Category Archives: Self-Compassion

Is Self-Compassion Self-Defeating at a Law Firm?


I like the idea of being kinder to myself, but let’s face it — law firms are not compassionate places. The environment in my firm is highly critical and mistakes are not forgiven easily. I need to be tougher, not weaker. Isn’t it a little naive — or even self-defeating — to think about being nice to yourself in this culture?


Law firms can indeed be tough places, and there is often not much compassion. This is precisely why self-compassion is so important!

Your job IS hard a lot of the time – no doubt about it. But remember that you have a choice: to make it harder for yourself by empowering your self-critic, or easier by offering yourself compassion.

The key idea to remember is that your performance will not suffer just because you are nice to yourself. In fact research shows it will improve. Remember that you are only changing the way you think about the situation.

Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, famously explained, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Choose self-compassion for yourself and for others, and you may be surprised how much stronger you feel.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

This Holiday Season, Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Compassion.

To augment your self-compassion practices from last week, try Kristin Neff’s 5-minute self-compassion break.

Listen to the mp3 here.

If you want more, here are links to her TED talk and longer guided meditations.

Listen to longer guided meditations here.

Are you an alumni of the Women’s Leadership Forum? I’d love for you to keep in touch with the WLF community. Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with me on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

Turning Your Self-Critic from Saboteur into Supporter

What is self-compassion?  Simply stated, it’s being understanding and kind to yourself. Remember that this is not self-indulgence – far from it.

In the short-term (for example, during highly stressful or busy times such as the holidays) self-compassion is the quickest and most effective way to rebound from setbacks. Over time, it can become a key practice to help all of us build the resilience needed for long-term, sustainable success and satisfaction.

Like so many topics we address in WLF, self-compassion may be easy to define but is not always easy to practice. The biggest challenge of all for many women (including myself!) is learning to work with our self-critics. (Note that I said “with” and not “against” – more on that later.)

But first, here’s a quick reflection on self-criticism and self-compassion in practice.

Think of a situation at work that did not go well. . . in fact, think of something that went really, really badly. Keeping this situation in mind, read through the two paths below.

Self-Criticism Path

Step 1: Escalation. I’m a loser, I can’t believe I messed this up; everyone is going to think I’m incompetent. I AM incompetent. I’m going to be fired.

Step 2: Avoidance. Even though I feel terrible, it will be even worse if people see how this is affecting me – I have to keep a stiff upper lip.

Step 3: Isolation.  I can’t keep up this façade any longer – I need to hide from the world.

Results: This process can lead to obsessive thinking and a downward spiral. I’m going to get fired any day now. Will anyone else hire me? Maybe I’m in the wrong field – but I have so many law school loans that I have no choice but to stick with it. My spouse is going to leave me).

Self-Compassion Path

Step 1: Acknowledgement. Well, that didn’t go well. This feels bad. In fact, it REALLY hurts.

Step 2: Acceptance. I am not perfect – and that’s OK. Pain and imperfection are part of the shared human experience. In fact, all of the people I admire most make mistakes sometimes. I am not alone.

Step 3: Reflection. How can I comfort and care for myself in this moment of setback/failure/disappointment? I think I’ll take a quick walk to get some coffee. What would I tell my best friend if s/he were going through the same thing? THAT’s what I’ll tell myself.

Results: This process leads to deeper reflection (What have I learned from this experience? What’s next?) and ultimately growth and progress

You’ve just experienced self-criticism and self-compassion in practice. What did you notice about each path? How did the two paths feel? It may have been really hard to be OK with making a mistake. Notice that! Remember you are human.

At this point, some of you may be thinking “Death to my self-critic! I’m so on board with self-compassion.” Others among you may be struggling to relinquish the notion that self-criticism is motivating, and feel that that the self-compassion path let you “off the hook.” And revisiting those negative emotions – on both paths – probably still felt pretty bad. This is precisely why understanding self-compassion practices is just as important as learning about the theory.

The irony is, both our self-critical AND our self-compassionate voices are striving for the same goal – to help us achieve better outcomes. So, it is a mistake to treat our self-critics as “The Enemy.” What’s more, self-critical voices do not come with an automatic mute button – and trying to squelch your self-critic can actually have even more detrimental results! (I can’t even tame my own self-critic? I really AM hopeless!)

Try These 6 Self-Compassion Practices

When you feel yourself being pulled down the path of self-criticism, try out one of these 6 different self-compassion options (you can also print this image as a worksheet to keep at your desk!):

  1. Observe and Acknowledge. Notice your feelings and emotions in different circumstances throughout the day. Next time your self-critic pipes up, recognize that she actually has good, if misguided, intentions. Acknowledge it rather than trying to suppress it.
  2. Redirect – Redirect your inner critic’s focus to specific situations and behavior, rather than broad labels or personal attributes. For example, instead of thinking “I’m so lazy” (broad negative attribute with zero motivating energy), try having your critic recognize a specific situation, e.g., I didn’t go to the gym last night, because I couldn’t face driving in rush hour traffic after a long, draining day.
  3. Comfort. Notice WHERE you are feeling your emotions. Is it a tightness in your chest? Heaviness in your shoulders? Relax what is tight. Learn what is most soothing to you. Remind yourself that EVERYONE is imperfect – this is the essence of our shared humanity.
  4. Work WITH (not Against) Your Self-Critic. Think of a constructive action.  For example, “While getting to the gym after work is exhausting, I actually am energized when I finish my workout. Next time I could plan to go in the morning, before rush hour, and I may even have more energy during the work day!
  5. Surface Your Friend Voice – If you find yourself being overly self-critical, listen carefully to what your self-critic is saying. Then ask yourself – would you say half of those things to a good friend going through a similar situation – or even to someone you don’t really like? What would you actually say to him or her? Surface your “friend” voice and notice the change.
  6. Connect and Engage. Find a group of supportive women who are embarking on the same journey. Talk about your shared experiences and feelings. Support mutual self-compassionate voices!

These practices won’t always come easily. Remember, we can even choose to find some humor in the fact that we will often fail in our efforts to embrace failure. So above all. . . be kind to yourself on your self-compassion journey.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Gift Self-Compassion

The Gift of Self-Compassion

The Holiday season is by far a peak time for feeling overwhelmed by competing commitments and trying to meet unachievable expectations. At work, you may be trying to meet your target hours, close your deals, write your I Love Me Memo, ensure you have the right gifts and Holiday cards for clients, and attend Holiday parties and work functions. At home, you may be trying to connect with friends and family, buy just the right presents for everyone on your list, make your house beautiful, cook amazing food, and make the Holidays “magical” for your children.

Even the family Holiday card takes so much longer than expected – taking the picture, finding the card, compiling the addresses – phew! At the same time we want to be “joyful” because, after all, isn’t that what the Holidays are about. REALLY!

The gift I want to share with you this Holiday season is self-compassion.

Initially I was slightly hesitant about this topic because it felt a little “soft.” Coming from me (trainer of soft skills) – that means a lot. But now I am a complete convert. As I have learned more about the difference between self-esteem and self- compassion and come to know my own inner critic a little better, I have become convinced that learning to be self-compassionate is an essential practice for our well-being. (And, if you have children for your children’s well-being, too.)

Self-compassion, which has longstanding roots in Buddhism, is not a new concept per se. However, Dr. Kristin Neff’s groundbreaking research on the topic demonstrates its essential applications in the hectic and overloaded times in which we live. She begins by making the distinction between self-compassion and self-esteem.

We Must Accept That We Are Not Perfect

In a nutshell, self-compassion is a way to relate to ourselves kindly. Self-compassion is not about judging ourselves positively or a form of self-indulgence. The foundation of self-compassion is simply accepting that we are not perfect, that we all have periods of ups and downs, we all fail and we all suffer. This is part of what it means to be human.

Self-compassion provides a realistic view of the world and our place in it. Rather than criticize ourselves for being human, we can choose to be nice to ourselves — as nice as we might be to someone we love who is struggling. Self-compassion also empowers us to move forward in the face of failure. When we are able to accept failure as a fact of life, we are much more likely to be able to learn from it and grow.

Self-esteem, on the other hand, often requires constant, or at least periodic, success. The way many of us have built our self-esteem is by achieving and receiving positive feedback. The problem with this is that for many of us, in order to feel good about ourselves, we need to feel successful all the time!

Making matters worse, we often feel successful based on other people’s assessments of us. This is both unrealistic and fragile, given that who knows what is impacting other people’s assessment of us. Self-esteem often relies on simplistic labels – good v. bad, smart v. dumb, high-performing v. incompetent – and requires us to feel (and be!) better than everyone else. Worse yet, self-esteem plummets during failure, meaning that it abandons us when we need it most.

The inner voice of self-esteem is the self-critic – relentless, unforgiving, and in an endless pursuit of perfection. This makes for a bumpy ride. An inner voice of self-compassion is your best friend – kind, supportive, and in an endless pursuit of opportunities to learn and improve.

If this sounds too “soft” to be truly effective, remember that a true best friend is no pushover. She calls it as she sees it and can bring out the “tough love” when necessary. But she remains your friend through thick and thin, ensuring a much smoother ride.

How Can We Be More Self-Compassionate?

How can we be become more self-compassionate? First, we need to accept imperfection. Many lawyers have become extraordinarily successful by striving for perfection – great grades in school, prestigious college and law school, impressive summer associate/clerkships, and prestigious law firm jobs. While we all know intellectually that perfection does not exist, many of us pursue it relentlessly, resulting in anxiety, stress and often depression.

Failure is a fact of life. To thrive, we must not only accept failure, we must learn to embrace it. I have spoken with enough women lawyers one-on-one to know how hard this is for many.  I also recognize that the law firm environment does not acknowledge or allow for failure. I often hear “We cannot make a mistake.”

But the reality is, people make mistakes all the time – it’s part of our common humanity. Moreover, when we don’t acknowledge mistakes or feel compelled to hide failure, we increase stress and miss out on key growth opportunities.

If You’re Hard on Yourself, You’ll Succeed, Right? The Opposite is True

We also need to tame our inner critics. Many people believe that if they are really hard on themselves, they will become more successful. But the research actually shows the exact opposite. By leading our reptilian brain to think that we are under attack, self-criticism causes us to release stress hormones. This can provide a momentary burst of energy, but ultimately causes the body to shut down (e.g., lack of focus, depression, illness). Even the most perfectionist lawyer can agree that this is hardly a motivational state!

Self-compassion, on the other hand, taps into our mammalian brain, which releases “feel good” hormones such as oxytocin. This creates a resilient mental state that enables us to do our best – even in the most challenging times.

Finally, we need to connect to our common humanity. Everyone has ups and downs – your senior partners, your clients, the “perfect” colleague down the hall, the picture-perfect Facebook family, everyone! When we are down, it is easy to isolate ourselves and feel like we are the only ones going through any given situation. This makes it even worse! In isolation, the only voice we hear is our self-critic. Thinking “I am alone” and “There is something wrong with me” leads to wallowing, which is not only demotivating, but also can lead to more mistakes and obvious “imperfection” – a vicious cycle.

On the other hand, understanding that we are in the company of many other people who struggle is both comforting and a key part of moving forward.

Self-Compassion is Not Pollyannaish

Self-compassion is not a Pollyannaish mindset. On the contrary, being understanding and kind to yourself opens you up to greater mental well-being, increased motivation and accountability, and improved interpersonal relationships.

The Holiday season often is a time of struggle for many people – both personally and professionally. But when your negative inner voice pipes up, notice it, then ask your yourself what it would be like to be kind to yourself. Remember that many of your peers also are struggling. There is nothing wrong with you. Then tell yourself what you would tell your best friend. That is the true gift of self-compassion.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!