Self-compassion: Says Easy, Does Hard

I had a really tough day the other day. “Not at my best” is probably a polite way of putting it. Ok, not probably. DEFINITELY.

I’ll spare the gory details, but suffice to say I didn’t show up the way I wanted to in a situation. (Ok, ok- maybe a few situations…) I had texted a dear friend about it and shared my self-criticism, including a fairly-unlike-me statement, “I feel like a total failure.”

In her infinite wisdom, my friend responded not with platitudes or placating, not with dismissal or even with affirmations of how, indeed, I was a total failure. Instead, she provided me with a loving provocation: “Challenge for the day – how incredibly and extraordinarily compassionate can you be to yourself today? Like over the top, next-level compassion!!!!” (Extra exclamation points hers, but incredibly appreciated by me!)

Um, what? 

While I coach many people around similar challenges and have many examples where I’ve also offered a similar question, it was such a beautiful challenge to receive at a time when I hadn’t quite pulled myself above my own emotional fray enough to see it. So much so that I actually had to pause for a minute and contemplate it. Power through? Sure, I can do that. Let it roll off my back? Yep, know how to nail that approach. Set it aside and just keep going? Pssh, I’ve got a PhD in that. But offering over the top, next-level compassion (with 4 exclamation points, no less!)? That might take me a few.

Well, it didn’t just take me a few minutes, it took me a few hours. Self-kindness is one thing. Extraordinary self-compassion fell into the category of “says easy, does hard” for me. I know how to do that for other people, but my self-application skills were surprisingly mediocre. I found myself identifying something that felt like self-kindness and then intentionally pushing myself to ask, “How can I make this over the top, next-level?” That showed up as not just getting myself some tea with honey but getting myself some tea with extra, extra honey and finding a super soft blanket to put on my lap at the same time. It meant not just wearing fuzzy socks but actually moving to a more comfortable workspace instead of sitting at my desk as usual. It meant giving myself permission not just to cook a simple dinner, but to get takeout and to even ask my partner to be the one to go get it. (Gulp. Getting harder.)

It also meant not just thinking or even writing down an affirmation for myself, but sitting down and writing an entire letter to myself appreciating all of the ways I was navigating the challenges in front of me and giving myself credit for carrying such a heavy load. It also meant not just writing myself a permission slip for self-forgiveness, but giving myself a reward for making it through some really hard situations lately. (Hello, cool new journal I’d been eyeing!) It also meant noticing when my inner monologue turned more mean girl than well-meaning, and not just sighing it off and trying to ignore it, but actually speaking words out loud to counter it. 

I’ve carried this concept forward in the days since the now infamous (to me, at least) text conversation, and I’ve also learned an important lesson about self-compassion and my own personal tendency to say “That’s enough, Nicole.” Maybe I need to revisit my definition of what “enough” actually looks like, because it turns out that when I pushed myself into that extraordinary, over the top, next-level realm of self-compassion, there was a lot more I could give myself, and a whole lot more I benefited from because of it. I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of responding to this challenge. 

I’m guessing it’s not just me that has this experience. In fact, I know it’s not, because I talk to people every day who share similar tendencies. What would our worlds start to look like and what could we be capable of if we all took this approach with ourselves? I’m not entirely sure yet, but I know so far my stress levels have gone down, my ability to be radically present has ratcheted up, and my inner monologue is a whole lot kinder. That’s giving me some of the energy and capacity to offer that to others in turn, and darn it- that just plain feels good. 

What would it look like for you to be extraordinarily, over the top, next-level self-compassionate with yourself? 

- Nicole



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