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Copyright © 2019 by Althea Press, Emeryville, California No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as permitted under Sections 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without the prior written permission of the Publisher. Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Permissions Department, Althea Press, 6005 Shellmound Street, Suite 175, Emeryville, CA 94608. Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: The Publisher and the author make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this work and specifically disclaim all warranties, including without limitation warranties of fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales or promotional materials. 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Interior and Cover Designer: Tina Besa Art Manager: Sue Bischofberger Editor: Camille Hayes Production Editor: Erum Khan ISBN: Print 978-1-64152-261-8 | eBook 978-1-64152-262-5 To my warm, wise, and heartfelt partner in work and in life, Dennis—for all you are and all you do, I love you. CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE Why We Need Self-Compassion Your Path to Self-Compassion SECTION 1 Compassion for Your Feelings CHAPTER TWO Self-Compassion & Your Emotions CHAPTER THREE Self-Compassion & Your Body CHAPTER FOUR Your Self-Compassion Plan SECTION 2 Compassion for Your Thoughts CHAPTER FIVE Thoughts vs. Reality CHAPTER SIX Getting Unstuck from Thoughts CHAPTER SEVEN Your Self-Compassion Plan SECTION 3 Compassion for Your Actions CHAPTER EIGHT The Inner Critic & Your Actions CHAPTER NINE Moving Beyond the Inner Critic CHAPTER TEN Your Self-Compassion Plan SECTION 4 The Compassionate Life CHAPTER ELEVEN Practicing Compassion for Others CHAPTER TWELVE The Road Ahead RESOURCES REFERENCES ABOUT THE AUTHOR CHAPTER ONE Why We Need Self-Compassion What Is Self-Compassion? FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, spiritual and meditation traditions have believed that training our minds in compassion can transform our lives. Psychological research is now confirming this, and cutting-edge methods are being developed to help people learn how to cultivate compassion in their everyday lives. As this body of research grows, we’re discovering that the most important kind of compassion we can develop often is the compassion we feel not for others, but for ourselves. Known as “self-compassion,” the ability to mindfully turn our caring and supportive nature toward ourselves and our own struggles has been shown to enhance resilience and courage, even in the face of life's toughest challenges. This book is about how you can develop self-compassion to help navigate your life with greater awareness, mindfulness, and kindness for yourself and all you encounter. It’s my hope that the skills you’ll learn in this book will equip you to build a fulfilling, values-driven life, so that when challenges come, you’ll be able to meet them from a position of strength, acceptance, and self-love. Life will be challenging for all of us at times; everyone suffers. The only unknown is when and how we will face our struggles, not whether they’ll come. Some of us may experience untimely, tragic losses. Others may endure traumatic events. For some of us, our biggest source of suffering may just be a nagging sense that there is something wrong with us, or that we aren’t “enough.” In addition to the twists and turns of our individual life, there’s the basic fact that we will all know sickness, aging, and death, in ourselves and in those we love. This kind of pain is built into the human experience, which is just one of many reasons we all need compassion. At its heart, compassion is our ability to be present with and carry the suffering we encounter in others through a supportive bond. In turn, self-compassion is about facing our own difficulties and struggles with the same commitment and open-heartedness that we would bring to a person we love. Self-compassion involves awareness, understanding, and the courage to be with suffering in a supportive way. In this book, we’ll learn how to build self-compassion, and how to use this new strength to treat ourselves better, make healthier decisions, overcome our emotional obstacles, and live fuller, richer lives. The Elements of Self-Compassion Self-compassion has a few different elements, and so building the skills and habits in this area will take us down somewhat separate—but parallel—paths. The basic elements include: →AWARENESS & ATTENTION: To be able to provide compassion for yourself, you first should become more attuned to your own feelings and needs. This means training yourself to mindfully notice and acknowledge when you are experiencing distress. With self-compassion, we can acknowledge uncomfortable thoughts and emotions without trying to avoid or change what we’re feeling. Imagine I’m taking my kids to a water park, about an hour’s drive away. About 20 minutes into our drive, I realize I forgot to pack their bathing suits. Like many of us, I would probably immediately start thinking self-critical things like, “I can’t believe it! How could you be so stupid?!” My chest might tighten with anxiety or shame. To exercise self-compassionate awareness in a stressful moment like this, I would let myself experience these thoughts and feelings as they arise, paying attention to them without being overwhelmed by them—and without taking them as truth. After all, forgetting to pack bathing suits doesn’t mean I’m stupid. My mind might tell me that in the heat of the moment, but most thoughts subside pretty quickly if we don’t fight them or cling to them. To practice self-compassion requires attentiveness, sensitivity to our own emotions, and acceptance of our experience. →UNDERSTANDING: Growing in self-compassion allows us to see things as they are, rather than how we tell ourselves they are or should be. This means we can shed light on what’s causing our suffering, and what we can do about it. It requires the willingness to turn toward what’s causing us pain rather than avoiding it, which can involve appreciating that many of the things we take personally, or blame ourselves for, are simply part of the human condition. When we realize that suffering is part of our shared experience, we can lighten up on how much we shame and blame ourselves. So instead of buying into my self-criticism or struggling to change how I feel about forgetting the bathing suits, I can realize that my intention was to be helpful, to get my family ready for the outing, and that their happiness matters to me. Then I can allow the understanding that forgetting something is just an oversight, the kind of mistake that busy, multitasking minds are prone to make. I can imagine what I’d say to a friend in a similar situation, and it definitely wouldn’t be “You’re an idiot!” Instead, I’d likely offer reassurance or a practical suggestion. Acting from a place of self-compassion, the next steps are clearer. →MOTIVATION & COMMITMENT TO ACTION: Self-compassion is more than a feeling; it means being willing to act and respond in ways that are helpful, kind, and supportive of ourselves, even when we’re in pain. It means treating ourselves the way we’d treat someone we love. On my trip to the water park, rather than allowing panic, anger, or shame to overwhelm me, I can communicate the situation to my family and find a solution. Perhaps a neighbor can meet me halfway, or I can turn the car around and go back, making the most of our time together in the car. Sometimes there won’t be a perfect solution, but proceeding from a place of self-kindness, as opposed to self-blame, lets us meet challenges in a calmer frame of mind—and that calm will lead to better thinking and decision making. Throughout the book, we’ll use specific practices to cultivate the elements of self-compassion, ultimately learning how to live healthier, more effective, and more meaningful lives. You’ll learn how to take good care of yourself, and how to find a better friend within yourself than you ever dared hope for in the world. This friend is going to take you by the hand as you build a bigger, more empowered, and more rewarding life. How to Use This Book This book is based on what I have learned over my years of using compassion-based approaches in therapy with clients and training other therapists. The book contains four main sections. The first three—“Compassion for Your Feelings,” “Compassion for Your Thoughts,” and “Compassion for Your Actions”—focus on major areas of experience where you can apply self-compassion practices. The final section—“The Compassionate Life”—will help you bring what you’ve learned into the greater world beyond your individual experience. You can read the book from start to finish, and explore the ideas and practices in the order in which I’ve presented them. You can also go directly to a particular section that appeals on any given day, depending on how you’re feeling or what you’re dealing with at that moment. The “Path to Self-Compassion” flow chart can help you decide which of the practical strategies you want to start using regularly—and how best to integrate them into your life. Remember, you get to determine how you would like to personalize your approach to cultivating self-compassion. Whatever way you choose to make your way through the book, you should plan on reading all the sections eventually, since the skills and concepts build on and reinforce each other. Throughout the book, you’ll find a number of self-compassion practices, labeled “Try This.” These suggested strategies come from psychological techniques that have been researched and shown to be effective in helping all kinds of people facing a variety of challenges develop their capacity for compassion. Each chapter also contains sidebars called “Self-Compassion in Action,” which provide examples of real people putting the power of self-compassion to work.* *PLEASE NOTE: In all the client examples used throughout the book, names and identifying information have been changed to protect privacy. Each main section ends with a chapter that provides guidelines and suggestions for how to integrate what you are learning into your daily life, so that these approaches to self-compassion ultimately become habit. Getting Started It’s important to keep in mind that this work can be challenging. Learning self-compassion involves facing our struggles, which can mean that, at times, some of the practices evoke difficult thoughts or emotions. This is a normal part of the process. Your main responsibility throughout is to take good care of yourself and go at your own pace. I recommend checking in with yourself periodically and using the Path to Self-Compassion flow chart to keep in touch with what’s best for you. You’ll need a notebook to record your experiences and complete some of the exercises. This will become your own self-compassion guidebook. Just like learning anything new, the key is persistence, patience, and practice. But before you begin, it would be helpful to consider a few things. So, please get out that notebook and jot down your thoughts. →You’ll need to find regular time and space to engage in this work, so consider when and where. →Committing to the work is important; some people find it helpful to put up encouraging notes where they’ll be seen. →If you feel blocked or unwilling to continue, use the Path to Self-Compassion flow chart to get you back on track. It’s also okay to take a break and come back to the work when you’re ready. Your Path to Self-Compassion This quick-start guide will help you find the set of strategies to target your specific self-compassion goals. This book has an array of strategies and techniques that are proven effective at increasing self-compassion. Any of the strategies will teach you to treat yourself more compassionately, but you can also choose them based on what you want to work on in the moment. In general, it’s recommended that you work through the chapters in order. However, if you have a specific area you want to prioritize, feel free to start your work with that section. begin Prepare the mind and body for self-compassion Centering Rhythmic Breathing feelings Bring self-compassion to your emotions and bodily experiences through →Awareness of your emotional experiences →Suspending judgment of emotions →Suspending judgment of your body thoughts Bring self-compassion to your thoughts through →Mindful awareness of your thinking →Recognizing your worth →Challenging negative thoughts actions Bring self-compassion to your actions by →Acting compassionately in response to self-criticism →Building resilience with compassionate self-coaching →Taking action toward your values WHAT YOU’LL LEARN IN THIS SECTION We often think of our minds and bodies as separate, but if we stop to think about it, we realize they’re intimately interconnected. Imagine you are about to give an important speech to a large group, and, like many of us, public speaking makes you nervous. As you’re waiting, looking out at a room full of faces, how might you feel physically? You’d probably experience tension in your muscles, an increase in body temperature, or sweating. Your heart might race. You might feel a fluttering in your stomach, or even nausea. Your hands or legs might feel shaky. Our emotions have a significant impact on our physical bodies, and the way we feel physically also impacts how we feel emotionally. These two types of “feelings”—emotions and bodily sensations—are what we’ll explore in this section. Self-compassion teaches us that we can, and should, treat ourselves with kindness and acceptance, even in those moments when what we feel is uncomfortable or distressing. Together, we’ll learn how to pay attention to and understand our feeling states, so we can respond more effectively without getting carried away, and so we are less likely to get caught up in a struggle to change or suppress those feelings. CHAPTER TWO Self-Compassion & Your Emotions Why We Feel What We Feel EMOTIONS ARE UNIVERSAL. We’re all born equipped to feel a range of emotional experiences, from the elation of joy to the hopelessness of despair. Emotions bring color and intensity to our everyday experiences, and if we pay attention, they can provide us with important information on how we’re experiencing things moment to moment. Our strongest emotions—like love—can give our lives meaning and purpose. However, emotions can also be challenging and, at times, quite painful. All too often we fall into the habit of judging ourselves for having certain feelings, such as fear or vulnerability. It’s also common to try to avoid unpleasant feelings, and in so doing, we cause ourselves even more pain. Emotions serve an important purpose in that they help us interpret our experiences and successfully navigate the world. Anxiety, happiness, and excitement can highlight and guide us toward what matters and also let us know if a given situation or interaction is going well or not. Do we feel confident? Threatened? Bored? Anxious? When we tune in to our emotions, we find a wealth of crucial information. We have many different types of emotions that function to help us in different ways. For example, we experience: →Emotions that signal threat or danger: anger, fear, or disgust. →Emotions that alert us to losses or disappointments: sadness, remorse, or grief. →Emotions that show us things we like, or want to achieve or acquire: excitement, desire, anticipation, and joy. →Emotions that help us feel soothed, safe, and connected: contentment and calm. We also can and often do experience more than one emotion in any given moment. A single event or experience can bring up a range of emotions, which sometimes makes understanding and responding to our emotions challenging. For instance, going on a first date might cause a mixture of happiness and anxiety, while making a mistake at work might evoke anxiety, anger, and possibly even sadness. Each evoked emotion comes with different sensations, thoughts, and motivations. When we experience a mix of emotions, it can sometimes feel like they’re pulling us in different directions. If we can learn to approach our emotions with self-compassionate awareness and understanding, we are more likely to be able to experience our emotions without being ruled by them. Self-compassionate approaches to emotions allow us to accept, understand, and respond to our emotional experiences in a helpful way. This can prevent our feelings from randomly taking over our actions and essentially running our lives. Getting Centered To prepare for engaging with your emotions, you’ll begin with a primary practice that lays the foundation for much mind-body work: centering rhythmic breathing. Variations of this practice are used in many forms of compassion training, from ancient yogic meditations, to Tibetan Buddhist visualizations, to modern psychotherapy techniques. In fact, rhythmic breathing exercise is a foundational practice in Compassion Focused Therapy, a type of therapy developed by Paul Gilbert. This initial exercise in training the mind in compassion is directly related to cultivating self-compassionate awareness and attention (introduced in chapter 1) and will be the first step on your path to self-compassion. The aim here is to learn to center your awareness, slowing down your mind and body. This frees you to focus your attention on accessing compassionate awareness. From this grounding in mindful compassion, you can truly pay attention to what’s going on here and now. CENTERING RHYTHMIC BREATHING Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit. Sit upright, with a straight but relaxed spine, so you can breathe comfortably and deeply. Feel free to adjust your posture at any time to remain in a comfortable and open position throughout this practice. Allow your eyes to close, and bring your awareness to your breath. Let your attention gently rest on each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the gentle rise of your chest or belly when breathing in. Notice the gentle fall of your chest or belly as you breathe out. Feel yourself letting go. Simply allow yourself to notice the sensations of breathing. Your mind will wander. It is what minds do. When you notice this happening, gently bring your awareness back to your experience of breathing. With your next inhalation, see if you can allow your breath to gradually slow, extending the in-breath and allowing it to be slower, deeper, and longer. As much as you can, breathe slowly, smoothly, and evenly. Feel the in-breath for a count of four to five seconds, hold for a moment, and release the out-breath for four to five seconds. Take a few moments to experiment to find a pace that feels right. Stay with the even, slow rhythm. Focusing on the full experience of the slow, even in-breath and slow, even out-breath, rest your awareness in the act of breathing, holding yourself in kindness, for a few moments longer. Before you open your eyes, give yourself some credit for taking time to practice caring for yourself in this way. Next, expand your awareness, feeling your feet on the floor, your weight supported by the chair or ground, your open posture. When you are ready, at your own pace, open your eyes, exhaling and letting go of this practice. We can learn how to slow down our bodies and minds and focus our attention through this kind of breath training. I’d like you to try this practice at least a couple of times, to get a feeling for what mindfulness practice and conscious calming can be like. If you wish, this centering rhythmic breathing practice can become a regular meditation practice. Using an audio guide, or recording yourself reading the above instructions, may be a helpful way to use this practice more often. To begin, try to do this daily for at least a week, for 5 to 10 minutes each time. From this foundation, we can practice noticing and responding to specific emotions or other experiences in new, more compassionate ways. I know that many of us aren’t going to dive right in and meditate every day, but I hope that as you work through this book, you’ll experiment with these practices as much as you can. Noticing & Naming Your Emotions Emotional awareness and acceptance allow us the freedom to choose how we want to respond, rather than simply reacting from a state of heightened emotion. This begins with learning to observe, identify, and label emotions with the use of self-compassionate awareness and attention. As I mentioned in chapter 1, compassionate awareness and attention is the first step in bringing self-compassion to our daily lives. We begin the process of tuning in to our emotions by paying attention to how they make us feel in our body. Grounded in our breath, we can now practice identifying and labeling, or naming, what we feel. With this next practice, see if you can name your emotions and the experiences that come with them. OBSERVING & IDENTIFYING YOUR EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCES Over the next few days, see if you can track your emotional experiences. When you notice a change in how you’re feeling, see if you can observe and identify the emotional experience. Get out your notebook and create a tracking sheet for yourself that looks something like the one here. Day & time What is the situation? What is happening right now? What emotion(s) am I feeling? What do I feel in my body? What do I feel like doing? Are You Judging Your Emotions? Noticing and understanding our emotions can be tricky. There are many reasons for this. For one, we may be used to ignoring or judging certain emotions, or only focusing on certain types of emotions. Despite the universal nature of emotions, the ways in which we relate to these emotions can vary significantly, and how any of us judge or handle our emotions may depend on many different factors. For instance, your genetics, the ways in which you learned or didn’t learn about dealing with emotions (perhaps by observing family members), your life experiences, or cultural factors can all influence how you respond to your feelings. Growing up, some of us are taught that certain ways of expressing emotions are bad or harmful. For example, we might learn that “boys don’t cry” or “good girls don’t have a bad temper.” As a result, we may learn to be ashamed of certain emotions, or believe certain feelings are abnormal. We may be afraid that if we feel angry we will hurt other people, and so we come to fear our own anger—which is a problem, because anger is a normal, healthy emotion. Some of us believe that we can’t acknowledge our emotions or we will lose control or be rejected. These kinds of judgments and beliefs can lead to much suffering and unhelpful behaviors like avoidance, denial, or suppression of emotions, all of which can ultimately lead to even more self-judgment and internal struggle. HOW DO YOU JUDGE YOUR EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCES? Use your notebook to record your answers to the following questions about your emotional experiences: →Do you feel your emotions are invalid, wrong, or inaccurate? →Do you ever feel your emotions don’t make sense? →Do you ever feel guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed of your emotions? →Are there emotions you find unacceptable or unhelpful? →Are there emotions you find valuable or helpful? →Do you believe your emotions are different from other people’s emotions? →Do you ever refuse to acknowledge or express your emotions? →Are there other ways in which you judge your emotions? For any of the questions you answered “yes” to, now answer these follow-up questions: →What are some examples? →Does this apply to all emotions or only certain ones? List them. Once we’re able to identify our emotional experiences and our judgments of them, we can engage in self-compassionate understanding. This understanding means we can appreciate both our unique experiences of emotions, and that we’re not alone in having them. Compassionate understanding of emotions recognizes that having emotions isn’t wrong or bad. This is the first step toward validation and self-acceptance. We can remember there is a reason we learned to judge our experiences, but we don’t have to be dominated by these judgments. At the same time, we can remind ourselves that it is okay to have emotions, no matter what they are. We can then bring understanding to the experience by asking ourselves, why does it make sense that I’m feeling this way? VALIDATING & ACCEPTING YOUR EMOTIONS Close your eyes and take a few mindful, slow, even breaths, or engage in centering rhythmic breathing. Then bring to mind a time when you were judging or attempting to avoid an emotional experience. Once you have an example in mind, answer the following questions in your notebook. If you’re having trouble answering these questions, it may be helpful to think about what you might say to a friend in a similar situation. Bring awareness and attention to your emotions and responses to them: →What is the name and experience of the emotion(s)? (identify the emotion, physical sensations, and any other feelings accompanying it) →How am I judging or trying to avoid this experience? (identify any judgments or attempts to avoid the emotion) Validate and accept the emotion(s): →Why does it make sense that I’m feeling this emotion as a human being? (practice recognizing that all humans have emotions) →Why does it make sense that I am feeling this way given my personal history? (practice recognizing your own unique history and experiences) →Why does it make sense that I am feeling this way given my current situation? (practice recognizing the current causes or situation of your emotions and responses) →Am I able to acknowledge or accept that I’m having this emotion, even if it’s one I don’t want to be having? (practice allowing the emotion[s] you’re noticing to be here) Compassionate understanding, validation, and acceptance of our emotions also bring the knowledge that we don’t always have to act on our emotions or our responses to them. The more we understand the true nature of our feelings and our judgments about them, the more effective we can be in responding to and managing them. Turning Toward Difficult Emotions Once we’ve learned to acknowledge and understand our emotions, it becomes easier to take care of ourselves when we’re struggling. We can learn more effective ways of responding to our emotions, ways that are healthier than criticizing or trying to “get rid of” our feelings. Ultimately, this leads to compassionate responding to ourselves and our emotional experiences. However, some emotions are more challenging than others. For example, it might be easy for us to accept and validate our sadness at missing home during business travel, or to make room for the love we feel for our children. But it might be harder for us to validate and accept our jealousy, anger, or anxiety. These feelings can be quite powerful, and come with much discomfort and difficulty. The kinds of judgmental responses we reviewed in the previous exercise (“How Do You Judge Your Emotional Experiences?”) can also make experiencing and responding to our emotions quite challenging. Being sensitive to our emotions, particularly distressing ones, means directly contacting difficult or powerful emotions. To learn new ways of responding to these powerful feelings, we must remain in their presence, willing to stay with them even when our instinct is to turn away. This doesn’t mean we have to overwhelm ourselves. While experiencing some discomfort is part of the process, you can go at a pace that feels manageable. Taking time away or stepping back from an exercise that feels too much can, in itself, be self-compassionate. Now, let’s practice connecting with compassionate awareness and understanding to powerful or difficult feelings. SELF-COMPASSION FOR DIFFICULT EMOTIONS This exercise is inspired in part by the Mindful Self-Compassion Program developed by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer. It is intended to help you slow down and connect with compassionate intentions for yourself when faced with powerful or difficult emotions. When a difficult or overwhelming emotion arises, practice the following: Begin by closing your eyes and placing one or both hands over your heart or stomach, or gently resting a hand on your opposite shoulder or wherever a gentle touch feels soothing. Notice the warmth and slight pressure of the touch. Bring your attention to what it feels like, noticing what sensations are present. As you allow your awareness to rest with the touch of your hand, bring part of your attention to the flow of your breathing. Take a few slow, even breaths. When you’re ready, turn your attention to the following phrases that represent the elements of self-compassion for emotions and repeat them back to yourself aloud or silently: →In this moment, I am feeling (NAME OF EMOTION). (practice connecting with self-compassionate awareness and attention) →It makes sense that I am experiencing (NAME OF EMOTION) because I am human. (practice validation and acceptance to connect with self-compassionate understanding) →May I be filled with self-compassion and take care of myself. (practice connecting with self-compassionate motivation and commitment to action) If you’d like, here are some alternative phrases for the third phrase: →May I be accepting of myself and my experiences. →May I be loving toward myself. →May I be gentle with myself. →May I be wise and understanding. →May I be strong and willing to be with this experience. →May I be courageous and committed to myself. SELF-COMPASSION IN ACTION : Accepting vs. Resisting Emotions Growing up, Ella learned that anger was an unacceptable emotion. When she expressed anger, her parents punished her, sending her to her room or refusing to speak to her until she behaved more “agreeably.” Naturally, she learned to suppress her anger, which led to avoiding disagreements, not asserting her wants and needs, and isolating herself when she was angry to avoid being rejected. She worried about being “a nasty person.” As a result, she often felt disappointed, lonely, and disconnected from those she cared about. She became afraid of her anger, but the more she resisted it, the worse she felt. When Ella began learning self-compassion, she realized that, given her history, it was understandable that she avoided anger. She learned to identify the emotion and notice the accompanying sensations of heat and tension. She began accepting it rather than fighting or avoiding it, or criticizing herself for it. She also discovered ways to be with her anger and still be caring toward herself. By slowing down, centering herself, and validating her experiences of anger, she was able to tolerate it and recognize that anger was just one of many normal, valid emotions. In time, she began to explore how she could express anger in effective, self-compassionate ways that allowed her to remain connected to those she cared about. Through practicing self-compassionate awareness, understanding, and actions, Ella learned that feeling or expressing anger did not mean she would be rejected, that it sometimes brought her closer to others, and it allowed her to live without constant fear of experiencing that emotion. Self-Compassionate Feelings As mentioned, we can experience mixed emotions and have all kinds of feelings about our feelings. Once we learn to notice, validate, and accept what we’re feeling, we can make room for self-compassion. Deliberate cultivation of self-compassion can help us respond more effectively to challenging, complex, and distressing emotional experiences. This is why part of learning self-compassion is about creating opportunities for compassionate feelings such as affiliation, warmth, kindness, and soothing, often associated with experiences of safeness and contentment. Compassionate feelings can be generated through memory or imagery of compassionate experiences, for example, or through appreciation training (monitoring or journaling about experiences of these types of emotions). GRATITUDE FOR COMPASSIONATE EMOTIONS This practice will help you keep track of what you associate with, and how you experience and appreciate, compassionate emotions. Get out your notebook and create a tracking sheet that looks something like the one here. Compassionate emotion: People I associate with these feelings Places I associate with these feelings Things I associate with these feelings How I experience (see, touch, taste, hear, smell) & appreciate these feelings Warmth Soothing Connection Kindness Courage Wrap-Up We’ve explored bringing self-compassion for emotions to the practices of self-compassionate awareness, understanding, intentions, and actions. Together we’ve learned: →To recognize the ways emotions are universal. →To prepare for self-compassion practice using centering rhythmic breathing. →To observe and label emotions. →To validate and accept feelings through compassionate understanding of the nature of emotions. →To willingly engage with and respond to powerful emotions. →To cultivate positive feelings associated with experiencing self-compassion. CHAPTER THREE Self-Compassion & Your Body OUR EXPERIENCES OF THE WORLD AROUND US and the way our bodies feel are closely connected. However, because we aren’t always consciously aware of how we feel physically, we can easily overlook how much the state of our bodies influences things like our mood, motivation level, and the lens through which we perceive what’s happening to us. Too often, instead of being nurtured, our bodies are ignored, neglected, or wind up being the focus of self-criticism. Increasing self-compassion also involves learning to cultivate awareness and paying better attention to our physical selves. In this chapter, we will begin to learn these skills and explore bodily sensations more deeply. Compassionate understanding of the impact your physical experience has on your life can lead to a new appreciation of your body, its rhythms, and its needs. Self-compassionate motivation and action can help you find ways to be more helpful and kind to the body that works so hard for you every day. Noticing Your Bodily Experiences Awareness and attention are the first steps in bringing self-compassion to your body. A good way to begin is by paying attention to how your body is feeling here and now, and how you might be responding to those feelings. Just like you practiced with your emotions, you will learn to notice and attend to how your body is functioning, your posture, your physical feelings, and the experiences of your senses. With this next exercise, I invite you to take a few moments to check in with how your body is feeling right now. NOTICING PHYSICAL SENSATIONS & EXPERIENCES Close your eyes and take a few slow, even breaths, or engage in centering rhythmic breathing. After you’ve centered your attention with your breath, bring your focus to your body. Take a brief inventory. What do you notice about your body temperature? What do you notice about your muscle tension? Do you notice any sensations of touch? Hearing? Smell? Simply allow yourself to note any and all felt experiences of your body, here and now. When you’re ready, open your eyes and get your notebook. It's time to write down some of your observations and reflections, using the following questions to guide you: →Body temperature: Are you warm, hot, cold, or cool? If so, where do you notice this? →Muscles: Are you tense or tight? Are you relaxed? If so, where do you notice this? →Other sensations: What else are you feeling in your body? Is there any tingling? Numbness? Something else? →Additional senses: Do you hear anything? Smell anything? What about taste? In this exercise, you may have noticed some judgmental thoughts or criticisms of your body. The new self-compassion skills you’re learning are not easy, but they’re even more challenging if you’re judging yourself. Self-compassion helps us become more aware of our physical experiences without judging them. Once we are more able to tune in to how our bodies are feeling with compassionate awareness and attention, we can determine how to take good care of ourselves. Next, we will look at the different ways you might be judging your body and find alternative responses to your bodily experiences. How Are You Judging Your Body? Many of us treat our bodies as rivals rather than allies. We view the physical sensations and bodily functioning as a source of constant dissatisfaction or disappointment, and the subject of our criticism and judgment. Struggling against unwanted sensations, or focusing on how our bodies don’t look or perform the way we want them to, leads to unnecessary distress. Taking a judgmental approach toward our bodies can lead to shame and self-criticism, as well as problematic behaviors like avoidance, denial, or attempts to control our bodies in unhelpful ways like excessive dieting. While we can’t—and shouldn’t—avoid or deny the fact that we won’t always like our bodily experiences, we can learn to respond in kinder ways. As you cultivate compassion for your body, you’ll be better equipped to respond more effectively to discomfort or distress. HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO YOUR BODILY EXPERIENCES? Take a few moments to think about the ways you judge your body and physical experiences. You can use the following questions to guide you, recording your answers in your notebook: →Do you judge yourself when you experience physical pain? →Do you ever feel guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed about your body? →Are there sensations or bodily experiences you find unacceptable or intolerable? →Do you compare your experiences of your body to those of other people? →Do you ever refuse to acknowledge or have difficulty attending to your body? →Are there other ways in which you judge your body or physical sensations? If you answered “yes” to any of the questions, answer these follow-up questions: →What are some examples of these judgments? →What are some specific things you think about your body? Think about these self-judgments and criticisms. Then imagine someone you really care for—would you be as judgmental about their body? If they judged themselves out loud the way you judge yourself, would you let them? Or would you encourage them to be kinder to themselves? We are routinely much kinder to other people than we are to ourselves. Let’s learn how to adopt the same kindness and care toward ourselves that we give to the people we love. One way we can learn self-compassionate understanding for our bodily experiences is by using a caring tone of voice. How we talk to ourselves is an important part of self-compassion. The tone of voice we use with ourselves, even if just in our minds, can greatly influence our feelings, in much the same way other people’s words and tone of voice do. This approach is meant to enable you to observe and describe your physical experiences in a fair, honest way. It doesn’t mean avoiding or sugarcoating things you don’t like or that don’t feel good. It is not about minimizing or denying your experiences, nor is it about exaggerating or feeding unrealistic expectations. Instead, it is about understanding what it means to have a human body. It is a balanced, fair, and compassionate understanding of your physical experiences. BODY ACCEPTANCE Check in with yourself: What tone of voice or type of inner speech do you use when you are responding to your body and physical experiences? How does it make you feel? If your tone is irritated, dismissive, or exasperated, could you use a different approach? For instance, a tone that is friendly, encouraging, and warm has a very different effect than one that is harsh or critical. Even using the same words but in different ways can change your experience. Pick one of the judgmental statements from the previous Try This exercise (“How Do You Respond to Your Bodily Experiences?”) and say it out loud in a harsh or critical tone of voice. Take a deep breath, and now say the same thing in a warm or caring voice. Switch back and forth between the two tones to appreciate the contrast in how it makes you feel. In addition to how we talk to ourselves, self-compassion involves finding helpful words to express our experiences. You might wish to use kinder words, but at first, it’s important to just notice how tone of voice and the intention behind the words can change the way you feel. Try different styles of self-compassionate language and voice tone until you find what works for you. The aim is to discover ways of responding to yourself that lead to learning to treat yourself with kindness and care. I urge you to find language that is warm and friendly, strong, courageous, and stable. It can be helpful to imagine how a supportive, caring person who completely accepts you might give you feedback. The Mind-Body Connection We often imagine the mind and body to be separate, and in a sense this is true. The term “mind” really refers to our experience of our mental lives rather than our actual brains, so the mind isn’t necessarily a physical thing. The term “body” refers to the blend of physical processes and structures that create a physical organism. But beyond this obvious division, our bodies and minds are interdependent. Changes in our bodies can influence our minds, and our minds can influence our physical states. As we just explored in the “Body Acceptance” exercise, the ways we relate to our bodily experiences impact how we feel and think in a given moment. When we experience emotions or thoughts, we can often observe such changes in our bodies as posture, facial expression, and differing physical sensations. Conversely, we can change feelings and thoughts by creating certain bodily changes. Self-compassion training involves the interconnected mind and body. How we hold our bodies physically will impact our self-compassion practices—for better or worse. Knowing this, we can work to create conditions that increase the likelihood that we’ll feel and act more compassionately toward ourselves. In the “Body Acceptance” exercise, we explored using varying tones of voice; here we will include changes in body posture and facial muscles to try to stimulate sensations and physical experiences of compassion. Did you know that when you sit in a hunched position or walk with a slumped posture, it can have a negative impact on your mood or thinking? Carrying your body that way restricts your range of motion, which feels less free and makes it harder to breathe deeply. This means that to cultivate self-compassionate states of mind and body, it’s helpful to find a posture that feels grounded, strong, and stable. In the same way, adjusting our facial expression can help us cultivate more compassionate and caring states of mind and body. The way we look at others, and the way others look at us, has a significant effect on how we feel. For example, a warm, friendly expression has a very different impact than one that is nonreactive or blank. And when our facial muscles are tensed, we are less likely to have warm or friendly thoughts and feelings. So, being aware of and changing our facial expression can have an impact on our emotions and thoughts. Finally, physical gestures of warmth and caring can also help us feel more compassionate toward ourselves. In our next practice, let’s try various ways of creating changes in our body that increase a sense of compassion. USING THE BODY TO SUPPORT THE MIND The following practices can be done seated or standing and can be adapted depending on what the moment calls for. I invite you to play with these instructions to find ways that feel right for you. Body posture →Sit (or stand) in a supportive, stable position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your spine should be straight yet supple. If you are standing, allow your knees to have a slight bend or bounce to them; they should not be overly rigid or locked. →Bring your attention to your upper body. Allow your shoulders to hang below your ears. Roll your shoulders back, away from your chest. Imagine your shoulder blades sinking down your back. →Hold your head upright with your chin lifted slightly. It can be helpful to imagine an invisible thread pulling the top of the head upward. This allows your neck and airway to feel supported and relaxed. Facial expression →Bring awareness to the muscles in your face. It may be helpful to let go of any tension by opening and closing your mouth gently a few times. Then allow your mouth to close. Soften the muscles around the eyes and forehead. →Allow yourself to adopt a warm and friendly expression. Turn up the sides of your mouth slightly to create a gentle smile. →Bring to mind a loved one or any relaxing, warm, and emotionally safe experience, allowing your body and facial expression to naturally respond to this sense memory. Physical gestures →Experiment with different ways of extending a caring physical touch or compassionate gestures to yourself. →Try gently placing your hand over your heart, on your shoulder, softly holding your own hand or arm, or giving yourself a reassuring pat on the back. →Wrap yourself in a warm blanket or favorite sweater, as if to give yourself a hug or physical message of support or friendliness. Pain, Anxiety & Other Physical Sensations Our culture sends us the message that we need to avoid or deny pain; that feeling pain is “bad” and acknowledging pain is a sign of weakness. As a result, most of us don’t learn how to accept it and remain in its presence. The first step in healing pain, both physical and otherwise, is being aware of it as it is, without struggling to get rid of it or avoid its sensations. While it can be unpleasant, physical and emotional pain is a great source of information on how we’re doing and what we need. Some pain is related to difficult emotional experiences like anxiety or anger; other is caused by changing physical conditions like overdoing a new exercise routine; another may be due to illness or injury. All pain requires self-compassionate attention and understanding so we can take action that will allow us to cope better. As we discussed, our emotions can impact our body in a variety of ways. For instance, anxiety and anger cause an accelerated heart rate that gets us ready to take action. When we’re stressed or nervous, we can hunch over, shoulders, jaw, and other muscles tensed. We’ve already begun to practice some ways to use the senses and body to cope more effectively with pain and emotional distress: changing posture, facial expression, and tone of voice, and slowing breathing. Additionally, we can use other senses (smell, hearing, touch) to support our self-compassionate practices. The following body scan invites you to use a compassionate tone of voice, posture, facial expression, and language. COMPASSIONATE ACCEPTANCE BODY SCAN Find a comfy space, free from distraction or interruption, and sit in a supportive chair or lie on a yoga mat, rug, or blanket. Close your eyes and take a few mindful, slow, even breaths, or engage in a brief centering rhythmic breathing practice. Now, gently direct your attention to your physical experience. Remember how hard your body works for you each and every day. As best you can, adopt a friendly curiosity toward your body. Gather your compassionate intentions for your body, your desire to be kind, caring, and nurturing of your physical experience. If there are feelings of tension, pressure, or discomfort, bring your attention to these as well. As much as you can, bring an attitude of willingness. Can you make space for these experiences? Let yourself and your sensations be exactly as they are in this moment. When you’re ready, with your next inhalation, bring your attention to your feet and legs. Breathe compassion into and out from all the muscles and experiences from the tips of your toes to your feet, ankles, calves, knees, and thighs. Meet any tension or discomfort with kindness. As you inhale, it is as if you are sending warm compassionate feelings to your feet and legs. Now, as you exhale, let go of the awareness of your legs. With your next inhalation, gently move your awareness to your core, from your hips, up past your stomach and lower back to the top of your chest. Breathe compassionate attention and care into and out from this area of your body. Greet any experiences of tension or discomfort with curiosity, warmth, and acceptance. Now, as you exhale, let go of the awareness of your core. With your next inhalation, bring your attention to your hands and arms from the tips of your fingers to your wrists, forearms, elbows, and shoulders. Breathe compassion into and out from this area. Meet any tension or discomfort with warmth, kindness, and care. With your next exhalation, let go of the awareness of your hands and arms. With your next inhalation, bring awareness to your neck and head. Bring compassionate attention from your shoulders through your neck, facial muscles, and forehead, all the way to the very top of your head. Breathe compassion into and out from this area. Gently greet any experiences of tension or discomfort with curiosity, warmth, and acceptance. As you exhale, let go of this awareness of your neck and head. With your next inhalation, extend your awareness to the whole of your body from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. With each inhalation bring compassion, kindness, and gratitude to your physical experience here and now. Take one last moment to bring intentions of warmth and care to your whole body. Then take another long, deep breath in and out as you move around a little, noticing how your body feels right now. When you are ready, let go of this practice and return to your day. SELF-COMPASSION IN ACTION Creating Healthier Habits For as long as Juan could remember, he had difficulty with sleep. He always put off bedtime, staying up later than he intended. When he did lie down, he would toss and turn, worrying about being tired in the morning and constantly checking the clock. He would get quite frustrated with himself about not getting to bed sooner and upset with his mind and body for not letting him fall asleep. It seemed the more he tried to make himself sleep, the less he slept. Juan began seeking out ways to help him with sleep. The discovery of self-compassion enhanced his efforts. By adopting compassionate awareness, understanding, and actions, he began approaching sleep less as a battle and more as a practice of taking care of himself. He learned a new accepting and understanding perspective of his body and understood that he needed more time to wind down at the end of the day. He began practicing a compassionate body scan at night and adopting a more caring tone of voice with himself as he prepared for sleep. Rather than trying to force sleep, Juan created a kind and comforting environment. These efforts helped implement healthier habits around sleep and made bedtime something he could look forward to rather than dread. Everyday Body Awareness & Actions A lot of the work in being self-compassionate is finding small ways to practice everyday body awareness and actions. Self-care is about a lot more than meditating or getting a massage. We can't just drop everything and do an exercise when we need a bit of kindness and support. I encourage you to practice self-compassion throughout the day, whatever you might be doing. Even making small changes, such as using the compassionate facial expression or posture and engaging compassionate sensations, can have a big impact over time. As we become more aware of our bodies and bring a compassionate understanding to these experiences, we will become more in touch with which actions are most helpful and supportive to our physical well-being. These might be more regular exercise, sleep, relaxation, or balanced eating. Each of these processes can be approached with care and compassionate actions. In the final exercise of this chapter, we will focus on one example of how you can create a self-compassionate routine. OPTIMIZE YOUR SLEEP ROUTINE Not getting enough sleep can have all kinds of negative effects on mood and health. If sleep is a challenge for you, if you wake up still feeling tired or don’t prioritize getting a good night’s rest, you may want to bring some self-compassionate practice to your sleep routine. Here are some suggestions: →Determine how much sleep you need. Everyone is different; some need seven hours, others nine hours a night. Age, genes, activity level, and environment can all influence the amount of sleep that is best for someone. If you are unsure how much sleep you need, try experimenting with different hours or keep a sleep diary to record your sleep/wake times and how rested or tired you feel each morning to help you determine how much sleep feels right for you. →Create a kind environment for sleep. Sleep scientists suggest a cool and dark environment for good, restful sleep. Other ways to improve your sleep environment include making your bed inviting with soft, comfy bed linens and putting soothing aromas like lavender potpourri on your nightstand. →Minimize screen time or being overly active right before bed. →Get sunlight first thing in the morning and don’t skip breakfast. Both help us reorient to the morning and help train our sleep/wake cycles. →Keep regular sleep/wake times, trying not to deviate more than an hour or so. →Try not to force it if you have trouble falling asleep. When we try and “make” ourselves fall asleep, we can often find ourselves even more awake. Instead, be gentle with yourself and try to focus on relaxing rather than sleeping. You could practice a compassionate body scan or repeat a soothing phrase to yourself as you slow your breathing, such as “soft and warm” or “let go.” Wrap-Up In this chapter, we explored bringing self-compassion to our bodies with the practice of self-compassionate awareness, understanding, and actions. Together we’ve learned: →How to pay mindful attention to your body and physical sensations. →How to increase awareness of the ways you judge your body and respond with a self-compassionate tone of voice and understanding. →How strong the mind-body connection is and how to use the body to support the mind. →How to compassionately engage with difficult physical experiences and respond to the body with compassionate intentions and understanding. →How to practice self-compassion toward the body, including examining your sleep habits, as a way to offer yourself care. CHAPTER FOUR Your Self-Compassion Plan Personalize Your Plan NOW IT IS TIME TO CREATE a personalized self-compassion plan for working with your emotions and bodily experiences. The following sections and questions will help guide you. To create your plan, you’ll need your notebook. Together, we’ll identify the parts in the first section of this book that you found most meaningful. Then, we’ll formulate a plan to help you integrate those aspects into your life. Remember, the purpose of this plan is to help you get in touch with what you need most and find the best way to meet those needs in an ongoing, sustainable way. Let’s start with a review of what you enjoyed—and where you may have struggled. EXPERIENCE, STRENGTHS & AREAS FOR GROWTH Using your notebook, record your answers to the following questions to help formulate your plan: My experience →What was my experience of learning self-compassion for my feelings? →What was my experience of learning self-compassion for my emotions and body? →What did the experience of learning self-compassion for my feelings mean to me? →What did I learn in this section? My strengths and accomplishments →What am I skilled at when it comes to self-compassion for my feelings? →What am I skilled at when it comes to self-compassion for my body? →What did I accomplish in these chapters? My areas for growth →Which areas did I find challenging, or where is there room for growth? →What challenges did I notice regarding compassion and my feelings? Your self-compassion plan is intended to help you cultivate new patterns and behaviors consistent with what matters most to you. Now let’s look at which specific approaches and practices you’d like to incorporate. PRACTICE RECORD In your notebook, create an inventory of the practices you engaged in from each chapter in section 1. If you like, use the following suggested format and questions to guide you. One example is provided for you. Name of practice: Observations & practice questions: →How was this practice meaningful for you? →Were you willing to try this practice? →Would you like to include this practice in your plan? →Any other observations? Try This: Observing & Identifying Your Emotional Experiences →I was able to pause and become aware of what I was feeling. →I was willing to try this practice, though at first it was hard to acknowledge the difficult feelings. →I will do this practice 1x a week as part of my plan. When you have completed your record, place a check mark by or circle the name of the exercises you would like to include in your plan. Working toward goals, creating new patterns of behaviors, and addressing barriers is the heart of self-compassionate commitment and action. Take a moment to read over your answers to the questions and practice record you completed. As you reflect, see if you can focus on what you will need in order to continue on your path of self-compassion. You may want to ask the following: →What would a self-compassionate approach to your feelings look like for you? →What would a self-compassionate approach to your body look like? →Which habits and practices can you reliably engage in? →When it comes to compassion for your feelings, what is important to you? FINDING YOUR PATH Now that you’ve reflected on the exercises that worked for you, it’s time to create one specific goal for each practice or area of importance of self-compassion. Begin by listing in your notebook one or two areas you wish to include in your plan. You can use the following questions to guide you, and see the sidebar for an example of a completed plan. 1. WHAT are your specific aims for this area of importance? What do you want to do or achieve? Create goals that are clear and detailed. 2. HOW will you pursue your aims? Clarify your goals in terms of what you’ll be doing and list the specific practices and actions to be taken. 3. WHEN will you be pursuing these goals? Create a specific timeline or schedule. 4. SUMMARIZE the final version of your goals (e.g., My specific goals for self-compassion are . . .). SELF-COMPASSION IN ACTION : Your Path This Week Here is an example of a completed plan: MY AREAS OF IMPORTANCE & PRACTICE: →Increasing validation and acceptance of my feelings →Having more self-compassion for my difficult and powerful emotions 1. WHAT are your specific aims? What do you want to do or achieve? →Get better at validating and accepting feelings. →Create a self-compassionate practice for difficult emotions. →Use a new routine to get better sleep and more exercise. 2. HOW will you pursue your aims? →Use the sleep and daily waking routine I created in chapter 3. →Practice “Self-Compassion for Difficult Emotions” in chapter 2. →Practice using validation and acceptance questions for emotions from chapter 2. →Practice using centering rhythmic breathing and compassionate facial expression and tone of voice. →Write down and check of each goal and track my practice in my notebook. 3. WHEN will you be pursuing these goals? Create a specific timeline or schedule. →No caffeine after 3 p.m. and turn my phone off at 11 p.m. this week. →Take longer walks with my dog 3x per week. →Use the “Self-Compassion for Difficult Emotions” practice from chapter 2 at least 1x this week. →Use the validation and acceptance questions from chapter 2 when I experience difficult emotions at least 1x this week. →Use the centering rhythmic breathing practice as often as possible. →Practice having a compassionate facial expression and tone of voice when doing these things. 4. SUMMARIZE the final version of your goals (e.g., My specific goals for self-compassion for my actions are . . .). →Regular practice validating and accepting emotions and physical experiences from chapters 2 and 3. →Regular practice of “Self-Compassion for Difficult Emotions” from chapter 2. →Create a new routine to get better sleep and more exercise from chapter 3. Putting the Plan to Work To put your plan into action, let’s first identify any barriers or challenges that may get in the way. Then we can come up with strategies to address or prevent these potential hurdles. PLANNING AHEAD Begin by recording in your notebook any potential blocks, interferences, or challenges. You can use the following questions to guide you: →What challenges might arise for you when it comes to compassion and feelings? →What unwanted thoughts, feelings, and images seem to get in the way of bringing compassion to your feelings? →What specific situations or events, if any, might interfere in your plan? Next, consider possible strategies to address or prevent these potential issues. You can use the following questions to guide you, recording your thoughts in your notebook: →How will you know when you’re experiencing a block, interference, or challenge? →Are there ways you can prevent or decrease the likelihood of these happenings? →What would be most helpful for you to effectively cope with these issues if they do arise? →How can you address or work through them with self-compassion? Now that you’ve identified and prepared for possible challenges, you can schedule your self-compassion goals for the upcoming week or desired time period. Creating a commitment and planning ahead will help you engage in self-compassion practices and move toward your goals. PLANNING YOUR WEEK Here are a few suggestions for scheduling your upcoming week or desired time period to engage in your personalized plan and self-compassion practice: →Choose times you will engage in your practice. You can use a personal calendar or create a timetable in your notebook. It may be helpful to set a regular time and place to practice. →Set reminders for when and where you plan to practice, such as with alarms or written notices. →Create a practice commitment. →Track your progress and practices using a journal, log, or record sheet. Using a practice log can help you monitor your progress, keep you on track, and create new habits. Further, journaling or self-reflection has been shown to enhance new learning. TRACKING YOUR PROGRESS Here you can design a personal strategy for tracking progress. Create a practice journal, log, or record sheet in your notebook. You can use your own format or follow the example. An effectiveness rating (shown in the sample) is a number you provide based on how effective you believe you were in a particular action or practice, with 0 meaning not effective at all and 10 being the most effective you can imagine. WEEK: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ DATE OF PRACTICE: _ _ _ _ /_ _ _ _/ _ _ _ _ _ Goals Actions or Practice Effectiveness Rating (0–10) Notes or Observations 1. 2. Check In with Yourself It is good to check in with yourself periodically throughout this process. Take the time to reflect on what you've done and how each of the practices you've tried has worked for you. HOW DID YOU DO? These monitoring questions can help support and track your practice: →Did anything in particular stand out or seem important to you? Did anything surprise you? →Are there new behaviors you would like to add to your plan? If so, what? →Were there any unexpected challenges or areas of difficulty? →Was there anything you might find useful or would like to remember for the future? As with any new skill or behavior, it’s important to stay motivated and engaged. Recognizing, reinforcing, and rewarding your hard work along the way can be very useful. Taking some time to appreciate your efforts and give yourself some positive response or reward will increase the likelihood of you continuing with your plan and will reinforce the new behaviors you are building. Here are some positive, nurturing ways to reflect on the progress you’ve made and healthy ways to reward your efforts. Reward Yourself! In your notebook, create a list of rewards, encouragements, and recognitions you can give yourself as you continue with your self-compassion work. Pick rewards you find meaningful and motivating. Try to avoid any that might contradict your goals (e.g., sleeping late when trying to change sleep habits). Here are a few categories and examples to get you started: Encouraging statements or gestures: →Buy or send yourself flowers. →Leave yourself encouraging notes/letters around the house or on your calendar. →Give yourself an encouraging and supportive voicemail/email. →Create a kind or pleasurable environment for your self-compassion practice. Entertainment-based rewards: →Plan a special party or night out with friends. →See a movie or watch something you’ve wanted to see at home. →Go to a concert, comedy show, or art exhibit that you enjoy. Retail or shopping rewards: →Buy yourself something that reinforces your self-compassionate practices. →Download an online app or get a subscription that interests you. →Add a certain amount to your clothing/dining out/ other budget. Travel, adventure, or experience rewards: →Plan a day or weekend trip. →Take a class. →Try a new hike or explore a new area where you live. These kinds of rewarding and encouraging responses to yourself are central to engaging in self-compassionate actions, so don’t forget to acknowledge your efforts and reward yourself! WHAT YOU’LL LEARN IN THIS SECTION Over the course of our lives we’ll have a countless number of thoughts, many of which are difficult and unwelcome, such as worry, regret, or self-criticism. We cannot control all the thoughts we have; many of them are automatic and not of our choosing. That’s what it means to be human: to have a mind that produces all kinds of thoughts and images, whether we want them or not. However, we can determine how we choose to act in response to our thoughts, and self-compassion can help us learn to do just that. Bringing compassion to our thoughts, as well as training ourselves in more loving and compassionate ways of thinking about ourselves, is the focus of these next chapters. Our aim here is twofold: learning to notice and relate to our thoughts with self-compassionate understanding, and intentionally building habits of self-compassionate thinking that will promote resilience in the face of life’s many challenges. CHAPTER FIVE Thoughts vs. Reality Don’t Believe Everything You Think THOUGHTS CAN BE QUITE POWERFUL. If we’re not paying attention, our thought patterns can dictate how we feel and act. How our minds interpret events has a great impact on how we feel moment to moment. It’s easy to see our thoughts as a reflection of reality, to believe that the way we think about things is the way they are. But it’s crucial to remember that thoughts, particularly negative or self-undermining thoughts, can be deceptive. The number one priority in human evolution is survival, so our brains evolved to pay more attention to dangerous things than to neutral or enjoyable things. As a result, we’re more likely to notice and remember negative experiences than positive ones. We’re more likely to notice potentially hurtful things, too, including predictions of rejection. Unless we train our minds to recognize our thoughts for what they are, and not what they say they are, we are condemned to living out whatever negative scripts our brains generate. The good news is that we can train ourselves to be more aware and more capable of positive, helpful actions, even when our minds are giving us a hard time. HOW MUCH DO YOU BELIEVE YOUR THOUGHTS? Over the next week or so, practice noticing your thoughts and their connection to your experiences and the events around you. When you detect a change in how you’re feeling, stop what you’re doing (if you can do that safely) and bring your attention to your breathing. Notice your feet on the ground and what it feels like to contact the moment. Then ask yourself the following questions. You may find it helpful to record your answers in your notebook: →What am I responding to? →What emotion am I feeling? →What is my mind telling me? How would I sum up these thoughts? →How much am I buying into this thought? How much do I know this to be true? →Is this a helpful thought? Would I choose to base my life on this kind of thinking? What exactly are we buying into when we hand our beliefs over to our stream of mental commentary? How helpful or in tune with reality are our automatic thoughts? If you practice noticing your thoughts with mindfulness and self-compassion, you will quickly realize that just because you are thinking something does not make it so. Moreover, it does not make the thoughts necessarily useful as a basis for action. Though our thoughts may seem very real, they are not reality. Often, they’re an illusion that can take us out of touch with what is really happening. To mistake our thoughts for reality and respond as if they are real is a natural human tendency that all too often can leave us reliving old experiences or imagining future events as if they were happening now. Our interpretations and thoughts then become the dictators of our experience and behavior, sometimes without us even realizing it. They color the way we see our world. The consequences can rob us of our actual present-moment experiences. Getting Present When it comes to having the freedom to choose our behaviors and create changes in our lives, all we have is right now. We cannot change the past. The future has not happened yet. Now is when we can directly influence our actions. However, our thoughts often drift into the past or into the future, and this can lead to a great deal of regret or worry or, at the very least, take us out of the present moment. Although it can be challenging, deliberately paying attention to the present moment is key to the development of self-compassion. Training ourselves to pay attention to the present moment, on purpose and nonjudgmentally, is exactly what people mean when they talk about “mindfulness training.” So, while “mindfulness” might sound lofty and bring up images of meditation cushions and incense, it’s really quite simple (though often not easy). Mindfulness is just deliberately, repeatedly coming back to the present moment—and as we’ve seen, now is the moment when we’re able to engage in compassionate actions. The here and now is where self-compassion is available to us. Mindfulness and the practice of getting present is not aimed at staying focused in the present moment all the time, but instead focuses on learning to return our attention to the present moment when we inevitably get distracted or distressed by the chatter of our thoughts. Thus, this practice has two important parts. First, getting present by noticing what is going on right now, and second, when the mind inevitably wanders, returning our attention to being here and now. COMPASSIONATE MINDFULNESS OF THOUGHTS Close your eyes and take a few mindful, slow, even breaths or, if you like, engage in centering rhythmic breathing. After you’ve gathered your attention in this way, gently bring your attention to your thoughts. What thoughts do you notice? We often find ourselves carried away by the thoughts and images of our mind. If you find you’re getting caught up in a particular thought or image, gently return your awareness to the sensations of the breath. After two or three mindful breaths, when you feel more centered in the present, allow your attention to return to focusing on the objects in your mind itself. See these events of your mind for what they are. See thoughts as thoughts and images as images—nothing more, nothing less. As you notice a thought enter your mind, merely observe it. It can be helpful to provide a brief label or description. For example, you may silently say, “that thought is memory, my mind is remembering” or “that thought is planning, my mind is planning” or “that thought is problem solving” or “worrying,” all the while allowing the thoughts to rise and fall in your mind, accepting whatever form they take. As best you can, stay curious, playing close attention to the ways in which these thoughts or feelings emerge, culminate, and ultimately disappear from awareness. Every individual thought or feeling has a beginning and end, never enduring, never permanent. Allow yourself to be an observer of this continual stream. When you’re ready to let go of this exercise, with your next inhalation, expand your awareness to your feet on the ground, then to your seat in the chair, your back feeling straight and supported, and the top of your head. Now, to everything in between. Returning your attention to your breath, as you breathe in, know that you are breathing in, and as you breathe out, know that you are breathing out. When you’re ready, open your eyes and let go of this exercise entirely. When Your Thoughts Work Against You When we pay close attention to our thoughts, we will inevitably run into things that are difficult or disturbing. Memories and emotions can drive our thought processes. For example, we might be in a bad mood at a time of year when we previously experienced a loss. Stress and anxiety can also trigger thoughts focused on feared outcomes or perceived threats. Of course, sometimes it’s useful to focus on difficult things; however, our thoughts can often take extreme or unhelpful forms that are less grounded in reality and that compound our negative feelings and actions. There are all kinds of ways the mind plays tricks on us and creates thoughts that work against us. For instance, thoughts focused on the past are often associated with regret, guilt, or shame. Thoughts that are future-focused are accompanied by fear, worry, and stress. Psychologists call these patterns of inaccurate thinking “cognitive distortions.” Here are some classic examples: →ALL-OR-NOTHING OR BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING: These thoughts tend to involve absolute language, like “have to,” “must,” “always,” or “never.” “It is always going to be this way.” →ATTENTIONAL BIAS OR MENTAL FILTERING: These thoughts recognize only certain aspects of a situation. Only noticing the negative aspects of a person’s performance, not the positive ones. →PERSONALIZATION: These thoughts take responsibility or blame oneself or another for events not within a person’s control. “It’s all my fault.” →ASSMUING OR JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: These thoughts assume facts without all the information, such as presuming we know what is going to happen or what another person is thinking. “I’m going to be embarrassed.” Or “She thinks I’m an idiot.” →EMOTION-GUIDED REASONING: These thoughts use your current feelings to guide your interpretations or beliefs. “I feel anxious, so something scary must be about to happen.” IDENTIFYING & LABELING THOUGHT PATTERNS Choose a day, or even a week, when you’ll carry your notebook with you at all times. Every time automatic thoughts pop into your mind, notice and record them. As you get better at tracking and attending to your thinking, begin identifying and labeling the thoughts that are working against you. Notice any patterns that keep showing up, and consider how this might be affecting your life. If you like, you can use this format and questions to guide you: Date Situation: What am I responding to? Thoughts: What thought am I having? Is this thought working for or against me? When we realize how getting stuck in unhelpful thinking can cause us to get in our own way, we might presume we need to get rid of our “negative” or distorted thoughts. In fact, we do tend to avoid, deny, or over-control painful thoughts, images, and feelings, but this is rarely helpful and often backfires by actually increasing the frequency or intensity of the thoughts. Our thoughts are extremely resistant to being suppressed or controlled; the more we try to stop them, the more they show up. Has anyone ever told you to not think about something? What usually happens? Try this: Try to not think about a pink elephant. What popped into your head? Was it an image of a pink elephant? Bringing self-compassion to our thoughts reduces the need for thought-suppression strategies. When we’re engaging in self-compassion, we can take a step back and mindfully notice unwanted or challenging thoughts from a place of kindness and understanding. We can remember that these thoughts, although painful, are not reality and are simply the product of having a human mind—and as a part of the human race, we’re not alone in this experience. With this perspective, we can accept our thoughts for what they are and face them with courage. Self-compassion does not aim to squash our experiences or avoid all negativity, since that isn’t possible. Instead, its objective is to help us cultivate the skills and resilience we need to adapt and respond to challenging thoughts more effectively. SELF-COMPASSION IN ACTION Correcting Negative Self-Talk Tiana was a successful, funny, and charismatic 40-year-old executive who led a socially active and mostly happy life. She had been very popular through school, was happily married, had a great relationship with her teenage children, and was active and well-liked in her community. All in all, most people who knew her thought she had an enviable life. Despite these outward signs of happiness and success, Tiana came to therapy because she was plagued by thoughts that she was basically a shameful person. Her inner monologue was fiercely perfectionistic. Her early family life had been filled with relentless standards, parents with a strict achievement orientation, and a lack of warmth or loving support. As a result, Tiana was driven to achieve in every way, and she struggled to keep brutal self-critical thoughts and experiences of shame away. She told me that even though she had lived a “great” life, it was tainted by a gnawing sense of her worthlessness; she felt unlovable. The more she tried to suppress or avoid these thoughts, the more intense they grew, fueling serious depression. Tiana's road to self-compassion involved her training her mind. She used thought tracking to learn how to distance herself from negative thoughts. She also used compassionate mindfulness to learn how to hold her thoughts in nonjudgmental awareness, overcoming her tendency for thought suppression. She learned how negative biases in thinking and self-defeating thinking styles contributed to her suffering. This training in mindfulness and working with thoughts paved her way to living a self-compassionate and truly free life. You Are Not Your Thoughts When we are too caught up in our thoughts, particularly the stories our minds tell us about ourselves, we can end up behaving in unproductive ways. For example, we might first learn how to be a “good girl,” then that we are a “bookworm” and then a “rebellious teen” and so on and so on until we are really identified with the stories we tell ourselves. No wonder we can get so wrapped up in our self-critical stories. Over time, we might come to be defined by our automatic thoughts and self-stories, allowing them to dictate who we are and how we act. The thoughts our mind produces about ourselves influence the ways in which we let ourselves behave, which can limit the scope of our lives. When we fully buy into what our thoughts tell us about who we are, especially if these thoughts are negative or overly critical, our lives can become smaller, which causes us pain. But as we’ve seen, our natural, but ultimately ineffective, attempts to get rid of uncomfortable thoughts or replace them with positive ones is not the solution; self-compassion is. Through compassionate awareness, you can find space between you and your thoughts and begin to understand that there is a distinction between you (the thinker) and the thoughts. To gain this distance, our approach is to let go of the struggle against the thoughts. Using mindfulness and self-compassionate attention and awareness, we can learn to hold our self-stories lightly, to free us from an overly rigid narrative about who we are. Then we can choose new ways to respond, focusing on what we want to do, not what our thoughts and stories tell us to do. YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS An important part of compassionate understanding of our thinking is knowing that we are not our thoughts. The thinker cannot be the thought. Whatever your mind comes up with—a thought, image, or memory—you are not that thought. You are the one who observes it. The observer cannot be what is being observed. This exercise is designed to help you understand this and experience the difference between you and the thought products of your mind. It involves creating some distance and observing your thoughts, without having to avoid or change them. This understanding and experience of stepping back from thoughts helps us get “unstuck” from them and their influence over us. Over the next week or so, practice noticing your thoughts, using one of the following phrases or alternative perspectives of thinking. If you like, record these experiences in your notebook. Treat your mind as an external being that just keeps generating thoughts, images, memories, labels, and interpretations. Use the following suggestions to gain distance from and produce new ways to look at your thoughts. →My mind is telling me _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _. (e.g., My mind is telling me that I’m stupid.) →I’m observing the thought that _ _ _ _ _ _ _. (e.g., I’m observing the thought that I will never be good enough.) →I’m having the thought _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _. (e.g., I’m having the thought that I’m ruining my day.) →The memory (or image) of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ is popping up in my mind. (e.g., The memory of my conversation with my boss is popping up in my mind.) →The thought _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ is on my mind right now. (e.g., The thought that I will never find a partner is on my mind right now.) In the next chapter, we will look at developing new, compassionate ways of thinking, ones that will be helpful in responding to troublesome or painful thoughts and feelings, particularly those that are self-critical. You will learn self-compassionate thinking and imagery practices that will teach you more effective coping strategies. Wrap-Up In this chapter, we explored the nature of our thoughts using the practices of self-compassionate awareness, understanding, and actions. Together we’ve learned: →Ways to question our thoughts to understand that we don’t have to believe everything we think. →Ways to get present with mindfulness of thoughts, creating space for more compassionate understandings of, and responses to, our thoughts. →Ways the mind can play tricks on us and create thoughts or types of thought that work against us. →Ways to accept our thoughts as they are rather than struggling with or suppressing them, which often makes things worse. →Ways to offer self-compassion for thoughts, recognizing that they are not us, and observing the stories our minds tell us. CHAPTER SIX Getting Unstuck from Thoughts IN CHAPTER 5, YOU LEARNED TO PRACTICE stepping back from your mind’s activity and observing how your thoughts influence your feelings and actions. We know that when we experience threatening thoughts as though they are reality, these thoughts can trigger difficult emotions and unhelpful actions. I might worry about whether I'm good enough at leading a meeting, imagining myself freezing up in front of my team at work. Just imagining them staring at me as I struggle to speak, I become highly anxious. This line of thinking doesn’t exactly cause me to exude confidence and poise. However, if I can learn to be a mindful and self-compassionate observer of my worried thoughts, I’m less likely to be get “hooked” by anxiety, which frees me to focus on where I am and what I’m doing in the moment. When we get stuck in our heads, caught up in our thinking at the expense of reality, our thoughts can take control of our feelings or actions. In order to get “unstuck” from negative thought patterns, it helps to practice mindfulness, compassion, and acceptance. In this way, we can create the space we need to choose our course, rather than letting our thoughts push us around. As you worked through the last chapter, you may have noticed that even by simply paying close attention to your thinking as it happened, you could become more sensitive to, and tolerant of, your thoughts and feelings. That’s the first step in getting unstuck. From there, you can learn to hold your thoughts more lightly, with acceptance and self-validation. In this chapter, we’ll continue this learning process, discovering new, healthier ways to respond to thoughts with compassionate awareness and understanding. Are You Underestimating Yourself? Our most challenging and negative thoughts often involve perceived threats. These could be physical or social, like being embarrassed or shamed. As we saw in chapter 5, our thinking is often not very accurate, especially when it comes to perceived threats. It tends to be biased toward the negative, with our brains taking a “better safe than sorry” approach to try to keep us safe. There’s an old saying in the restaurant business: If someone has a bad meal at your restaurant, they’ll tell a lot more people than someone who’s had a good meal. That’s because we remember and pay attention to the negative more than the positive. From this negatively biased perspective, we often underestimate ourselves, too. We tend to pay far more attention to the things we dislike or feel are wrong with us than the things we like or value about ourselves. We remember our mistakes and failures more vividly than our triumphs. Negative experiences seem to be like indelible ink on our memory. This negativity bias can have a big impact on how we feel and act. Returning to the example of the bad meal, try to remember a time when you got food poisoning or felt sick after eating something. When you recall the memory, do you notice any changes in how you feel right now, physically or emotionally? Even though these are only thoughts and memories about the past, they can evoke physical or emotional responses in the present. This same phenomenon of getting stuck in our thoughts can happen when we engage in harsh self-criticism or negative thinking, like “I’m so stupid” or “I’ll never get better at this.” If we engage in those kinds of thoughts often enough, they can leave us feeling chronically sad, ashamed, or even depressed. We might start acting as if those thoughts were true reflections of who we are, allowing them to control our feelings and actions. Self-compassion is an excellent way out of the trap. We can learn how to adopt more flexible, fair, and balanced views of ourselves. We can learn to understand that our minds will often underestimate us, and we can learn to accommodate for that. Remembering that you’re not alone in human suffering is an important part of self-compassion work. In the next practice, we’ll begin by bringing compassionate awareness to the ways in which you underestimate and bring a negative bias to your views of yourself. HOW ARE YOU UNDERESTIMATING YOURSELF? Take a few mindful breaths or engage in centering rhythmic breathing practice. Look at this list of some of the common ways people underestimate and view themselves negatively. Use your notebook to record any that you identify with. →I am an imposter. →I am unlovable. →I am less than . . . →I am abnormal or broken. →I am a bad person. →I am incompetent or a failure. →I am weak or powerless. →I am stupid. →I am lazy. →I am insignificant. →I am pathetic. →I am ugly. →I am selfish. →I am self-indulgent. →I am worthless. →I am _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _. Next, record the feelings or urges you have around each self-view or underestimation you identified: →How does each of these thoughts make you feel? →How do you often respond to these thoughts? →How would you respond differently if you were to view yourself with acceptance, kindness, and encouragement? You Are Worthy We are all born worthy of love, kindness, and care. We don’t need to earn compassion. Compassion is everyone’s right. Without compassion, we could not make it as a species, because we all need care in order to survive. This birthright of compassionate acceptance includes self-compassion. It is essential for our well-being that we learn to become more aware, understanding, and compassionate with ourselves. This is especially true when we’re in pain or struggling. Self-compassion is not about judgment or evaluation, nor is it contingent upon conditions or prerequisites. It involves acceptance of who we are and an understanding that we are complex, ever-changing, and imperfect. It allows us to care for all parts of ourselves—our strengths, mistakes, perceived deficits, or areas we’d like to improve. Recognizing that you are worthy of self-compassion and acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like every experience. Instead, it means you can acknowledge what is, and when you fail or feel inadequate in some way, you can respond in a way that is fair, helpful, and compassionate. Anyone who’s in pain deserves, and can benefit from, compassion, including you. You are worthy of self-compassion, no matter what. REMEMBER YOUR WORTH As humans, we are going to experience self-doubt, make mistakes, and suffer, and when we do, we deserve to treat ourselves with care and helpfulness. Self-compassion enables us to do this. Use your notebook to record your answers and experiences with this practice. Close your eyes and take a few mindful, slow, even breaths, or engage in centering rhythmic breathing. Bring to mind an experience of resisting or feeling unworthy of compassion. Perhaps a moment of inadequacy, self-doubt, or shame. For example, you may feel you don’t deserve compassion, or perhaps you feel that compassion will not “work” for you. Jot down your experiences with these thoughts or beliefs that are getting in the way or denying you self-compassion. Use the following questions to guide you. When you’re resisting or feeling unworthy of compassion: →What thoughts are going through your mind? →What emotions are present? →What bodily sensations are present? →What do these thoughts make you feel like doing? Now we’ll use our self-compassionate skills to help us remember that we are all worthy of compassion. Record your responses to each step in your notebook: 1. Using your mindfulness practice, bring self-compassionate awareness and attention to the experience of resisting compassion. Simply notice the thoughts, allowing yourself to have feelings and urges without engaging them or trying to make them go away: →How willing are you to recognize all of your experience just as it is? 2. Rather than fighting this resistance, see if you can take a closer look at how this experience relates to being human. See if you can use acceptance and validation questions to guide you: →How can I remind myself that I am human and that all humans struggle with thoughts and feelings? →What might help me remember that I am no different in this way from my fellow human beings? →How can I validate and accept these thoughts and feelings for what they are? →How can I remember that I am not the only one to have these kinds of struggles? →How might I view someone I care for if they were going through this? Take a few moments to tune in to what you may need most to be supportive and helpful to yourself right now. Consider the following questions: →What part of this experience needs to be cared for? →What would be most helpful for me right now? →What would be the consequences of giving in to this resistance? →What would be available to me if I did not listen to the part of me that resists compassion? →What would I do for someone I cared for if they were going through a similar experience? Changing Your Self-Talk When it comes to getting unstuck from negative thinking, the goal is not to get rid of your thoughts. As we discussed, this often leads to even more struggle and continued difficulty. For example, if I’m walking around focusing on not thinking “I’m a jerk,” odds are my attention is going to be fixed on my level of jerkiness. Further, research even shows that the struggle to suppress these thoughts will cause me to believe even more strongly that I am a jerk! Instead of suppressing these thoughts, I can choose to develop new, effective ways of responding to self-criticism. I can build a new way of being with myself. We don’t “unlearn” old stuff; we learn new stuff, and that new knowledge sits alongside the old. That’s how brains work. So, rather than focusing on “purging” old thoughts, we can develop new compassionate self-talk to use when responding to negative or destructive thoughts. Here, we will work on developing your self-compassionate inner voice, one that allows you to respond with kindness, understanding, and support, especially when you’re struggling. We’ll use the compassionate tone of voice we learned in chapter 3. This approach is less concerned with controlling or changing our thoughts than with responding to them in ways that enable us to cope more effectively with them. This is very different from our automatic thought processes, particularly ones that are negatively biased or focused on threat. The difference between these two thought processes is illustrated in this chart: Negatively Biased Automatic Thinking Compassionate Self-Talk & Responding Highly fixated on threat, inflexible Open and flexible awareness and attention Often focused on past or future events Flexible, focused on present moment experiences Automatic, often not under our control or chosen by us Intentional and designed to be helpful and kind Negative, judgmental, and ignores the positive Balanced and fair, takes in all available information SELF-COMPASION IN ACTION Negative Automatic Thinking vs. Compassionate Self-Talk Leo was a gifted child actor who developed PTSD after a hate crime, where he was thrown down a flight of stairs. His anxiety about being alone in hallways, and his general fear of others’ judgments, made it very difficult for him to show up for auditions. Despite how painful these experiences were for him, when he began therapy with me, these problems weren’t the main problem he was looking to solve. Leo had become intensely, angrily critical of himself for his difficulty with auditions and for his anxiety. Before he tackled intrusive traumatic memories, Leo chose to work on self-compassion, noticing his self-criticism and learning to respond to himself with greater kindness, support, and care. The following worksheet is an example of how Leo learned to contrast his threat-focused inner criticism with a self-compassionate way of being. Negatively Biased Automatic Thinking Compassionate Self-Talk & Responding “What is wrong with me? I’m weak and disgusting for feeling this scared!” “Anxiety is a part of life, and I’ve been through hell. I’m going to become a really good friend to myself and do what it takes to feel strong and supported.” “I’m never going to be able to be an actor again. My life is over, because I can’t deal.” “My response is a normal reaction to an abnormal, horrible crime. No matter how hard it is, I’m never going to give up on myself. I can learn to feel calm in the storm of all of these feelings. I’m ready.” “If you really had what it takes, you wouldn’t be so scared. You’re already a failure.” “Facing my fears with compassion is the bravest thing I can do. I have support. This isn’t going to be easy, but my life belongs to me and not my fear.” COMPASSIONATE LETTER WRITING In this exercise, you’ll write a letter to yourself from a deeply compassionate, wise, and unconditionally accepting perspective. This voice is intended to express your innate lovingkindness, strength, and intuitive wisdom. Set aside some time when you can engage in this exercise mindfully and find a space that feels private and safe. You’ll need your notebook. Close your eyes and take a few mindful, slow breaths or engage in centering rhythmic breathing. As much as you can, connect with the kindness and care you would bring to a friend or loved one. If you were writing this letter to someone you cared for deeply, what would you want to say? Would you validate their suffering or difficulty? Would you want them to know that, no matter what, they are still worthy of compassion? Would you want to support them in making changes or moving toward what is best for, and matters most to, them? Now, write a letter that gives voice to your compassionate self. As you write, imagine you’re hearing your compassionate words said aloud in a warm, confident tone of voice. Use your slow, rhythmic breathing and feel what it would be like to become a wise, warm, courageous, and compassionate version of yourself. This form of you is completely self-compassionate and has your best interest in mind above all else. What kind of compassionate attention might you bring to your life right now? How can you be understanding and validating of yourself? What compassionate actions could you take to help make your current situation better? Set aside some time to read this letter back to yourself with compassionate intention and care. Feel free to experiment and write a few drafts if needed. What Could You Do Instead? Now that you’ve learned to better identify inaccurate, negatively biased thoughts and developed your compassionate inner voice, we will look at compassionate actions you can take when your automatic thinking is painful, challenging, or ineffective. Together, we will identify alternative perspectives and generate new strategies to help you stay on your self-compassionate path. COMPASSIONATE SELF-TALK & SELF-COMPASSIONATE RESPONDING Here you’ll cultivate new ways to relate to yourself and your thoughts. This exercise can be done in your notebook, or you can engage in dialogues, aloud or in your mind. 1. Whenever you notice your mind engaging in negatively biased or threat-focused automatic thinking, make a note or identify the thought and accompanying feelings by completing the following statement as accurately as possible: →“My mind is having the thought that _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ and when I have this thought, I feel _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.” 2. Recognize the consequences or helpfulness of this thought by answering the following questions: →How helpful or effective is this thought to me? →What are the consequences of letting these thoughts guide me? 3. Use your compassionate inner voice and self-talk to respond to the effects these thoughts are having on you and to provide a more balanced and helpful response. Use the following questions and prompts to guide you: →Where is my attention focused? →What else is available to me? →What would be in my best interest here? →What would be most helpful here? →How can I hold this thought in kindness and care? Wrap-Up In this chapter, we’ve explored bringing self-compassion to difficult thought patterns and self-talk with the practice of self-compassionate awareness, understanding, and actions. Together we’ve learned: →Ways to recognize when our minds are underestimating us and how this can lead to an overly simplified, unbalanced self-view. →Ways self-compassion is not about judgment or evaluation, nor is it contingent upon conditions or prerequisites. We, like everyone, are worthy of compassion. →Ways to cultivate specific, self-compassio