Practicing self-compassion under stress can help move us from defensive and blaming to balanced and accepting.
This shift facilitates growth and flexibility that can make us more resilient and enhance our professional success.
Embedding a proactive practice of self-compassion into your daily environment is an important way to build these skills over time.
One approach is to develop a visual management system that can help us remember and adopt more self-compassion during difficult times.
We can create deep reminders, affirmations, intentions, and questions to get ourselves unstuck from negative experiences; facilitating our growth and development as leaders.
Self-compassion is the mindful process of offering ourselves kindness under negative conditions. It allows us to move from self-blame and isolation to recognition that suffering is part of the shared human experience.
This might sound like a philosophical concept that doesn’t have a place in business settings, but research increasingly shows that self-compassion enhances not only personal growth, but professional growth as well.
According to a 2018 HBR article, self-compassion can help fuel an ongoing growth mindset, which is associated with continuous learning, development, and empowerment at work. That’s because self-compassion helps us develop better skills under stress, moving our reactions from defensive and blaming to balanced and accepting.
Adopting a self-compassionate approach can be a shift in thinking.
Especially under conditions of high stress and burnout, how can we remember to practice self-compassion in difficult moments? And how can we develop and sustain a proactive approach?
Taking a lead from production environments, one approach is to develop a visual management system to help remind us and embed the practice into our awareness over time.
Anyone who’s worked with me in recent years knows I love using Post-it notes to visualize processes. It began as part of an organization-wide visual management system to understand and guide process improvement. After that took off, I started using Post-its to manage the prioritization and flow of my own to-do list.
Since the pandemic, work from home, and the stresses we’ve all faced under what feels like constantly changing conditions, I’ve created an additional visual management approach: one that serves as a reminder to practice self-compassion.
Creating Deep Reminders, Affirmations, and Intentions
While I use Post-its for simple reminders like “file annual report by June 1,” I now also use them for deeper self-compassionate reminders too.
We all have times and situations that challenge our resolve, limit our perspective, or threaten to pull us away from what matters most in a given moment.
In order to proactively ground myself in perspective, I’ve developed the practice of taking some time to reflect on what’s going on within myself following challenging situations. Through this practice, I noticed I could get some space from my automatic thinking and better understand what’s fueling my response.
While this was helpful immediately following a stressful event, I wasn’t always able to proactively conjure up that perspective when a new situation triggered my defenses. So, in order to remind myself to take a break and regain perspective, I created some visuals.
When I was finding myself getting “hooked” by taking the bait from an individual who had a particular skill for pushing my buttons, I created a Post-it that included:
A drawing of a fish underwater, smiling while swimming past a hook that had been sunk to catch it. Above the fish is a talk bubble that simply says, “nope!”
That was enough to remind me that the themes the other person was laying down had the tendency to show up like an invisible hook I’d unconsciously bite, which would then take hold of my perspective and objectivity.
By having that image on my monitor right between me and the other person in Zoom meetings, I could remember that taking the bait and reacting were a choice—and I could likewise choose another perspective and action.
Likewise, I developed affirmations to help remind myself that behaviors that felt personal didn’t have to be. One Post-it read:
It’s not about you
A third example was in setting an intention ahead of a holiday gathering. I gave some thought ahead to who I wanted to be on that day, and wrote myself the note:
My intention going into the holiday is to be present and allow myself to receive help when offered or needed.
Setting the intention helped me remember in uncomfortable moments what I had wanted for myself when I had a more open perspective. This allowed me to open up and stay out of negative predictions.
Questions to Get Unstuck
Despite this practice, there are times when I get stuck in uncertainty and need to remind myself of ways to move into self-compassionate thinking. I use these as a sort of litmus test to see if I’m remembering to include self-compassion in my exploration of tough issues.
These notes—permanent fixtures in my top desk drawer that come out whenever needed—read:
Am I present?
Am I being kind to myself?
Am I maintaining perspective?
What do I need right now?
These self-reflective prompts are written in a way that forces me to intentionally consider the answer.
The first three are phrased as yes/no questions to prompt my self-awareness and help move me into a more reflective state.
The final one is an invitation to challenge the status quo and understand what I need (not what I think I should need, or what others need from me).
What Do You Need Right Now?
More than a prescriptive list of things we “should” be doing, self-compassion is about listening to our inner selves and being willing to honor our needs in the moment.
This practice helps us interrupt and question automatic thoughts, gain some distance and perspective from the heat of the moment, and decide how we’d like to show up in a difficult situation.
Reminders can keep the practice kind, active, and front-and-center. Is that aligned with what you need?
How does this resonate for you? Feel free to post thoughts in the comments or on social media.