Embrace Self-Compassion with 3 Easy Steps

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.

— Carl Rogers

Compassion is essential these days. We can start with self-compassion. Like many of you, I had a lot on my plate and was trying to manage many requests and respond to the needs of people. Then I got some difficult news. I could feel a sense of overwhelm.

Kristin Neff offers a simple process that can serve each of us. First, simply notice what is happening in your body and say to yourself, “This is a moment of suffering.” You might also put your hand on your heart. Next, recognize that “Suffering is a common human experience.” All of us face challenges and this is a part of living on this earth. Third, we evoke compassion and kindness, “May I be kind to myself.”

Yes, it is simple and this makes it easy to remember in a time of stress or self-belittlement. It corresponds to what Deb Dana and Stephen Porges talk about in Polyvagal Theory. When you feel overwhelmed, notice that your nervous system is in a survival response. They call this dorsal (freeze) or sympathetic (fight/flight) reaction. Next, recognize that we all have moments where we shift from ease into a state of protecting ourselves. Finally, we can wish for kindness and allow some ventral energy to regulate our bodies. With practice, we can develop strategies to do so with ease. For example, I focus on grounding myself in the present moment, breathing, appreciating the moment, and being grateful or optimistic that things will work out. I call this taking an Open Stance.

The great news is that when I am self-compassionate and calm my nervous system, I have more capacity to be compassionate with others. When I take an Open Stance and am feeling safe, others can experience this and it helps them to regulate and also become calmer.

Just as trees are connected by their roots we are always influencing others, both consciously and unconsciously. I can be more compassionate when I recall that everyone is being influenced by their environment and others and we, as humans, naturally become dysregulated. Compassion is one of the Open Stance Postures, when we practice compassion with ourselves and others, we are supporting wellbeing, and connections and making a difference.


Wishing you self-compassion. What supports you during challenging moments?

What Supports You These Days?

You don’t have to look far to see all the challenges and uncertainty these days. It’s clear that we are not fully in control. Circumstances such as climate disruption, changes in the job market, illnesses, relationship breakdowns and negativity abound. 

While there are many circumstances that we cannot control, we can work on strengthening how we respond. We can set our intention on being aware and choosing to be open. We can pay attention to what is happening within us. By acknowledging our emotions, we give them space to transform into energy for action and possibility. For example, when I give myself empathy and acknowledge my disappointment and fear, I allow my humanness and can be more at choice on how to act. Of course, we each have to process our grief and emotions in our own timing and way. When we acknowledge our emotions, we can focus on the resources available to us, rather than dwelling on being a victim and staying with the experience of self-pity, anxiety or anger.  

We are likely to access more resources when we focus on developing them. One practice is to build the internal muscle of shifting to being grounded, optimistic, grateful, curious, compassionate and courageous. We can draw on the felt sense of these emotions when we most need these higher-frequency emotions. 

We also can create communities where we support one another as we go through uncertain times and we can enjoy the connections. Research shows how loneliness is more detrimental to our health than smoking cigarettes. We can also connect spiritually to a sense of awe, to nature and possibility. Of course, we benefit from the basics of taking care of our health with sleep, nourishing food, play and rejuvenation. 

It is easy to feel that we are alone and don’t have resources when we are challenged. We can build the habit of recognizing our emotions and resources. I believe that connecting with an internal sense of JOYBeing and taking an Open Stance are essential supports that enable us to be resilient and thrive. As we embody this JOYBeing (a sense of well-being, no matter the circumstance or emotional climate) and openness, we inspire others to do the same and collectively we can address the challenges we face and embrace possibility. 

I have been facilitating Open Stance Circles, where colleagues meet regularly to share how we are being open and support one another with challenges using a peer coaching approach. Participants report being more grounded, aware and connected. This is one example of how small actions can be resources amid life’s challenges. 


What is supporting you during these times? What practices and resources are you finding and developing?

Can You be Confident Amid Stress?

There is no doubt that we experience a lot of stress these days. There is uncertainty about our businesses, health issues, family challenges and how things will turn out. 

We know that stress has been associated with negative effects such as insomnia, heart problems and infertility. It is easy to adopt habits such as overeating or web surfing that don’t really serve us. We can become stressed about how to reduce our stress!

Alia Crum, a researcher at Stanford University has studied the effects of stress on the Navy SEAL Program. She found that once trainees changed their view of stress and understood that stress could be a mechanism they could use to grow, they completed their obstacles and training faster and more effectively than others who maintained the negative damaging view of stress.  

I am reminded of a statement by the Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, “Fear is excitement without the breath.” We naturally hold our breath when we are fearful or stressed. We hope to  get rid of the feeling. It doesn’t work. However, when we breathe and change our paradigm about stress we can transform our fear or stress into a positive force. 

When I began my career as an organization development consultant and coach, I recall the stress of facilitating a team with the goal of  helping them to become aligned. There were times of conflict when I wondered how a team could work together. I was able to use the moments of uncertainty to harness my focus and be open to what could emerge. My stress actually served me to stay centered, open and grow in confidence.  Many teams benefitted. 

Of course, too much stress can take a toll on us. However, it is worth reframing stress as an opportunity to grow and learn how to manage it. Whether you are a manager, coach, parent or citizen, we know that anything worth achieving will come with some stress. Ask any consultant, parent or entrepreneur who has managed to achieve results. We all face stress in our lives. If we believe we can learn to manage it and grow from it, we can actually build our confidence and skills to be more successful. We can choose to take an Open Stance. 

The Benefit of Broadening our Experiences

I attend meetings with other executive and team coaches on a regular basis. We share our experiences as well as what we are learning. I appreciate hearing about others’ cases and staying abreast of developments in the field of leadership and cultural change. 

Recently, someone presented a case and we each shared how we would approach the situation. It was interesting how many different responses there were. People tend to rely on their favorite models and perspectives. Someone suggested that they would offer an in-depth psychological assessment, while others did not have that skill, so had not considered it. It reminded me that we are always making sense out of situations and life based on our background experiences. Of course. We tend not to be aware of our natural biases.  

It is important to keep exposing ourselves to different perspectives and to appreciate the benefit of diverse groups. We need to be open-minded and expand our views. This is especially critical these days when there is so much change and uncertainty. While it is natural to depend on what we know, we need to expand our horizons so we have more choices to address new challenges. Of course, we will build on our wealth of experience.  

Take simple actions to expand your view. Join in regular dialogue and learning with colleagues and people with different backgrounds. Read diverse sources for news and insight. Experiment with new books and resources and continue to be open to learning. 

Make efforts to continue to expand your perspective and engage in conversations with others with the intention to learn. 

Are You Finding Meaning?

Many are experiencing what has been called the “Great Resignation.” For some, this has meant leaving jobs where they did not experience caring, empathy and collaboration. Some have moved locations and others have even changed careers.  Some are “quiet quitting”–reducing their engagement. Some say they have felt immobilized in the face of all the uncertainty. No matter how you have used this time in the world to make decisions, it is still a good time to reflect and ensure you are finding meaning and a sense of purpose. 

It is our nature to want to believe we are fulfilling our values and living a purposeful life. Research has demonstrated that those who have a sense of purpose are likely to have greater longevity. This is an important time to consider what is meaningful to us and how we want to spend our life energy. There are many needs and we can each make a difference in our spheres of influence. 

A good first step is to allow yourself to spend some time in the unknown and live with the question of “What’s next for me?” “What is needed? “What will be meaningful?”  “What do I love doing, studying or being with?” Then simply pay attention to what draws your attention after you set your intention to be open to finding and creating meaning. You may find it useful to journal or work with a coach or a group to reflect. 

There are many avenues and paths we can take. The key is to experience excitement and energy on the path we choose. We are meant to live meaningful lives even during these times of change and uncertainty. 

How are you responding to the uncertainty of this time?

An antidote to the anxiety associated with the uncertainty we are facing is to identify meaningful action. If we each take small acts of kindness, we can collectively make life better.

I believe emotions are messengers. It is easy to feel stressed these days. Of course, we need to adopt ways of self-regulating and calming ourselves. It is good to know how to breathe deeply and how to focus on gratitude and count our blessings. 

Another way to work with the stress is to listen to what may be needed. First, I awake to notice my internal response. I attend to my emotion of worry and simply recognize and be with the emotion. I then name the emotion and acknowledge that I am experiencing worry, disappointment or fear. Then I reflect on what action could be supportive. I may choose to simply appreciate that some part of me is experiencing the emotion. Sometimes, I choose to take action or engage in a conversation. For example, I am taking opportunities to encourage people to take an Open Stance and to check their mindset and take action to inspire and encourage others. These are small acts, yet even small acts of kindness can make a difference.

When do we naturally become closed?

We close when our nervous system becomes unregulated and it is difficult to stay open and present. There are so many reasons that we are likely to close these days. David Rock, of the NeuroLeadership Institute, identifies ways our nervous system universally reacts using the acronym SCARF. Research shows that we naturally react, judge and become closed when any of these areas is challenged. S is for status. We easily react when someone jumps in front of us in line. This can be when a colleague gets a promotion that we expected, when someone does not respect our role or someone literally jumps in front of us in line at the bus stop. C is our need for certainty. Of course, with the pandemic and other current disruptions of polarization, rise in crime and climate challenges, we naturally close to protect ourselves as we feel groundless and a lack of certainty. A is for autonomy. When we feel our choices are limited, even when a familiar road is closed we easily react. R is for relationships. If we feel thwarted or left out is it easy to become judgmental and closed. Finally F is for fairness. We naturally notice when we sense an unfair call either on the field, at work or in our family and naturally react, becoming closed and judgmental.  

It is useful to understand that reacting, judging and closing is a natural human response. We react to protect ourselves. However, we then limit access to our prefrontal cortex and our ability to see options and possibilities. Our decision-making ability is limited. We are likely to cut people off and say things that impact relationships and that we may regret later. With this understanding, we can learn to be aware of our reactions and to calm ourselves and build the muscle of shifting to being open. We then can be more at choice in how we communicate and the decisions we make. It is a healthier and more joyful way to live. 

We can choose to be more aware of our human reactions and also to be more compassionate and empathetic with others when they naturally contract and react. Can you envision a world where we catch ourselves, have compassion for others and engage in positive and productive conversations? We can each make a difference in our spheres of influence 

Notice patterns of closing in yourself and others and practice shifting to being open. 

Are You Investing in Friendships?

I recently had the opportunity to enjoy an outdoor dinner with friends I had not seen in several years since COVID. It was great to reconnect with people who feel like family. So many of us are experiencing a sense of isolation these days. While we may interact with many people on Zoom, it is easy to feel alone.

A coaching client recently explored with me her sense of loneliness. Like many of us, Sally, an executive with a demanding role, has been very busy with her career, her children and even aging parents. Creating friendships has not been a focus.

Another client, who recently retired, told me he was surprised how his phone has stopped ringing and it seems that his work friends have moved on or forgotten about him. This is a common phenomenon. People are busy and move on with their lives.

A friend of mine, who is in her 90’s, also feels isolated since many of her outings with friends have been curtailed by COVID. One advantage she has is that she has several close friends that she speaks with daily. These were friendships formed early in her career that became more than just work friends. They had invested time with each other, gone on trips together and visited each other’s homes. They are benefitting from long friendships at this stage of their lives.

While we have a lot of variance, we are social beings who benefit from interacting with others. It is important to invest in relationships. It is valuable to make time for connecting with people who have similar interests and also to expand our circle of connections.

How are you investing in building friendships? 

When Should You Trust?

Like you, I have had many life experiences and have learned that it is not a good idea to trust everyone, all the time. I have experienced disappointment in others and a sense of betrayal. At those times, my instinct was to become closed and hold back from further trusting.

However, I have also found that beginning or staying with a closed stance of distrust has not served me. When I am too self-protective and defensive I don’t see the whole picture and there is little chance of resolving issues. I realize that based on my experience and background I interpret how things “should” be. Of course, everyone has had a different upbringing and experiences that color their view of how things “should” be and their interpretation. When we stay stuck in polarization, little opportunity emerges. There are so many issues where we are closed and mistrusting of one another these days and we don’t approach understanding or creating shared solutions that are so needed.

I have come to believe that most people I interact with are doing the best they can based on their experiences and that I can be open and curious to learn more. This does not mean that I hand over my money or trust to anyone. I still do research and pay attention to my intuition and be alert to actions and results.

I have learned that it is useful to start with an Open Stance and to be curious and open to learning. I can always become more cautious and change my behavior as I learn more.  Luckily, I have the OASIS Conversation skills to support me in talking to people to share my perspective and to be open to learning theirs.  When I take an Open Stance and  “assume positive intent”, we most often come to a satisfactory connection and resolution.

However, if I start off a relationship or even a conversation by being closed and untrusting, it is much harder to find common ground and satisfaction.  I know that emotions are contagious. My openness, curiosity and compassion allow space for understanding.

Of course, we need to be attentive. I vote for starting with an Open Stance and giving others a chance. It has served me to take this approach. I have saved many relationships and experienced the benefit of connecting with many different perspectives. I have had the gift of seeing many teams and relationships benefit from this embodied mindset.

Experiment with trusting a bit more and starting to be open and curious in a relationship or a conversation rather than starting with a closed-stance.

How Do We Deal with All this Grief?

So many of us are experiencing grief. We lament how life has changed in recent years. We are experiencing the uncertainty of the future. There are so many challenges ahead of us.

A friend of mine, who was active a few weeks ago, is bedridden and can’t do much for herself. Another is experiencing the loss of a family member, and others are the loss of important relationships. A parent tells me how her child is growing and her sense of family connection has changed. An elderly person grieves because he doesn’t have the same capacity to achieve goals and doesn’t feel like he is contributing to the world. People are missing the connections of colleagues they once experienced at work, as well as the sense of a doable pace of work. Others are suffering due to climate change resulting in flooding and fires. We see the impact of war, isolation, and big and small changes.

We know that things are always changing and will be different. It is easy to want to distract ourselves, so we do not have to feel the pain or sadness as things change. We stay busy or procrastinate, eat, blame others, engage in social media, overwork, and watch TV to avoid our grief. However, when we do not become aware of our experience and attend to our emotions, we put our energy into resisting what is. It is like holding down a beach ball under the ocean. It takes our strength and energy. Instead, if we let go of our holding and resisting, the ball could flow easily.

It is easy to want to avoid feeling the loss of what once was or what we hoped for. Ironically, when we face our disappointments, and acknowledge and accept our emotions, we are in a much better place to see possibilities and to take action. I know that it is not fun to feel our sadness, disappointment, or grief.  However, when we name our emotions and accept them, we are better positioned to be choiceful in our next steps.

In fact, we are able to experience more joy when we awaken to, attend and accept our full range of emotions. It takes intention and practice to embrace our humanness and the whole of life, yet it is worth the effort. In addition, appreciating current moments and savoring what we enjoy, knowing that we can’t hold onto things is valuable. Have hope that when we accept our grief, we will embrace our hope for the future. We will be more confident in our actions. Ideally, we will inspire others to do the same on this life journey. We need to recognize that we are all experiencing challenges and a range of emotions.

Take a moment to awaken to what is happening and accept ‘what is.’ Attend to your emotions, accept and name them. Identify possibilities and then take action. Above all, be kind to yourself and others.