Have a Little Compassion, Starting with You

The mind has a tendency to set very high standards, holding ourselves and others to perfectionistic expectations. The voice of the mind judges and evaluates our every thought and action. Activated by fear, this voice takes action when it senses danger. Our response might be to fight – criticize or belittle ourselves; to take flight – distract ourselves; to freeze – stay stuck and ruminate; or to submit – resign ourselves and end up feeling unworthy or ashamed.

Practicing self-compassion breaks the patterns of the harsh critic of our mind. By understanding what we want, recognizing our feelings, and letting go of self-judgment, we begin to move away from fear. Exercising such loving-kindness for ourselves, we are better able to offer it to others.

Consistently try one or all of these 3 mindful practices and note any shifts in your attention, awareness, and judgment.

Exploring What You Want

We betray our true selves when we do not follow the heart’s desire, For what the heart is attracted to, is your destiny.

~Leon Brown

At least once a day, pause and explore one of these questions: “What do I want?” “What do I value?” “What is my heart’s desire?” You might start with the ‘stuff’ you want (a warm or cool room to sleep in, a meal of your favorite food) and then after getting used to considering what you want on this level, look underneath for insights into why these things are important to you (to treat yourself well, to celebrate an accomplishment).

Digging Underneath the Feeling

Suffering is due to our disconnection with our inner soul. Meditation is establishing that connection.

~Amit Ray

Find a place where you can reflect for a few minutes. Remember a time when you felt very angry. Go back to that experience. Recall how you felt the anger in your body, and in your mind.

  1. What physical sensations did you experience? What thoughts were you having?
  2. What tender feeling might the anger be hiding? What is not being seen, listened to, recognized, or loved?
  3. What would you tell a dear friend if they were feeling this? What words and tone would you share? What gestures would you display?

Letting Go of Self Judgment

Our self judgement is the biggest barrier to our friendship…with ourselves.

~Tsunyota Kohe’t

Next time you notice your inner critic at work, invite it to take a little break with you.

  1. Acknowledge the critic (e.g., “I notice that I am feeling inadequate.”).
  2. Accept the feeling (e.g., “Feeling insecure is a natural human response.”)
  3. Just sit with the feeling for 90 seconds, focusing on your breathing.
  4. Check-in and see if there is some space for more choices about how you respond to the critic.

You might combine these practices with focused breathinggratitude practice, and mini-habits to understand better why mindfulness matters.

Author’s Note: This post was co-authored by Katiuscia Barretta and first appeared on the IBM Jobs Blog on June 2, 2016.


Vicki Flaherty
Vicki Flaherty
VICKI FLAHERTY creates and spreads joy in the world through one-on-one coaching to support individuals being their best, facilitating mindfulness and resilience-related experiences, blogging about leadership and life, and capturing moments of joy through her photography and poetry. She believes in being present in the moment, focusing on what really matters, honoring every individual, listening from a place of openness and caring, examining issues from different perspectives, and acting with passion, courage, and creativity. The common thread of her career is that every step involves helping people succeed. As an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, she designed a variety of people-focused experiences such as onboarding, mentoring, career development, and talent management programs for organizations. She’s created leadership, mindfulness and resilience programs for a Fortune 50 company, and is most fulfilled when facilitating experiences that help people lead their lives with clarity, intention, and authenticity, and that encourage health and wellbeing. She loves taking long walks along the Iowa River, cooking delicious food, and traveling with her husband, and she enjoys yoga, gardening, writing, and photography. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter, and subscribe to her blogs: Leading with Intention, And Then Opens Possibility, Where Possibility Awaits, the joyfull eye, and the small things.

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  1. Knowing yourself is tiring and, in some cases, a little painful, but only in this way can we take the reins of our life in hand.
    Plato said: “before thinking about changing the world, making revolutions, meditating new constitutions, establishing a new order, first of all go down into your heart, make order, harmony and peace reign. Only afterwards, look for souls who resemble you and take action “.
    We don’t always know each other enough. However, aiming for greater self-awareness is important, because it leads to improving what we don’t like about us, allowing us to be more satisfied. Sometimes we think we know each other, but what we see about us is only a reflection of what others think and say about us. If this is perfectly normal in childhood, in adulthood it is necessary to deal with what we really are, looking at what is really hidden within us or we will risk acting to please others, giving them our lives.
    Knowing oneself better means having some real benefits in return, such as knowing more exactly what we want; have greater decision-making power; have the opportunity to be more creative; be able to identify the causes of our malaise more easily; improve our self-esteem; improve the quality of our social and personal relationships, and so on.

    • Aldo, I love your list of ways that knowing ourselves can be beneficial. Knowing more clearly what I want, having higher quality relationships, and being more creative have been a big ones for me. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this Vicki,
    We have to be our own best friend. I’ve always promoted this since I discovered I was buried in myself.. Deep in us is our little selves… who we always were.. the one inside watching you…and we need this compassion. The five steps i always stress are Acknowledge, Accept, FORGIVE, Adjust and Evolve… Forgiveness of self is the hardest. We are our own worst critiques I like that you stress tips here on how one can become better acquainted with themselves, or as I say. The higher self. Thank you for this. Great read. I think we have a lot in common😃