...I’m never going to get this...I’m a complete failure!” to “I didn’t do so well on that last test and I’m going through a lot right now.  I need to cut myself some slack”? Feels weird yet oddly comforting, huh?  That’s self-kindness. Giving yourself the same kindness and compassion that you give to a good friend.

  • Mindfulness – I know that I’ve talked about mindfulness a lot in previous blogs.  Take all of that and add to it the idea of recognizing and embracing your feelings for what they are.  Feelings and emotions are just a piece of information for you to acknowledge without placing any judgment on them.  Being quick to judge our feelings and emotions can quickly lead to desires of suppressing those feelings or over-identifying with them.  Being truly mindful allows us to shift our focus from the “shoulda, coulda woulda’s” to the present, because the present is the only state of being where we possess control.

  • Common humanity – When we trip on that crack in the sidewalk or drop our cup of coffee in front of our friends, it can easily feel as though we are the only one’s in the world that have done this.  Likewise, when we feel down, sad, angry, and hurt, it can also seem as though no one else has ever felt as bad as we do. In embracing the concept of self-compassion, we’re able to see that we’re all in this boat together.  We all trip, fall, cry, yell, struggle, and suffer. Why? Because we’re human and we all have feelings and emotions.



For more information on the concept of self-compassion and to obtain deeper tools on how to begin practicing your own journey toward self-compassion, I encourage you to check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s work at www.self-compassion.org.  In wrapping these three components into your daily life, you will be able to enhance that love that you feel for yourself and, in turn, the love that you feel for the world around you.





Approaching Life with a Beginner's Mind

Photo by  Max Andrey  on  Unsplash

Photo by Max Andrey on Unsplash

Do you ever find yourself making assumptions about the way your next history exam will go, how a conversation with a parent will transpire, or how you will perform in your next soccer tournament? Often times we cultivate expectations of ourselves, others, or situations in general based on past experiences. While this is a natural and adaptive aspect of human nature, it can also inhibit us from being open to the potential of experiencing something new and different. Furthermore, assumptions based on our experiences sometimes take us away from the present moment and transport us backward into the past or forward into the future. Again, while not entirely unhelpful to reflect on past experiences or consider our futures, living in the past or the future can bring up unhelpful emotions. It can also inhibit our ability to experience the here and now and furthermore to be effective in the here and now. Today I offer you the concept of “Beginner’s Mind” as a means of cultivating the opportunity for new experiences and practicing mindfulness of the present moment.

What is a beginner’s mind? It is what it sounds like! Remember the first time you made a new friend, got an A on your exam, went on a rollercoaster? During any of these “firsts” you approach the experience with an unknowing and open mind because you have not yet had that experience. Beginner’s mind is a way of approaching an experience that, while it be familiar in many aspects, has the potential for a new and different outcome. Perhaps you have had several conversations with a parent on earning privileges back that have not gone in your favor. These experiences build on each other and cultivate an assumption that this type of conversation will always transpire in the same fashion and have the same end result. This assumptive mindset, while seemingly accurate, inhibits us from being creative and experimenting with a different approach and outcome. It can feel hopeless, defeating, and other unhelpful emotions when we get into our assumptive mindsets. If we are to shift our perspective to utilizing a “Beginner’s Mind”, we might consider approaching this conversation in a different manner with an open mind about the result looking different. In doing so, we allow for the possibility of change and new experiences. Cultivating the opportunity for a new experience may foster emotions such as hope and optimism.

Now what we know what Beginner’s Mind is, how do we achieve beginner’s mind? First, we must acknowledge that there is a part of our past experience that informs our current experience. For example, that last conversation with my mom did not go well. We might draw attention to the areas in which we felt this conversation was ineffective and tweak those areas to open the opportunity for a new outcome. We must then let go of that past experience with our tweaks in mind. Rehashing the past in unhelpful to our current situation. Similarly, we might envision what could happen in the future; however, we must acknowledge that we are not fortune tellers and therefor we cannot predict the exact outcome. In this scenario, make peace with the fact that we cannot with certainty predict the result of our conversation. Once we have made peace with our past experiences and our assumptions about the future we allow ourselves to come back to the present moment and furthermore be effective in this current experience.

Beginner’s mind can be challenging, especially if you notice your mind often wanders to a different time and place. I offer you the following tips in practicing Beginner’s Mind and cultivating more experiences in the here and now:

  • Practice self-kindness, do not judge yourself on your ability to stay in the present. Rather, gently remind yourself to come back to the here and now when you notice you have wandered

  • Make peace with what you cannot change about the past and what you do not know for certain in the future

  • Practice Self-Care and grounding strategies to help you move through difficult emotions

  • Remember that Beginner’s Mind is challenging and requires practice! Resist the temptation to give up on your efforts!

It Takes a Village: Understanding How Systems Shape Us

Photo by  Duy Pham  on  Unsplash

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

We are all part of a system, several systems in fact. Systems range from our partner, family unit, school/work/organization, community, culture, and everything in between. Systems often develop patterns of functioning that support the system in accomplishing tasks, moving forward, and maintaining balance. The evolution of patterns can be intentional, they might present an imbalance in who the system serves, or perhaps they came about over time through events and experiences that shape patterns without members attunement to the helpful or unhelpful results. I have felt inspired by my work and personal experience to reflect on the systems in which individuals exist, how systems function, and if that function is serving individuals and the systems as a whole.

To further understand the operation of systems, I offer the example of coming to therapy (coincidence?) … Perhaps you chose to begin therapy or maybe that was a choice made for you by someone in your life who cares about you. Whatever the circumstance, you are the client in the room. Maybe you or a loved one identified that you can benefit from having an unbiased, safe space. This sometimes implies that you bear the sole responsibility of making a change or committing to yourself. While this can absolutely play a role in what therapy looks like, it would be a disservice to ignore how the systems you exist within also impact your experience and furthermore how the other members contribute to your identity & well-being and that of the system at large.

Let’s say I come to therapy with the goal of enhancing my ability to be more assertive with my feelings in relationships. It might be helpful to look at what communication has been like in my family, for example. Perhaps I found it challenging to be assertive with family because I was expected to “keep the peace,” insert humor in place of vulnerability, or avoid rocking the boat at times it was on the edge of capsizing. This style offered my family a sense of protection, that everything will be alright, and that I am capable of “going with the flow” to avoid exacerbating conflict. While my willingness to mute or soften my emotional expression appeared to function well in our family system to keep us moving forward and establish rhythm, it also presented a later consequence of fear/hesitancy/confusion around how to be assertive in other relationships and areas of my life.

To avoid placing “blame” on any single family member, including myself, I might remember that this pattern of communicating was protective, and it supported my family moving forward and maintaining peace. Rather than viewing our family system as flawed, I might say this pattern functioned for a period of time for a particular purpose; however, that function no longer serves me or the system as a whole. It truly does take consideration of the systems we participate in to understand how patterns develop and how we might want to change a pattern that is no longer serving us. The shift in system function is not any single individual’s responsibility, but a product of all members role in that system; however, when one person chooses to create changes in how they move within the system, there's a ripple effect that can occur, offering an opportunity for growth for the whole system. In re-framing your experience, identity, and worldview to include how your systems have shaped you, you may notice you experience more self-compassion and compassion for the systems that you are a part of, which in turn connects us more deeply to our humanity and the humanity of others.

I offer some tips in considering your village, how it functions, and how it serves you:

  • Reflect on your systems - identify who and what your systems are, what your function is within the system, and the function of the system as a whole

  • Take inventory on what is serving you and what does not seem to work (anymore)

  • Communicate with members of your system on what’s working and what’s not

  • Practice approaching change to the system with curiosity, willingness, flexibility, patience, and compassion for yourself and others

  • Resist the urge to fall back into old patterns that you know are not serving you, practice a beginner’s mind with each situation you are faced with

Remember that it takes a village for your experience to shift, and you are neither the purpose for unhelpful changes in the system nor do you bear the sole responsibility of enacting change. Use your supports and practice self kindness 😊


Freeing Yourself from Thinking Traps

Recently, I read an article stating that the average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day. “Is this true?” I asked myself.  Is it 100% true? As a research oriented individual, I immediately questioned this and sought valid and reliable support for this very specific claim. While I was unable to find any reputable scientific evidence to validate this idea, I can still confidently conclude that the number of thoughts one has in a single day is A LOT.

Not ironically, this whole situation got me thinking. I do know that our thoughts greatly affect how we not only see the world, but how we view ourselves.  I also know that there are thoughts that seem to just pop up on their own whether we want them to or not, and sometimes these thoughts can be pretty negative. You may look at a situation one way without considering the many other potential viewpoints, or you may think that you know how things will turn out, despite having any proof to support that idea. According to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, these are referred to as Automatic Negative Thoughts, but I like to call them A.N.T.s. Why, you may ask? Because they are annoying, they can sting, and they are MUCH stronger than they look.  If you have been in session with me before, you may have also heard me refer to them as “Thinking Traps.”

Take a look below to see what A.N.T.s you may find yourself using without even knowing it:

ThinkTrap.png

While these may sound pretty awful, it’s important to know that everyone experiences these kinds of thoughts and likely engage in more than one type. Fortunately, researchers have been able to name the different types of A.N.T.s / Thinking Traps, and there is a huge amount of valid and reliable research showing how to effectively combat them.  One of the first and most important ways to defeat these thoughts is to recognize and acknowledge that the thoughts are even happening to you. So, if you found yourself relating to any of the thoughts above, congratulations! You’ve just completed Step 1 in defeating the A.N.T.s! Next, it is vital that you ask yourself, “Is this true?” Then, ask yourself again, “Is this 100% true?” More often than not, you might realize that there is very little evidence to support the claim you are making, and you may just happen to believe the false information you are telling yourself.

All in all, remember to be kind to yourself if you find that the A.N.T.s have taken over. You have the power and the ability to seek the truth of your words, and to speak more truthfully and compassionately to yourself.  You deserve it.

Glow, Grow, Glow: Befriending Your Inner Critic

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We are our own toughest critics” - This phrase is so widely used and understood, because we tend to be more judgmental of our own performance than others are of us. Whether or not this fact is true or the self-critique is accurate, it can feel true and accurate at times. The implications of self-criticism are unique to each individual... Perhaps self-criticism is a form of motivation or a preventative measure from becoming “lazy.” Perhaps self-criticism has become so much a part of our inner dialogue that it is automatically accepted as fact and prevents us from putting ourselves in seemingly anxiety-provoking situations. Maybe self-criticism falls somewhere in between (or outside) those areas. Whatever role your self-critic plays in your life, I invite you to draw attention to this part of your story and identify how it serves you.

Criticism is defined as the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. The word criticism inherently has a negative connotation, noting that “disapproval, faults, and mistakes” often define this word. Rather than criticizing ourselves, I encourage you to experiment with using the term “feedback.” Feedback, rather, is defined as information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement. Feedback is inherently more neutral/positive and implies that there is opportunity for growth. By simply changing the word we choose to apply when reflecting on our own performances, we may be mentally and emotionally opening ourselves to the opportunity for growth and change.

When offering feedback to ourselves or others, I often encourage the “glow, grow, glow” method that I learned in my yoga teacher training. A glow is something we feel proud of and are able to acknowledge that we did well. A grow is an area we are able to identify that can benefit from improvement. The “glow, grow, glow” sandwich encourages us to begin our feedback with a positive self-affirmation and end with a positive self-affirmation. This supports a reworking of our inner critic to appreciate our strengths rather than focusing on our perceived shortcomings.

For example, I may judge myself on my performance in a social setting as awkward, shy, or unapproachable on the basis of my perceived lack of connection with others in that setting. True or not, my inner critic may be screaming self-judgments in my head. If I am to apply feedback through a “glow, grow, glow” sandwich, I might tell myself - “I am a good listener” (glow), “I can practice engaging more in the conversation, particularly on topics I can relate to” (grow), “I care about my relationship with others” (glow). The example above cultivates drawing attention to our strengths while offering areas for change.

Here are some helpful tips when giving yourself feedback using a “glow, grow, glow” sandwich:

  • Start small, practice often, and apply feedback to multiple diverse areas in your life

  • Practice mindfulness of disqualifying the positive when acknowledging a “glow” (it’s only a true glow when you maintain the idea that this is something you feel proud of)

  • Practice mindfulness of the emotional weight you place into your “grow” (your grow might feel more significant than your glows and that is OK - manage the amount of energy you focus on your grow and take your attempts for change one step at a time)

  • Be kind to yourself and practice self-care. Your inner critic might pop back up from time to time, perhaps you can give your inner critic a feedback glow, grow, glow sandwich

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

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Life can be hard, stressful, painful, and just downright unfair sometimes.  We all have so many pressures and expectations placed upon us as well as our own hopes and desires to be happy.  As we’ve all experienced, our day to day routines don’t always end in happiness and sometimes we just hurt.  Somehow, though, we’ve learned that we can’t show these signs of sadness and pain for fear of being seen as weak or dramatic.  So we add to our armor and spruce up our mask – getting our battle shields ready to protect us from further hurt while continuing to bury down our ‘yuck’ feelings. Why? Well because this is what we’ve learned, and this is what has been taught to us. I’d like to tell you all a different story and one that you may think odd coming from a therapist - sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.

Why do we work so darn hard to make sure that no one else knows that we’re hurting? What is it that we’re so afraid of? Vulnerability – the one magical word that can strike fear into the strongest of people.  When we take down our veil, we open our hearts to potential disapproval, dismissal, and invalidation. For some, it only takes one experience of this for them to tell themselves that vulnerability is unsafe and therefore, guards must always be up to protect them from the pain and ‘yuck.’  Others learn from society – men who show emotion are weak and women who cry are hysterical (not the funny kind). So the shields go up and the masks become fixed to our faces. We brace ourselves for the day and begin our inner monologue: “no one’s going to see how I’m feeling today so I’m safe.”  All the while, our hidden feelings and emotions pile up inside, eating away at our happiness and sense of self-appreciation. The days become weeks which turn into months which turn into years, all the while we sing the same song to ourselves - “Put On a Happy Face.” Of course the gray skies are gonna clear up, but they don’t stay clear forever.  

Boy that’s a downer, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, my purpose in writing this isn’t to put you all in a funk and pour salt into your wounds. I’m trying to highlight something that we all do and the cycle that we all get ourselves into. We wake up, start our day, put on our mask, and hope that nothing bad happens. When that something bad does happen we either react to it or we bury it down deep, adding it to the already immense pile of ‘yuck.’ Rarely, though, do we allow ourselves to embrace those icky feelings and authentically share with others that we’re not okay. What would it be like for you if you were to share those feelings and tell someone, “hey, that really hurt my feelings”? Pretty terrifying, huh? Do you think that this might change your cycle? Perhaps that one act of vulnerability could decrease the amount of armor that you put on and release some of that ‘yuck’ that is stored up inside.

Maybe sharing your feelings with others seems too scary right now.  I can appreciate that. What would it be like if you shared your feelings with someone who is less scary? What about that person that stares back at you in the bathroom mirror? I’ve written in previous blogs about my love of journaling. Now when I talk about writing in a journal, I’m not referring to that fluffy pink journal with the gold lock in which we write about our latest crush or the hottest song that’s on the radio. I’m talking about an outlet in which you write down whatever is on your mind – your innermost thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sources of anxiety/depression. This is a place where you can ‘dump your yuck’.  A place to get those feelings down on the page and remove them from your body.

One of the beautiful things about therapy is that we have an opportunity to ‘dump’ all of this hard stuff in the therapy office so that we can feel lighter and release the heaviness of our yuck. Journaling provides the same opportunity. Although a journal isn’t able to provide verbal feedback or validation of your feelings, it is able to capture the weight of your thoughts and trap them within the pages of your journal. This type of journaling isn’t meant to serve as a historical record in which you go back after a few months and re-read what you’ve written to reminisce about the memories captured. It’s a place to release the heaviness in your head and your heart. Once inside, the thoughts, feelings, and experiences are to be closed in and barricaded by the covers of the journal. It’s not necessary to go back and re-read previous passages, because you might run the risk of re-injecting this yuck into your head and heart. Write and close the book.

We all experience those heavy and painful emotions, and we all know what it’s like to be weighed down by the ‘yuck.’ By embracing those feelings for what they truly are, we take the first step in lightening their heavy load. Acknowledging and accepting the ‘yuck’ doesn’t make us weak. Much to the contrary, it’s empowering and tremendously strong to speak of and/or write about that heaviness. Removing our masks, barriers, and armor allows us to truly hear ourselves say, “sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.”

The Mindful Teen - Less "Om" and More "Me"

Photo by  John Baker  on  Unsplash

Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

If you are a person with access to the internet, radio, television or books and magazines, it’s very likely that you’ve come across the word “mindfulness.”  Conduct a simple Google search on “New Year’s resolutions,” “how to deal with anxiety,” or any other self-betterment phrase, and you’re bound to find yourself sifting through pages of articles praising this seemingly miraculous technique. Even searching through our blog will bring up tons of tips and techniques for it!  If you’ve met with me in any kind of therapeutic capacity, you’ve definitely heard this word and have likely even practiced it in some way.

So, if mindfulness is so important and apparently the cure all to what ails you, what even is it and why is it so hard to actually do? Despite its intent and purpose, I’ve found that the word itself can seem a little daunting – not only for me but for many of my clients as well.

According to Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, a researcher/professor of medicine and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the definition of mindfulness is this: to pay attention in a particular way, on purpose, and non-judgmentally. Though it sounds simple enough, how realistic is it for teens to take on this practice when judgment and comparison of self and others is practically core to the adolescent experience?

As I explored this issue with some of my teen clients, I realized that there was quite a bit of push-back on incorporating mindfulness outside of session. The stories shared with me spoke to a sense of being bombarded with the idea that we should all be more mindful and if we aren’t, then something is wrong with us (cue judgment and comparison, am I right?!). The images of “mindfulness” we see on Instagram are typically of people sitting cross legged in a very zen-like space filled with lots of plants, string lights, and all the tapestries and floor pillows Urban Outfitters has to offer. While I do love a good tapestry and plants (and Urban Outfitters, if I’m totally honest), we have to get real about what the practice actually is and recognize that this likable image does nothing but couple the word “mindfulness” with a sense of dread, inadequacy and failure.

To help empower my clients to redefine the word on their terms, I’ve created my own definition: “simply being, simply noticing; being right here, right now as you are; no more, no less; noticing that you are here and that you’re okay.” I like to think that “being” and “mindfulness” are interchangeable, and really just a way to move out of auto-pilot. For instance, we may be sitting in class, or our fingers may be scrolling through Snapchat or Instagram. While we may appear to be focused, our minds are often elsewhere, ruminating (aka dwelling) on past mistakes and anticipating future failures instead of just being right here, right now, and being okay.

If we can recognize that our mind is on a runaway train to nowhere but self-judgment, we can stop ourselves and check in with our surroundings. One of my favorite techniques is the 5 senses check-in: What do you See? Hear? Smell? Taste? Feel? Additionally, try noticing the way the air feels cool going through your nose, and warm out your mouth. Notice how the trees move when the wind blows. Notice how your clothes feel on your body or the temperature of your beverage. There are many quick and easy ways to practice mindfulness without having to channel your inner Buddha atop an overpriced poof surrounded by wind chimes and incense. In fact, here are a few that you can do today just to get your feet wet...

Real Life Being and Noticing:

  • Holding a mug filled with a warm beverage, noticing the warmth, in your hands, watching the steam rise, and noticing the smell.

  • Brushing your teeth: notice the taste of the toothpaste, the way the bristles feel different on your teeth, gums, cheeks, tongue etc.

  • Noticing the way water feels on your body during a shower or bath.

  • Notice the feeling you get when you open a car window or step outside.

  • Notice the color of the sky, if there are clouds, if there are trees.

  • Sitting with a friend and watching the way they talk. Do they talk with their hands? Their face? Their eyes?

  • Notice any flowers. Notice the color, the smell, the softness of the petals or the texture of their stems.

  • Place your feet into a pool, tub, or local water source. How does the water feel on your feet? Between your toes? How did the water move? What do you feel under your feet? Did this cause any other changes in your body?

You and your fellow humans are wonderful and beautiful souls that are deserving of even just a few minutes of noticing, especially when you’re stressed (remember when we are stressed we don’t even think clearly!). Pay attention to your thoughts and if you catch yourself getting stuck in a doom and gloom spiral, slow it down. Stop, take a deep breath, and just notice what . Be right here, right now. As you are. No more, no less. Just Breathe.

Leave New Years Resolutions in the Past. This Year Reset with Intentions!

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Naturally at the start of the New Year we often think about our “New Year’s Resolutions.” Resolutions can vary from setting out to accomplish a specific goal or making a commitment to change in some way, shape, or form. The New Year seems to be an organic time to reflect on our past year and look forward to the next. We might take an inventory on what we accomplished (or didn’t), and assess how we might want to be different moving forward. While setting New Year’s resolutions can be a wonderful way to create personal and professional goals, it may also set precedents that can be unrealistic, sometimes difficult to measure, and hard to manage during the unexpected turbulence that life seems to throw at us. Because of this, I invite you to re-frame the idea of establishing your resolutions into intentions.

I first must credit a yoga instructor in the Austin community whose class I was fortunate enough to attend on December 31st. She spoke of intention setting in the New Year and inspired me to reflect on how setting an intention, rather than a resolution(s), can influence our mental and emotional well-being. An intention is a state of mind that symbolizes a dedication to following through with purpose. The idea of committing our year to purpose rather than tying ourselves to any particular goal, can be a liberating and intentional way to cultivate an open mind about changing goals throughout the year while maintaining the consistency of following through with our ambitions utilizing a mindset of intention.

I am not suggesting abandoning the process of taking inventory on the past year and creating meaningful, inspiring goals for the New Year. Goal setting and living with intention are not mutually exclusive; actually, the two ideas go hand-in-hand. For example, we might create a health goal that is rooted in intention (i.e. being active, practicing body kindness, getting outside, etc.). If we apply our intentional mindset to this goal, we consider the purpose of this goal and how it fits into our life. This allows us to create both structure and flexibility around this goal so that it can be something realistic based on our lifestyle and flexible enough to allow re-evaluation if the structure does not seem to work for us. If you feel lost or defeated about your goals, come back to intention and purpose. Perhaps there is a different avenue for you to pursue your intention without the limitations of your predetermined goals.

As you begin to incorporate intention into your everyday choices, you may notice that you are making decisions and creating goals that align with your values. Perhaps you begin to notice that not only are you following through with the goals you created at the New Year, but you are continuing to create additional goals that support your purpose and your values.

Wishing you a happy and healthy new year filled with intention!

LoveTip: Embracing Self-Compassion

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While I try to incorporate many forms of mindfulness into my sessions, I’ve found that recently I’ve been drawn to this one, specific guided meditation. In nearly every session that I’ve played this meditation, clients not only report feeling more calm and stillness, but also that they’re seeing it physically in their body.  When something like this works for the majority of my clients, I find it important to check in and see if the tool itself is especially helpful or if the issue being addressed might be more common than I thought. So, I began asking my clients what it was about this one 5-minute meditation that was so beneficial, compared to the thousands of other meditations you can find on the internet. Nearly all of them answered that it came down to this phrase - “May I be kind to myself in this moment, and may I give myself the compassion that I need.”

Wow.  

Growing up, many of us are taught the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, treat people the way you’d like to be treated. Manners are enforced, and we’re constantly told to have compassion for our fellow humans. All of these things are clearly very positive, because teaching children to have compassion for others is a very important thing. However, I’ve noticed that there isn’t much being taught about self-compassion and the importance it plays in our overall happiness and well-being, especially during the teen years. Really the only time I’ve seen this out in the real world is when a flight attendant tells a caregiver to put their air mask on first before assisting others. Makes sense, right? You need to be able to breathe to help others, so of course you would need to put your mask on first. Similarly, it’s also true that for us to have compassion for others, we need to have it for ourselves. Except sometimes that’s much harder to do.

In my last blog post, I explored negative self-talk using a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique of connecting your thoughts, feelings and behaviors using a triangle visual.  From this exercise it became clear to me that my procrastination and “stuckness” came down to saying things to myself that I wouldn’t dare say to another person because they wouldn’t be kind. Why is it that it feels okay to say hurtful things to ourselves when we would be appalled to see someone else being spoken to that way? Why is self-compassion so hard?

These are questions that I still don’t have the answer to, but I am exploring, specifically through a book called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and through this meditation that has been so helpful to my clients. For some reason, having someone give you permission to be kind to yourself makes it much easier. It’s amazing what just 5 minutes of treating yourself kindly can do for your entire day! So as school starts, schedules fill, and the stress levels inevitably rise, I invite you to take a few moments to be kind to yourself and give yourself the compassion that you need.

App: Insight Timer (FREE meditation app!) 5 Minutes of Self Compassion by Lisa Abramson


LifeTip: Meet Your Procrastination with Compassion

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I have a confession to make: I am horrible at writing blogs.

You might be a bit confused, since you are literally reading a blog post that I have, in fact, written – believe me, the irony is not lost on me. But really and truly, I’ve found that writing a blog is one of the hardest things for me to do at the moment. I don’t understand it either, because I normally love to write, and I think I can even be good at it sometimes. However, my paper/blog writing process is faulty, and I’ve been stuck in a negative feedback loop for as long as I can remember. I procrastinate. I avoid it. I start, and then I don’t finish. I meet the idea of it with dread. Then once I’ve waited too long, my anxiety sky-rockets and nothing makes sense. I’m in a hurry, and I’m not producing something I like which leads to frustration and disappointment and wanting to just give up. Rinse. Repeat. This whole process is extremely challenging, and it just makes me feel really, really crummy.

In many of my sessions, I have asked clients to pay attention to what they’re thinking, feeling, and deciding in their own challenging moments. This is illustrated by a triangle, where each point represents Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors; all of them connecting and influencing the next.

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Whether we know it or not, we’re using this triangle all the time in nearly every decision we make. When our thoughts are generally positive, the triangle/cycle tends to be positive and run smoother. When our thoughts are negative, however, the opposite is also true and can leave many people feeling stuck. To illustrate, here is what my writing process looks like:

Event: Blogs are due next week. I think, “I should write one about that TED talk I just watched!” I open a new word document, write a few things down, and then wonder what direction I’ll take with the info.

  • Thought: “I don’t know what to do with all of this, how do I make it make sense?”

  • Feeling: Overwhelmed, anxious

  • Behavior: I start to question my abilities, become flooded by my anxiety, and eventually shut down to avoid completing the task

  • Thought: “I AM SO BAD AT THIS!”

Event: Days later I think, “I should write about something more interesting, I’m probably the only one who thinks this is cool.”

  • Thought: “I’m not interesting enough to make something good"

  • Feeling: Inadequate, frustrated, sad

  • Behavior: I don’t like feeling this way, so I’m just going to do something else instead of finishing

  • Thought: “I AM SO BAD AT THIS.”

I could go on and on with this, but hopefully you get the idea. My deadline approaches and because of all my past experiences and behavior, I start to believe that I’m really bad at writing blogs which leaves me feeling stressed and incompetent. Since I don’t want to feel that way I decide to just avoid writing all together. When I avoid it, I’ve just reinforced the idea that I can’t do it and I’m bad at writing. Then I feel bad all over again, and the cycle repeats itself.

Through this exercise I recognize that maybe I’m not actually bad at writing blogs, but that I have an unrealistic expectation that it has to be perfect, and deep down I’m really just scared of failing or embarrassing myself. It has nothing to do with my actual abilities to write a blog, but in how compassionately I talk to myself. How different would this cycle look if instead of cruelly putting myself down, I compassionately thought, “I am a good writer” or “I take my time so I can take pride in my work”? The cycle takes on a totally different tone, and I’m left feeling more competent and calm, which then allows me to actually write something I can take pride in. Instead of believing that I am horrible at writing, I’ve realized that I really just want to do my best and I deserve much, much more self-compassion.

I’d like to challenge each of you to explore what you might be thinking, feeling and deciding when you’re faced with a difficult task that you might be putting off. What might your child be thinking, feeling and deciding in their challenging moments? As you think about it, remember to be kind to yourself in those moments and give yourself the compassion that you need.