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Practicing Self-Compassion

What do you say to yourself when you make mistakes? Will you repeat the same thing to your best friend, any of your loved ones, or even a total stranger?

smiling blonde woman wearing lavender shirt
Be your own best friend!

Stress and anxiety do not necessarily arise because we did a terrible job or we’ve disappointed others, for example, our bosses or colleagues. If we dare look closer at our stress and anxiety triggers, we will notice that sometimes our discomfort could be arising from our self-imposed standards, our expectations from ourselves. And our stress and anxiety are magnified or worsened by repeated self-defeating thoughts, negative self-talk, feelings of shame, worthlessness, and guilt.

In my workbook with tips for managing and preventing work-related stress, I mention practicing self-compassion and being your own best friend. Practicing self-compassion is not only helpful for women leaders in terms of stress management and prevention but it also develops our capacity for authentic leadership, for embodying and expressing our authenticity and well-being.

As women and as leaders we've been socialized to give and we do that very well. However, sometimes we do this at the expense of our well-being. We can embody and express our authenticity, well-being, and leadership when we begin to practice self-compassion in all aspects of our being—our mind, body, and heart. Practicing self-compassion means practicing sensitivity toward ourselves. This does not mean we become self-centered or engage in self-pity. Practicing self-compassion is about practicing acceptance of our own needs, desires, capacities, limits, thoughts, and feelings. This means, sometimes we have to set and assert our limits and boundaries.

Practicing self-compassion enables us to extend kindness, warmth, and openness to the challenges and pains of others around us in an authentic way. It helps us to learn how to say “no” easily while being gentle and kind to others and ourselves. It’s like exhibiting the flexibility and strength of a bamboo tree, bending when the wind blows with the changing circumstances, setting limits when necessary and staying strong and rooted at the same time.

So, how can we practice self-compassion in our lives?

bamboo trees
When the wind blows in all directions, how do you stand?

Pay Attention To Your Body

I always think about a video I saw in my graduate studies in Transformative Leadership and Spirituality. It was a talk about mindfulness, body-mind connection, and compassion by Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, global spiritual leader, prolific author, and teacher on the subjects of peace, mindfulness, and meditation.

In this talk, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story of a student asking about how to practice compassion and he replied by asking the person to reflect on what we do to our body. It’s true. Many of us, men and women leaders alike, spend our days working, sitting in front of our computer. We sit and sit even though our body is screaming that it needs a break—our head, eyes, neck, shoulders, wrists, fingers, and back hurt, but we continue to ignore our body and stay in the same position.

Practicing self-compassion can begin by simply noting the sensations in our body, paying attention to the sensations before they turn into tension, cramps or pain. It means getting up, taking a break, changing your position, stretching, going for a walk, getting fresh air …

This practice of self-compassion may also be helpful for many of us who do sports or practice yoga, especially to those who seem to turn yoga into an Olympic sport. Practicing self-compassion means learning not to push our body to the point of pain and harm. It means letting go of thinking negatively about our body—what it should do, what it should look like, how it should be, etc., etc. It doesn’t really matter if you can hold a headstand or handstand, or put your leg behind your head when you’re on the yoga mat if your purpose is just to boost your ego. What matters is what you do with that strength, flexibility, and endurance off the mat.

When the wind blows in all directions, how do you stand? How do you hold yourself?

How do you maintain the integrity of your physical body? How do you stay authentic?

When we let go of clinging to the expectations of what we should be able to do, and stop scolding ourselves with harmful thoughts and negative self-talk, our body responds by honouring us with more energy and life!

Remember, your physical body is the container that life has chosen to be the vehicle to express itself. So be kind and gentle with your body. It is a key to your well-being.

hands holding a monarch butterfly
Express your ultimate well-being!

By the way, if you want to know how to pronounce Thich Nhat Hanh’s name, according to the

Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:

The English pronunciation is: Tik · N’yat · Hawn. However, since Vietnamese is a tonal language, this is only a close approximation of how one would pronounce it in Vietnamese. By his students he is affectionately known as Thay (pronounced “Tay” or “Tie”), which is Vietnamese for “teacher.” (Source:

female buddha sitting with head tilted
Pay attention to your mind

Pay Attention To Your Mind

Practicing self-compassion means being mindful of our thoughts and paying attention that we are not being controlled by our mind.

The quality of our thoughts can have significant impact on our overall well-being. For example, you may the most intelligent and competent person in your team with all the education, training, expertise, experiences, etc. But if your mind is entertaining self-destructive and self-defeating thoughts, the way you carry your physical body, interact with others, perform at work would show otherwise.

I have a friend who is one of the healthiest people I know. She eats well (i.e., organic, vegan raw), exercises lots, brings her specially prepared food everywhere, and drinks her green smoothies. Yup! She only eats the good stuff and she’s doing everything “right”. But her thoughts and self-judgment can get the best of her at times. If the quality of your thoughts are harmful, even if you're giving your physical body what it needs to feel good, chances are you’re not feeling as well as you could. The quality of our thoughts can be stress and anxiety triggers. They can prevent us from showing up as our best! So pay attention to your mind. Notice your self-talk and be kind to yourself.

What standards do you set for yourself?

What do you say to yourself when you make mistakes? Will you repeat the same thing to your best friend, any of your loved ones, or even a total stranger?

Instead of feeling badly when you think you made a mistake, choose to learn from your experience and use it as an opportunity to improve your performance next time you encounter a similar situation. Focus on improving, rather than setting standards you can’t meet. Reflect on past successes and the progress you have already made. Give yourself the credit you deserve and celebrate your accomplishments.

As Mary Oliver, an American poet, says beautifully in one of her poems, Wild Geese.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

When we think negatively, we send messages through our body that cause the fight or flight response, secreting stress hormone (cortisol) into the body. This lowers the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and physical pain. In contrast, when we think loving thoughts, the “feel good” hormone (dopamine) is released into our body. This strengthens the immune system, and enables us to heal ourselves from illnesses.

Additionally, countless studies in different fields have shown that people who tend to think positively had stronger immune systems, recovered quicker from injury and illness, and guess what, they live longer than those who think negatively.

Pay Attention To Your Heart

Notice what you are be holding in your heart and let go of those that are not serving you. For example, anger, resentment, bitterness, disappointment, judgement, cynicism, etc. These emotions may have served you in some ways before but if you look closely, holding them in your heart is causing you more stress, anxiety, and pain. Minimize the harm you are causing yourself by letting go of any harmful emotions you may be holding, creating space in your heart for what light you up and bring you happiness.


If you are someone who has regular, repeated negative thoughts of self-judgment, criticism, shame, guilt, unworthiness, etc., practice this mediation for a week or longer and try to integrate it in your daily. In this practice you will combine a repeated inner intention with visualization and evocation of the feeling of self-compassion.

Read the instruction below and become familiar with it so that you do not have to refer to it during your practice. I suggest memorizing or writing down the phrases that you will recite in your mind so that you have it for reference.

First, find a spot where you will not be distracted. Try to use the same spot for your practice. Also, avoid all the things that may distract you, for example, put your phone away, turn it off, or put it on silent mode.

Then, sit comfortably on a chair, meditation cushion, or a yoga mat on the floor.

Ground and center yourself by paying attention to your physical body and your breath. Scan your body with your mind and breath from the top of your head to your toes.

Notice your thoughts, become aware of the content, rhythm, and tone of the voices inside.

What are they saying? Notice any regular, unhealthy, and harmful comments.

What do they sound like?

What do they feel like?

Observe with your mind how much pain they cause you.

Now, feel how they take you over and how they hurt.

When do they come out most strongly?

What situations provoke them? Work, family time, social occasions?

What are the voices telling you? Do they judge or criticize your body, your mind, your actions, your entire being?

Breathe. Now, replace what the voices are telling you with positive phrases that completely transforms the quality of your harmful thoughts.

Let the phrases be the most uplifting and inspiring words you can find, even if you don’t believe in them at first. They can be as simple as “I am precious.”

They can also express the healthy opposite of thoughts of guilt and shame, for example, “There is goodness within me”.

If the voices trigger anxiety, try a calming phrase like, “There is a divine plan of goodness waiting for me. I will live with trust.”

If helpful, recite in your mind the following phrases or similar phrases that resonate with you:

May I accept and love myself just as I am.

May I sense my beauty and preciousness.

May I trust this world.

May I hold myself in compassion.

May I be well.

May I be happy.

May I be at peace.

During your practice, pay particular attention to situations that trigger painful emotions.

Every time you notice the harmful and unhealthy thoughts, pause, and feel the pain. Notice the sensations in your body, breath into them, relax, and try to let them go. Imagine the pain being release with every inhalation and exhalation.

Hold your pain with gentleness and kindness. If you want, physically hold yourself by wrapping your arms around you. Then inwardly recite your phrases, firmly, and deliberately. It does not matter if they sound false to you, if you don’t quite believe in them. Say them anyway, out of self-compassion, as a way out of your suffering. You may need to say these phrases a thousand times before you realize they are working.

Keep repeating the practice until it feels natural for you.

As you practice again and again, relax, and be gentle with yourself.


Let your mind, body, and heart rest naturally.

May you accept and love yourself just as you are.

May you sense your beauty and preciousness.

May you trust this world.

May you hold yourself in compassion.

May you be well.

May you be happy.

May you be at peace.


Want to reflect on what you’ve just read and learn how you can cultivate self-compassion?

I’d like to share with you a workbook with some reflection questions and a meditation practice on cultivating self-compassion.

Download the free workbook!


What do you say to yourself when you make mistakes? Will you repeat the same thing to any of your loved ones?

What are the negative self-talk that adds to your stress and keeps you from being happy? What can you say differently to yourself that is positive?

What standards do you set for yourself? Are you being realistic given the resources available to you—your true desires, time, and energy?

In what ways can you practice more self-compassion in your life?

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