Are you kinder to others than you are to yourself? Dr. Kristen Neff is a leading researcher on self-compassion. She shares with us the multitude of benefits of self-compassion and how to learn the skill of being kinder to ourselves – and turn your inner critic into an inner ally.
Kristin Neff joins us from Austin, Texas.
Kristin Neff received her doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, and is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
During Kristin’s last year of graduate school she became interested in Buddhism and has been practicing meditation in the Insight Meditation tradition ever since. While doing her post-doctoral work she decided to conduct research on self-compassion – a central construct in Buddhist psychology and one that had not yet been examined empirically. Kristin is a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, creating a scale to measure the construct almost 20 years ago. She has been recognized as one of the world’s most influential research psychologists. In addition to writing numerous academic articles and book chapters on the topic, she is author of the book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, and her latest Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power and Thrive.
In conjunction with her colleague Dr. Chris Germer, she has developed an empirically supported training program called Mindful Self-Compassion, which is taught by thousands of teachers worldwide. They co-authored The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook as well as Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program: A Guide for Professionals. She is also co-founder of the nonprofit Center for Mindful Self-Compassion.
For More on Dr. Kristin Neff
The Mindful Self-Compassion Program (8 week course)
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Mentioned in This Podcast Episode
On the Benefits of Self Compassion
“The research is very, very clear. There are both mental and physical health benefits of self-compassion. So if you think of the word in Latin – compassion – passion means suffering. It’s how are we with our suffering? And if we aren’t with it in a healthy way, in other words, if we dive into it or we become overwhelmed by it, we may develop depression or anxiety or sleep disorders, eating disorders, and then it also may start affecting our health. We might have a lot of cortisol, high blood pressure, and it can have these knock-on effects. So what happens with self-compassion is when we’re struggling, we’re hurting in some way. If we’re there for ourselves, like we would be for a supportive friend, that means we’re stronger and we’re more able to deal with the tough stuff without being knocked over by it. And so it’s linked to better mental health, not only fewer negative things like depression, anxiety, stress, but also positive mind states like happiness and optimism. And that’s because if you think about it, kindness and connectedness, these are positive emotions. So we’re kind of framing our difficulty. We aren’t pretending it’s not there, but we’re just being kind and supportive ourself to ourselves in the midst of the difficulty. And these are positive emotions that help us cope. And then that’s in turn linked to physical health. So for instance, we’re more self-compassionate, our cortisol levels are lower. We’ve got greater heart rate variability, for instance, and that means we also sleep better because we aren’t just beating ourselves up all night so that we can’t sleep. And so it’s linked to both physical and mental wellbeing.”
On Asking What Do You Need?
“The quintessential self-compassion question is, what do I need? And often we don’t even ask ourselves that question. It’s been dictated to us: Oh, I need to go to college. I need to get a graduate degree. I need to get a job. I need to have children. I need to send my children to college. I need to do this and this and this. We don’t ask ourselves: Well, what do I need? And again, one are the beauties of retirement is you can actually pause and say: Well, what is it that I need? What is it that I value? What’s really important to me? But you need to do it for yourself at this point. No one else is doing it for you. The structure isn’t given from the outside, it’s given from the inside. But it’s a beautiful time to be able to do some exploration of what are my values, what really gives me pleasure, what’s important to me. For many people, it’s a time of will actually service giving back that gives me pleasure.”
On Learning the Skills of Self Compassion
“So I started researching self-compassion in 2003, and then in 2008 I met, someone named Chris Germer who said: Kristin, I love your research, but it’s not enough just to research this stuff. You need to teach people how to be more self-compassionate. And then you can research that. And so I started teaming up with him. He had much more experience leading workshops. I had no experience in that area. And so we created something called the Mindful Self-Compassion Program, an eight week empirically supported program, with really good benefits. And so the workbook basically walks you through that eight week program, but in a workbook format, exercise by exercise. And it’s actually our bestselling book, my bestselling book, because if you want to learn self-compassion, it’s like all there. All the steps you need to learn self-compassion are in the workbook, all the basic concepts. It kind of takes you through an order starting small, working your way up. And it really lays out the skills of self-compassion. And they are skills. It is a resource. The good news is even if you aren’t used to doing it, it’s not a totally new skill because almost everyone has developed the skill of compassion for others. We know what it sounds like. We know what it feels like. The skill is just giving yourself permission to turn this resource inward and then not just outward. So it’s actually easier than you would think to practice self-compassion. The biggest hurdle is giving yourself permission and remembering to do it. But the workbook can be really handy for that reason.”
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About Your Podcast Host
Joe Casey is an executive coach who also helps people design their next life after their primary career. He created his own next chapter after a twenty-six-year career at Merrill Lynch, where he was Senior Vice President and Head of HR for Global Markets & Investment Banking.