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How Self Compassion Makes Change Easier

Updated: Mar 7

I have several friends who are struggling with change right now — the unwanted kind. Two are facing the loss of a parent. One is grappling with a health issue that’s reshaping her retirement. Another is overwhelmed with new duties at work with no real break in sight. 

You might be struggling to create change you do want, whether it’s eating healthier, managing stress, starting a new treatment regimen, or improving a relationship.

Whether we’re managing changes thrust upon us, or chasing changes we desire, it’s natural to feel negative emotions and thoughts around wanting things to be different than they are. You may catch yourself saying:

“This is too difficult.” 

“This should be different.”  

“This isn’t fair.” 

“I don’t want to.” 

“I can’t.””

It’s OK to feel this way.

Last year, I had the opportunity to interview renowned mindfulness teacher Sharon Salzberg, whose latest book, Real Life, is a guide for people navigating difficulty and uncertainty. (Read that article here.) 

She told me that feeling negative emotions in difficult circumstances isn’t a problem. (We get to feel our feelings!) It’s when we identify too strongly with those feelings — when we start to feel defined by them — that we get stuck. 

Sharon calls this stuck mental and energetic state “contraction,” and I, for one, know what this state feels like. When I’m contracted around an unwanted change or circumstance, I tend to close up. I either see no options, or only one option (usually requiring herculean effort). There might be a dash of self-judgment thrown in there, as well: “I’m just not good at this,” I’ll think, or “I should have handled this differently.”

Learning to move from a contracted to an “expansive” state can ease our burdens and open us up to more options.

Your tough-but-tender superpower

Practicing self-compassion is a powerful way to create expansion in your life. 

Self-compassion means treating yourself with warmth and understanding in difficult times. It’s recognizing that things are hard, that you’re not alone, and that this challenge or change doesn’t define you.

Rather than letting yourself off the hook, self-compassion is powerfully effective at helping you move through change — the wanted and unwanted kinds — and building resilience. Further, when you practice self-compassion, you stimulate the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” which decreases feelings of distress and deactivates our stress response.

People who practice self-compassion (rather than cracking the whip on themselves or shaming themselves into submission) make better progress toward health-related goals.

“Self-compassion is our biggest engine for growth and change,” Sharon told me.

4 Ways to Be Self-Compassionate

1. Prioritize your own self-care. Eat something healthy. Take a nap. Engage in a hobby or spend time in nature.

2. Talk kindly to yourself. Notice self-criticism and treat yourself with the same support and care you'd offer a close friend facing difficulties. 

3. Embrace your imperfections. Being human means being imperfect. See your flaws and mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning.

4. Try mindfulness. Acknowledge your feelings and thoughts without judgment. Breathe. Create space by just noticing what is without trying to fix it.

Practicing self-compassion takes … well, practice. I’d love to be your partner in building this skill. Email me at or click the button below to schedule a complimentary 30-minute discovery call.

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