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The Practice of Self-Compassion

I’m going to set aside the topic of physician burnout for now, and plan to spend the next few blog posts teaching you some practical skills that I and my coaching clients have found to be particularly useful.

Today, I’m going to share a tool that has been key in reducing my anxiety and increasing my self-compassion. I’m still practicing it on the regular, and love teaching it to my clients.

I have always been a hard worker. And I learned, quite early in life, that hard work leads to success. And it did – I worked hard and I was a great student, got into excellent schools, played Division 1 lacrosse in college, got accepted to my first-choice residency, was selected as a chief resident. Don’t get me wrong – I am very proud of these accomplishments, and more. But along this path, I also learned that being hard on myself was a necessary part of my success. And so my inner critic became quite loud – “I should have gotten more done today.” “A good doctor does ….” “A good mom doesn’t do ….” “I know better.” “I shouldn’t have messed that up.” “I should be further along”.

The problem with this harsh and judgmental line of thinking is how we feel and what we do when we hear criticism – we feel shame, stress, guilt. And then we ruminate, compare ourselves to others, freeze, avoid, shut down. And we don’t allow ourselves to learn from the situation or to grow.

Critical judgement is NOT helpful in moving us forward or motivating us; in reality, it hinders our progress.

So what can you do when you hear your inner critic? (Because believe me, she’s not going away!) Instead of believing her words as statement of fact, pause, and practice self-compassion instead of self-judgment. Self-compassion is the act of turning kindness inward; of giving ourselves the same kindness that we would give to another. There are 3 steps to this tool and it can be completed in under a minute.

  1. Acknowledge your emotion – think (or say aloud to yourself) something like “I’m feeling disappointed”.

  2. Normalize – “this is normal, of course I’d feel disappointed in a moment like this.”

  3. Give yourself kindness – just like expressing kindness to others, you can do this through physical touch or through kind words. Try both and see what works best for you. I like to put one hand on my chest over my heart. But you could also try touching your cheek or holding your own hand. Or use kind words of your choice.

At first it may feel a bit awkward to talk to yourself about yourself (but you must admit – it’s pretty cool that our human brains have the capacity to think about our own thinking!) But if you can pivot from self-judgment and practice self-compassion more regularly, you’ll find that you will actually get more done, build stronger relationships, reach bigger goals, and simply feel better.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama

Like this tool and want to learn more? Join my email list at and never miss another blog post. Or sign up for a free consult to learn more about coaching with me – I offer 1:1 coaching for physicians who are ready to reclaim their joy.


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