Self-Compassion Rock Stars

My son took this at a concert. I love how she looks so free.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on self-compassion the past few weeks, and I thought I’d share the major resources I’m using for my project. I already owned all of these books, but I have a habit of buying books with the hope they’ll somehow seep into my system without actually digging in and doing the exercises. So for the most part, these books have just looked pretty on a shelf until now. (And if you read my last post, you know how I like things to be pretty.)

This time around, I’ve got the books scattered on end tables by the couch and on the kitchen table, with paper and pen nearby to take notes and actually do the exercises. I’ve also got my iPod loaded with guided meditations, and have been listening to these. I hope to, in time, phase out the iPod and be able to do the meditations on my own. For now, though, I need the structure of someone’s voice leading me.

These are in no particular order. I hope you have a chance to check some of them out, and let me know what you think.

Christopher Germer, Ph.D., is a leader in the field of self-compassion. He’s a psychologist, writer, and researcher. His site is full of handouts, articles, and free meditation downloads. You can find his website here. I’m also reading and doing the exercises his book, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions. It’s very user friendly.

Kristin Neff, Ph.D. is another pioneer in the field. Her website is here and her book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, is an excellent resource. She weaves her personal story throughout the book, which I really appreciate. She has a son with autism and credits her self-compassion skills with getting her through a lot of rough times.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, is quite simply, amazing! She talks about being vulnerable, and she walks the talk. You have to visit her website (which is about the prettiest website I’ve ever seen!) and watch her TED talk.

Sharon Salzberg, author of the classic Lovingkindness, is a true meditation guru and spiritual teacher.  Her newest book, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation offers a 28-day program and comes with a CD of guided meditations. Her site is here.

Tara Brach, Ph.D. is the author of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha. I love this book, and I also have some of her guided meditations. Her voice is very soothing. Her site is also loaded with podcasts (called “Tara Talks”), meditation downloads, articles and many other resources. Her new book is True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.

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Getting Organized

There’s nothing that signifies the start of a new project for me like a trip to Staples to gather needed supplies. I got a cool notebook with all different kinds of pages (project planner pages, to-do list pages, etc.) that you can move around to different sections. I also got some multi-colored pens. Fun! So far, I’m keeping a short, daily diary in one section, and I have a list of possible blog post ideas in another.

I felt elated after I wrote my Just Five Minutes blog post on Day 2. For those of you who didn’t read it, my husband and son challenged me to write the post in five minutes. I tend to obsess about every word and make things harder than they need to be. It was scary to press the publish button, knowing that it wasn’t perfect, but it was freeing, too.

The rest of the week was a little more up-and-down. I felt bogged down with work and just getting my usual things done. I found I put off meditation (one of my goals for the week) until the very end of the day. It seemed I was rushing to get it in, just so I could cross it off my to-do list. Probably not the best way to approach it. I took my short walking breaks (another goal) more days than not. I do a lot of sitting at my job and have chronic neck and back pain (despite two surgeries and countless hours of PT). The walk breaks are important self-care activites. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for me it’s an accomplishment to make myself take a break rather than keep plowing through my day despite pain.

The scientist part of me decided I should have some baseline data to work with–to know where I’m starting in terms of my level of self-compassion. I took this self-compassion test on Dr. Kristin Neff’s site (she’s the author of Self-Compassion, which I’ve been devouring.) I don’t know why I was surprised, but I didn’t score too well. I also tried one of the techniques from her book, which turned out to be pretty powerful. That will be a separate blog post, coming soon!

I realize I’m not sharing anything super inspiring in this post. But I will try to be self-compassionate and tell myself that every blog post does not have to be a literary masterpiece.

Let the Project Begin

via flicker, vvonstruen

In exactly one month, on February 1, 2012, I will turn 50 years old. If I had to pick one word to describe my life so far, it would be “tortured”. Okay, that sounds a little melodramatic. What I mean is this– I’m never satisfied with myself. I frequently think I haven’t accomplished enough. I easily become overwhelmed with emotions that I feel I have too little control over. I’m sensitive to the point that it’s painful. I’m prone to despair, alternating with diffuse anxiety. And to top it all off, I don’t have a lot of fun in my life–mostly of my own choosing. When I read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, I skipped the chapter on fun.

Oh, and by the way, I’m a psychologist. There’s more than a little shame that comes from thinking that all of my training and experience should have made me a bit less of a mess by now.

Let me also tell you I’m a self-help book junkie. I remember reading The Power of Positive Thinking after finding it on my grandmother’s bookshelf at the age of twelve. Since then, I’ve been hooked. I am usually reading about three psychology books at once, and I’ve written a few, as well. Most of the books I’ve written have been on shyness and social anxiety, issues that have been quite personal for me.

Last summer I came across a blog, The Shyness Project, which was a one-year project that the author and my now friend Brittany, undertook to overcome her crippling shyness. She said she’d never been successful at following through with her goals before because she tried to undertake too many things at once. So she asked herself, if she could choose only one goal to focus on in the coming year, what would it be? For her, without a doubt, she knew it was her shyness that was holding her back. Brittany’s blog and project has been a huge success, and she’s an inspiration to me.

As 2012 approached, I asked myself a similar question. Where should I focus my energy? I blog at Psychology Today about shyness (and will continue to do so), but it’s not as much of a personal problem for me now. Despite my quiet temperament, I can do what I need and want to do.

Well, the title of this blog gives it away. I decided that focusing on increasing self-compassion would be the most important thing I could do to ensure that when I turn 51, I’m not still describing myself as “tortured”.

I don’t have this project all figured out, and I guess that’s at least part of the point. And I feel a little selfish and even indulgent for starting this. Hey, there are starving people in China and I’m going to spend a year trying to like myself more. But it’s thoughts like those that I’m talking about. Not nice.

In one of the books that I’m going to use as a resource, Self-Compassion, author Kristin Neff opens the first chapter with this quote:

“This kind of compulsive concern with ‘I, me and mine’ isn’t the same as loving ourselves…Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilience, compassion, and understanding within that are simply part of being alive.”  –Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness

I’ve always believed we learn from each other’s stories. I’d be honored to have you join me in my journey, and share your comments, thoughts and feelings along the way.

To be notified of new posts, head on over to my Self-Compassion Project Facebook page and click “Like”. (It’s also on the sidebar, but no one ever sees it there.)