The Art of Self-Compassion

By February 1, 2021Culture, Mindfulness, Teams, Well-Being
Excerpt from Jack Ricchiuto’s Latest Book “A Radical Kindness”

Among the most important conversations we’re having in workplaces, these days are those about how we treat each other. These are conversations about new expressions of respect. At the root of respect is compassion.

Compassion is kindness. As much as we wish for a more compassionate world, compassion does not happen in mandates or movements. It happens in moments, one act of kindness at a time.

Kindness matters because it is at the root of the trust that gives teams their alignment, velocity, and agility. It is beyond the fashion of new rhetoric. When we see flourishing teams we see people putting a premium on small daily acts of unconditional kindness.

We make kindness towards others more possible when we practice self-compassion. Along with the work of researcher Kristin Neff we now have compelling science on the character, practice, and multiple benefits of self-compassion. Self-compassion is self-kindness.

In self-kindness we are kind rather than critical in our moments of being imperfect, falling short, and letting others and ourselves down. Instead of being hard on ourselves and giving ourselves a hard time, we give ourselves the kind of kind support we would give a struggling close friend.

Self-kindness is the ultimate antidote to suffering in self-criticism. As we learn and practice it we discover how self-criticism is counterproductive and unnecessary. The more we accept the reality of our imperfect nature, the more free we are to live without fear of being imperfect. 

It’s an ancient wisdom that only when we accept ourselves as who we are can we discover what else is possible. The willingness to be imperfect fuels our passion and capacity for learning. Learning is key to meaning and mastery in work, and life.

Among the many possible practices of self-kindness, three include empathy, engagement, and encouragement.

Empathy happens in gentle reminders to ourselves. In empathy we give ourselves kind, soothing words. We remind ourselves being imperfect is hard; everyone suffers; we don’t decide to fail; we always do what we can based on what we know at the time; and for every imperfection we also do things well. We voice these in the same tones we would use to a hurting friend. 

We do this every time we find ourselves struggling with disappointment, guilt, or remorse. We do this instead of criticizing, berating, and lecturing ourselves for being imperfect. It creates space for unconditional kindness. We can start a daily practice of reflecting back on any moments of struggling and giving ourselves some time in self-empathy.

Engagement is shifting from self-criticism to noticing what’s possible in each given moment. It’s noticing what’s possible to know, do, and enjoy in the present moment. Noticing what’s possible is the opposite of being hard on ourselves. It’s about engagement rather than judgment. No matter how many moments of imperfection we have, there are always new things to know, do, and enjoy. 

Noticing what’s possible shifts us from the suffering of self-unkindness to the serenity of self-kindness. The recipe for engagement is simple: What’s possible for me to know right now? What’s possible for me to do right now? What’s possible for me to enjoy right now? Even two minutes of any of these shift us into self-kindness.

Encouragement is giving ourselves permission to do things imperfectly, especially things waiting to be done. We work from a simple, liberating question: What could it look like to do this imperfectly? A complementary question is: What would work without necessarily being perfect? We actually get more done when we allow ourselves the improbable luxury of less than fully perfect. 

In this kind of realistic encouragement we discover there are varieties of ways to get things started and done. Sometimes different is at least as useful as perfect. We don’t need to confine ourselves to one way as the most perfect way. Our lives can work even while not being perfect human beings. Make a list of the countless things you achieved and survived in your life even doing these imperfectly.

When we are kind to ourselves we have more energy. We are more creative and resilient. We are less reactive to others. We get more things done. Because we are less worried about failing, we live with more courage. We find ourselves with greater capacity for being compassionate with others. Everyone benefits.

This post is based on the recently released book by Jack, “A Radical Kindness: The Way of Self-compassion” (2021 NuanceWorks)


About Jack

In my late twenties I had the good fortune to have mentors who were practice leaders in what was then called the Human Potentials Movement. They inspired me to help organizations and communities realize their potential in ways they never imagined. It became clear this was the core gift that would shape the past 40 years.