Coaching Your Self With Compassion Instead of Criticism

The other day I had a rare headache, and someone near me said, “Why not try some alternate nostril breathing?”  I did, and it helped.  Then the little voice in my head kicked in, and I started kicking myself.  “Why didn’t you think of that before?” it mocked.  “Why don’t you do more pranayam every day?” it jeered.  And so on.  If you’re at all like me, the inner critic is never far from bursting through the front door of our conscious mind and raining on our parade, to mix metaphors.

Have you ever noticed that we don’t have a name for the inner compassionate person?  But we should.  Our inner Dalai Lama, perhaps, or whatever spiritual teacher may appeal to you.  But after my last post about yoga, I’ve been thinking about the other limbs of the yogic path, and self-compassion is a big one.  So here are some thoughts that might help you, whether it’s starting or maintaining a regular practice of writing, walking, yoga, cycling or whatever, just being better with your self.  Or maybe becoming the next President of the United States, a job which should be coming open pretty soon, from the looks of it.  A Dude can dream.

More Than Just Loving Yourself

neff workbook
You can pre-order this at this link on Amazon.

As it happens, a leading authority on this topic resides in the same town A Dude does — Austin, Texas.  Dr. Kristin Neff was interviewed in a great article in Yoga Journal seven years ago when her book on the topic came out.  I’ve heard her name but not read her work, but have come to realize that like many people, I have to constantly work on how I approach my goals and what I do when things don’t go well.

Dr. Neff’s book, Self-Compassion:  The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself will soon have a companion workbook in August of this year.  The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive looks to be even more helpful to learning these skills.

She and colleagues have done alot of research, so these are not self-help books based on that fallacy called “positive thinking.”  If that actually worked, wouldn’t we all be happy, grinning idiots all the time by now?  In a YouTube talk, she defines three main areas of self-compassion as:  1) Kindness, 2) Common humanity, and 3) Mindfulness.  I won’t reproduce the details, but there are numerous videos, resources and tips for beginning to practice this approach on her website.

Is There Still a Place for Tough Love?

Ever have that stereotypical grumpy sports coach who was just bossy and mean?  That worked well for some people, but not for me.  I didn’t last too long in cross-country running, but I had a band director who could be pretty tough.  Sure, he got results, but like many people in leadership positions, he could also be a bully.  Granted, teenagers are the worst, and regularly found ways to push his buttons.  Maybe he’s not the best example because he was really an old softie.  Maybe a better example is Will Ferrell in the 2005 soccer movie Kicking and Screaming. He really wants to win, and lays it on thick to the adorable kids he’s coaching.  That’s because he really knew no other way, because he learned it from his dad, played by Robert Duvall.

kicking and screaming

And I think that’s a key point:  habits get set up to help us, we grow and they don’t so they become no longer useful (if they ever were), but we just can’t seem to stop doing them, because, well, they’re habits.  When we become more self-compassionate, we may find ourselves distancing ourselves from attachment to a rigid (inflexible) way of thinking and behaving.  And really, what use is being so set in our ways?  It’s comfortable, but it doesn’t work.  But changing that by force doesn’t seem to work most of the time.  By becoming more aware of things, being kind, and embracing our commonalities, as Dr. Neff suggests, we can shift our way of being with our flaws and still moving forward.

That’s not to say that some tough love, motivational self-talk and pep talks that really  challenge ourselves aren’t worthwhile for some people.  When there’s a steep hill on a bike ride, I want to beat it, and not have to dismount and walk.  Regardless of how hard or painful it is, the sense of accomplishment by getting to the top without stopping is meaningful and very satisfying.  At times like those, even I might find it beneficial to have someone in my ear using some, uh, let’s say saltier language to try to inspire me.  The trick is to not turn it against yourself and take it personally.  If I fall off the bike, it’s not the end of the world.

Whether you use self-compassion, a bossy coach, or some combination of the two, please be good to yourself.  There’s only one of you.  While we must learn to embrace our perfections, “perfect is the enemy of good.”  This post isn’t perfect, so what?  Maybe your blog post, painting, or other project didn’t turn out right.  Well, at least you did something.

The Middle Way

For me, I think a little of both approaches works, in the sense that the tough coach doesn’t let me give up too easily.  But s/he isn’t a jerk about it.   It seems to me that to cultivate awareness of ahimsa, non-violence, toward one’s self, is a good idea if you can make it work.   I’ve always believed it was a pretty good idea when it comes to others, but often forget to include myself.  But it’s ok to lighten up and not take self-improvement, weight loss, nutrition and so on with so much gravity.

why so serious.png
Heath Ledger in his post-humous Oscar-winning role as the Joker.  Source

All my efforts to write, eat, sleep, exercise, think and do other things better than I ever have are an up and down ride, that’s for sure.  But they are attempts at self-care.  And when I look back at what I’ve accomplished, it’s pretty awesome.  You don’t bike 12,000 miles in 2.5 years by being a lazy slouch.  However, I’m probably always going to be a work in progress, and that’s OK.  But so are you, so be nice to you!

Thank you for reading and commenting, and feel free to do so with these prompts:

  • If you are really tough on yourself, what do you think causes you to do that?  Any ideas on how you might break that pattern?
  • Is self-compassion something you would benefit from?  What’s one thing you can try to do now that will enhance that?
  • What do you see in others that you don’t see in yourself?  How can you be really hard on yourself but not on friends?  Aren’t you your own best friend?

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6 thoughts on “Coaching Your Self With Compassion Instead of Criticism

  1. Thanks so much for this post – what an incredible wealth of helpful points! I’ve just begun looking into Neff’s work and it looks brilliant: rather like John Bradshaw’s work in Homecoming ( which is an excellent book too.
    I know for myself the need for compassion – the bully and critic in my mind is always liable to jump around like a monkey in my mind trying to sound like a sarcastic best friend giving me a nudge. It takes alot of mindfulness practice to stop myself from getting carried away by that monkey mind as well.
    You asked above about methods that can break patterns: this book about Positive Intelligence has helped me with that (
    In all, i think the hardest lesson for me to learn has been on group bike rides – when i first started riding, i would feel slower and less than the others, and then i would get dropped and feel awful. Its taken a long time to come to terms with that. And compassion plays a key role in that transformation journey that for me is still ongoing.
    So thank you again for your post.


  2. Nice post .im usually quite tough with myself but always within the limits of my limits,that is important or it is just pushing yourself to the limit and cause stress and unhappiness😊have a good week end and don’t forget your pranayama routine😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great idea, Ortensia. I do need to work on incorporating breathing more, like maybe just five more minutes at the end of yoga. Or when I wake up to generate energy. I just finished editing this, so see if you missed some of the article. Check out Dr. Neff’s work, it’s interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m afraid I’m the last two weeks I have missed lots of articles ,it’s hard to catch up😳I’ll check Dr Neff indeed tho,thanks for the suggestion😊

        Liked by 1 person

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