How self-compassion can help achieve your coaching goals
Imagine this scenario. You would like to change jobs and have been meaning to take steps for some time now. You see jobs to apply for but your inner voice says, “It’s not worth applying, I’ll never get that job, I’m not good enough, I’ll make a mess of the interview…” And so you stay where you are and don’t apply. Messages like this lower our self-esteem, reduce our confidence and our self-worth takes a nosedive.
What if instead we had an inner voice that was like a best friend or mentor, encouraging us and giving us a valuable boost when we needed it? Don’t you think it would be more motivating and encouraging? This is how self-compassion can help in coaching, and the good news is that it can be learnt.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is about treating ourselves in the way that we would treat someone we cared about who was having a tough time.
Have you noticed how we often talk to ourselves in a way we’d never talk to someone else? Maybe you failed an important exam, does something along the lines of this inner dialogue sound familiar? “You idiot, you didn’t study hard enough, and now you are never going to get a good job. You’ve messed this up and everyone is going to think you are stupid.” Now imagine that you said these words to a friend, you probably wouldn’t have that friend for very long! It probably wouldn’t be very motivating for them either.
The inner critic voice
Did you notice how judgmental and critical the above inner dialogue was? The voice in our heads is sometimes known as our inner critic, and it thinks it’s helping us, and indeed sometimes it does, giving us the kick we need to make changes. But it’s like sticks and carrots. Over the long term, all those kicks or sticks can be very demoralising and chip away at our self-esteem, making us doubt ourselves and think we’re not good enough.
Our self-worth gets lower and perhaps we procrastinate and don’t do the things in life that are important to us. Or maybe we over-obsess with doing things perfectly, checking and rechecking our work or become a workaholic. These are issues that people often bring to coaching sessions.
Sticks and carrots
So where does self-compassion come in? It’s like the carrots in the ‘sticks and carrots’ analogy. It’s the inner voice that encourages us and supports us in both the good and the bad times. It’s not something vague or airy-fairy that we’re talking about here, research shows that individuals who are more self-compassionate tend to have greater happiness, have higher life satisfaction, more motivation, better relationships and physical health, and less anxiety and depression. So surely it’s worth exploring for all these potential benefits?
Three elements to self-compassion
Kirsten Neff is the leading researcher in the field of self-compassion and she has identified three key elements:
When life gets difficult, instead of giving ourselves a hard time and criticising our behaviour, we offer ourselves understanding and an acknowledgment that actually things are pretty tough right now. We can soothe and comfort ourselves and accept ourselves without judgment for whatever we feel right now.
Some words you might use to comfort yourself might be, “Hey there, what you are going through right now is really tough. I’m here for you to support you through it. I’m sorry I can’t make the pain go away but I’m here for you.”
2. Common humanity
When we have a problem it can often feel like we’re the only person in the world with that problem, and that can make us feel very isolated and alone. But if we really look around us, we see that everyone goes through suffering and problems at one time or another, it’s a part of what makes us human – none of us can be perfect and avoid suffering. So when we have a problem, it’s worth remembering that we’re not alone in our suffering. Try to feel that connection with other people who have been there too.
This involves being in the present moment, accepting how you feel without judgment or criticism. We can become consumed trying to make a problem go away, but in mindfulness we sit with the problem, accepting that it is there, observing the pain without resisting or avoiding it. We try not to judge ourselves by saying things ‘this problem shows that I’m such a failure’ or ‘I’m never going to be a success.’
Sometimes it can help to take some slow deep breaths before observing the pain, to calm the mind and body down. Mindfulness gives us a more objective perspective from which to go on to take values-led actions.
How is this helpful to my coaching goals?
Improve confidence and self worth
Some people worry that they won’t be able to be successful and to motivate themselves without their harsh inner critic voice, but again research shows that this is not the case. People who give themselves self-compassion cope better with difficult situations such as chronic pain, divorce and trauma.
Self-criticism also tends to chip away at self-esteem and confidence and can lead to a fear of failure, which can lead people to avoid achieving their goals. These are issues that many people bring to coaching sessions – so by increasing self-compassion we can help to increase confidence, self-worth and belief in the ability to succeed and overcome barriers towards their goals.
Build better relationships
Maybe you think it’s selfish to be self-compassionate, and that you should instead be learning to love other people rather than yourself, but research shows that people who are self-compassionate tend to be more caring in relationships and are more forgiving and less judgmental towards others.
I once coached someone who was struggling to develop good relationships with her colleagues at work. We discovered in our sessions that she had little self-compassion for herself, and through our coaching she learnt to develop it. This in turn helped her to build better and less-judgmental relationships with her colleagues – because she was less critical of herself, she found she could be less critical of others.
More focus on your long-term goals
Perhaps you think self-compassion will make you lazy and more self-indulgent and less focused on your long term goals, yet people who practice self-compassion tend to be less focused on short-term pleasure and are more focused on long term health and well-being. They are more likely to eat well, drink less and visit the doctor more regularly.
So if your coaching goal is to get fit and healthy, are you giving yourself a hard time about not reaching your target? What effect does that have? Does it motivate you towards your goal or take you further away from it?
So how can I boost my self compassion?
Well, clearly I’m going to suggest seeing a coach who specialises in self-compassion! But you can also try some of the following at home:
1. Give yourself a hug
Next time you feel stressed, give yourself a big hug or put your hand on your heart, or rub your arms in a soothing way.
2. Talk to yourself as if you were talking to a dear friend
What kind words would you say to them? If this doesn’t come easy to you, imagine that someone who really cares for you is with you, what would they say to you right now? Then say those words to yourself.
3. What do you need?
Ask yourself ‘What do I need right now?’ or ‘What do I need to hear right now?”. These simple questions are very self-compassionate.
4. Remember that everybody suffers
Remind yourself that ‘this is a moment of suffering’ and that ‘everybody goes through suffering, it’s a part of life.’
5. ‘I’m here for you’
Tell yourself ‘I’m here for you, I won’t let you down” or ‘I accept myself just as I am.’ These reassuring statements provide self-kindness.
Listen to some mindful self-compassion meditations. The ‘Center for Mindful Self-Compassion’ has some good online meditation practices.
So why not make self-compassion a part of your daily life and see for yourself?