Boost motivation using self-compassion

My research and master's thesis was on the topic of self-compassion. I chose this topic because I noticed over the years how hard people are on themselves; the unrelenting standards they hold and set for themselves, and the daily unkind, negative self-talk they use to motivate themselves, particularly with women. So, when the research started to emerge, it was my go-to topic for research.


I interviewed a small group of incredibly smart, successful women business owners. I found that no matter what they achieved, what they accomplished, in working towards the next goal, the next challenge, the same thing happened. It broke my heart to see. 

Every participant had admitted these are not words, sentences or phrases they would ever use on anyone else and yet they used them on themselves.

Research on self-compassion has grown extensively in the last 20 years. It has been found to offer numerous mental health and well-being benefits, including life satisfaction, optimism, happiness, gratitude, resilience to cope with stressful life events, emotional intelligence, enhancing relationships, compassion for others and pro-social behaviour, whilst helping to reduce stress, anxiety, overwhelm, depression, fear of failure, burnout to name a few.

What is self-compassion?

Paul Gilbert, Christopher Germer and Kristen Neff have been the main pioneers and key researchers in the area of building self-compassion to improve our mental health and well-being.

"Self-compassion is treating yourself the way you would treat a friend who is having a hard time or suffering so that you are as caring to yourself as you are to others.”

- Kristen Neff

Neff's definition of self-compassion encompasses three core components:

  • First, it requires ‘self-kindness’ - that we be gentle, kind and understanding with ourselves rather than harsh, critical and judgemental. 
  • Second, it requires recognising our ‘common humanity’ - feeling connected with others in the experience and challenges of life, rather than feeling like we are alone and isolated in our suffering. 
  • Lastly, it requires us to be ‘mindful’ - that we just acknowledge and just notice how we are feeling, holding it in gentle, balanced awareness, not ignoring, pushing it down, pushing it away or exaggerating it, but understanding and accepting ourselves fully and completely in that moment.

Neff shares that, “When we are mindful of our struggles, and respond to ourselves with compassion, kindness, and support in times of difficulty, things start to change. We can learn to embrace ourselves and our lives, despite inner and outer imperfections, and provide ourselves with the strength needed to thrive.”

Self-compassion can actually motivate us like a good coach, with kindness, empathy, support, and understanding.

The first crucial step toward self-compassion is helping us to feel safe from harm. Often, the harm we are inflicting on ourselves, often in unconscious ways, unknowingly and instead giving ourselves what we really need, kindness and support.

Self-criticism so often can be the first reaction when things go wrong. But, when we criticise ourselves, we are putting additional stress on the mind and body, and in the long term, chronic stress can cause severe anxiety and depression. There is research to show that habitual self-criticism is bad for our emotional and physical well-being.

When we practice self-compassion, we are deactivating the threat-defense system and activating the care system. Oxytocin and endorphins are released, which helps reduce stress and instead offers a feeling of safety and security that’s nurturing and calming. 

How to increase self-compassion

Exercise 1: How you treat yourself vs how you treat others

Close your eyes and reflect for a moment on the following question for around five minutes. You can set a timer if this helps you. Think about various times when you’ve had a close friend who was struggling in some way, failed, or felt inadequate who had just reached out and shared this with you.

How do you typically respond to your friends, colleagues, family members in such situations? What do you say? What tone do you use? What do you do?

Now close your eyes again and reflect on the second question for around three minutes. Think about various times when you were struggling in some way, had a misfortune, failed, or felt inadequate. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? What do you say to yourself? What tone do you use? 

Then consider the differences between how you treat your close friends, colleagues and family when they are struggling and how you treat yourself. Are there any differences in your language, tone, or words?

When doing this exercise, I've found the majority of people are more compassionate to others than to themselves. Often, it’s how we’ve been taught, it’s part of our culture, especially as girls and so we need to intentionally practice creating a loving kindness relationship with ourselves in the same way.

Exercise 2: Guided instructions for loving-kindness meditation (seven consecutive days)

The loving-kindness meditation is an all-inclusive method that works for all ages, personalities and situations. The simple meditation can be practised anywhere, at any time, and any place. There is no right or wrong way of practising loving-kindness, as long as you are committed to offering yourself unconditional love and self-appreciation.

As a beginner to the loving-kindness meditation, keep it simple, focusing more on the words, and the feelings it creates. There are also no hard and fast rules about which phrases you use; I have given examples of the phrases frequently used but as long as it resonates with you, that's all that matters.

Traditionally, it starts with directing the phrases to oneself and then to others. In Buddhism, it is taught that until we can treat ourselves with love and compassion, we are not truly able to offer the same to others. For the exercise here you can start with yourself until you feel ready to direct the phrases to others, friends, family, relatives, or colleagues.

A few points to help you along:

  • It’s a good idea to set a timer for 10 minutes when you begin, this just prevents distractions or over-worrying about the minutes of training.
  • When you repeat the phrases to yourself, make sure you take time to pause, listen to the words, soak in the meaning, and notice how it makes you feel. There is no rush.
  • After each session, just sit for a few minutes taking in the experience. You can maintain a journal for recording how you felt before, after, and during the meditation session.

So, to get started, choose somewhere to sit that’s quiet, comfortable and warm. Close your eyes, and take three or four slow deep breaths in and out to relax and help you feel centred and grounded. Then quietly repeat to yourself these phrases or similar that resonate with you.

To self:

  • May I be happy and healthy
  • May I be loved unconditionally
  • May I be safe at all times
  • May I be free

To others:

  • May you be happy and healthy
  • May you be loved unconditionally 
  • May you be safe at all times
  • May you be free

As mentioned, after you’ve repeated the lines a few times, just pause for a moment of contemplation and reflection, soaking in the words fully, noticing how you feel before you open your eyes again.

Please note: Some people experience some resistance and, if you do that’s natural, you are not doing anything wrong. Please be mindful and kind to yourself in this practice. If it feels highly uncomfortable, you always have the option to stop.

When you practice loving-kindness or compassion meditation, it’s important that you give without expecting anything in return. You will undoubtedly get something out of a compassion-based practice, but immediate results should not be expected.

These interventions have been used as part of the Mindful Self-Compassion program, which is eight weeks long. If you are interested and would like a deeper understanding of self-compassion, please review their website for further details. 

If you have any questions at any time please do not hesitate to get in touch


Gerber, C. and Neff, K. (2019) Teaching the Mindful Self Compassion Program, a guide for professionals, The Guidford Press.

Neff, K. (2011) Self Compassion, stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind, William Morris.

Neff, K, and Germer, C. (2018) The Mindful Self Compassion Workbook, The Guildford Press. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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