Guest blog by Amanda Super
My name is Amanda Super and I am an occupational psychologist. I have been working in leadership and NHS staff development for many years. These days, I mainly specialise in coaching people to develop their self-compassion.
I discovered self-compassion and the work of Dr Kristin Neff (the leading academic in the field) just over six years ago when I had to take some time off work due to a serious health problem. Whilst I was recuperating from surgery, I began applying Neff’s teachings to my own recovery. I know this assisted me in regaining my health (both physically and emotionally) and helped me to get back to the job I love more quickly. Soon after this, I began to incorporate the principles of self-compassion into the development work I was undertaking within organisations and the feedback I received from clients described the approach as ‘life changing’.
So what is self-compassion? Neff describes self-compassion as treating ourselves as we would a good friend if they were struggling in some way.
Self-compassion has three core components:
- Self-kindness – this means taking a warm and caring approach to ourselves when we are having a hard time as opposed to being harshly critical of ourselves when we make a mistake or feel inadequate. When we can speak to ourselves kindly instead of berating ourselves for not being perfect then we are more likely to achieve our aims than when we are harshly self-critical.
- Common Humanity – when we are struggling, we often think that we are the only ones to experience this difficulty or have these feelings or concerns. However, the fact of the matter is that as human beings we all suffer at times, life is difficult for all of us and none of us are immune to having to negotiate the trials and tribulations life can throw our way. Our common humanity reminds us that we are never alone. There will be millions of people around the world experiencing a similar difficulty or having similar feelings to us, even if we don’t know them personally.
- Mindfulness – this means recognising how we are thinking and feeling in the present moment without judgement. Allowing our feelings (whatever they are) and thoughts to be present and accepting them. We do this by bringing our awareness to a repetitive action we naturally perform, such as breathing or walking, so that we can kindly observe our thoughts and feelings as they arise. Practising mindfulness encourages us to take a receptive and balanced view so that we do not over-identify with our more difficult feelings and, as a result, automatically react.
By learning the tools and techniques to cultivate these three elements into our lives, we have at our disposal the resources to endure our struggles, knowing that these are a normal part of life. We can develop an inner strength to deal with adversity and we can bounce back more quickly and fully.
When all three core components are delivered together the international evidence shows an increase in resilience, emotional intelligence, happiness, optimism, life satisfaction, gratitude and compassion for others. The research also shows a decrease in stress, depression, anxiety, fear of failure, compassion fatigue and burnout.
The evidence also indicates that self-compassion is completely trainable. The evaluations I receive from my work have encouraged me to continue to develop innovative methods to develop self-compassion with NHS staff and leaders. I am now at a stage where I have designed a core curriculum – The Compassionate Coaching Programme – which is delivered directly to NHS Trusts and Local Leadership Academies to individual and small groups of leaders, managers and operational teams as well as in-house coaching professionals.
My Top New Year Tips for Self-Compassion are:
- Accept that you will never be perfect – we are all just doing our best with the cards we have been dealt and, for the most part, succeeding!
- Make a list of three things you have done well each day and one thing that could have gone better, without dwelling on this last one just taking the learning you can.
- Make no comparisons of yourself to others – we are all on our own journeys with our own unique set of talents and attributes that we bring with us to every situation.
- Link focusing on your breathing for one minute with daily tasks such as brushing your teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil.
- Look after the basics – Eating healthily and regularly, hydrating enough, giving ourselves the amount of sleep we need, exercising in ways we enjoy – particularly in nature, planning some relaxation time each day engaging in an activity we enjoy, taking time each week to reflect on what we have achieved, spending and making time to maintain our relationships with people we care for and who care for us.
- Look for opportunities to form connections with others who share your interests or challenges, both in your professional and personal life.
- Appreciate all the good in our lives – have gratitude for our good health (or the parts of us that do work well), the health and wellbeing of our loved ones, a special moment like showing kindness to ourselves or others, appreciate a good thing that happened each day like glimpsing the sunset or sharing a joke with a friend.
- Start each day with the intention to be compassionate to yourself.
Reflective questions to cultivate self-compassion:
- How can I show myself kindness today in amongst the tasks I have to complete?
- How can I build and develop my connections with others I come into contact with today?
- How can I be mindful towards how I am feeling today – what space do I need to give myself to focus on my breathing for one minute and accept my thoughts and feelings without judgement?
- When something comes along that feels difficult ask yourself – How can I value myself, as well as others, in this situation?
I wish you a self-compassionate 2018. Please visit me at www.creatingcompassion.com for more information.
Take a look at our Winter 2017/18 article on self compassion for more information and top tips.