A container of Bitchin’ Sauce just front-flipped out of the fridge and broke all over the floor.
I am already having a crap day: Grieving a relationship that’s ending, running late for an appointment, rushing because I spent too long getting sucked into something meaningless on my phone.
And now this: a messy mess of a mess.
A first, my Inner Critic starts to rev up:
“Wow, there you go again, clumsy pants. Can’t you do anything right?! I can count on you to take a rough situation and make it harder. You’re supposed to be a grown up?! Do better.”
In the past, it would be easy to let that voice get louder and louder.
But I’m practicing something different.
So, late and all, I take a deep breath and turn my attention to the Self-Compassion checklist in my head.
(I’m glad it’s a checklist; in moments like these, I need simple steps to follow.)
I picked it up from self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff at a webinar she gave years ago.
I don’t think it’s part of her standard body of work; I haven’t found it when Googling.
But it’s so clear, so simple, and so helpful that it’s what I always turn to in times of need.
Step 1: Notice I’m suffering.
This might seem obvious.
But it’s actually not, in the heat of the moment.
So I say out loud.
“I’m suffering. You’re suffering.”
Step 2: Offer myself warm, soothing touch and sound, like I would to a baby.
I rub my hand over my heart and say it again, this time with even more care in my voice.
“Aww honey, you’re suffering. That’s hard. I see you. I care.”
It’s tempting to skip this step, but the truth is we’re mammals in mammal bodies, and we respond to such things.
I feel my blood and body chemistry shift, ever so slightly, towards more calm and less activation.
Step 3: Connect to the universal nature of my suffering.
Often, when we’re struggling, we make it even worse for ourselves by getting stuck in the story that we’re uniquely wrong and shameful for dealing with whatever it is.
The truth is the opposite: Our pain connects us.
I like to remember this by imagining how many thousands or millions of people might be suffering in the EXACT SAME WAY as I am.
This also has the added benefit of forcing me to NAME the way I’m suffering, which helps me get a little more precious distance from it.
“I bet there’s 5,000 people right now staring at a stupid mess they have to clean up because they were rushing.
And I bet there’s a million people feeling heartache about a relationship not going the way they wanted.
And I bet there’s 10 million people running late because they got caught on their phones.”
I breathe a big deep breath of relief as I say this.
Step 4: Talk to myself like a good friend.
The last step is something I’m already pretty decent at — with others.
It’s to offer care, counsel, wisdom, and advice as if I was talking to a dear friend.
I often picture a specific person as I’m doing this; someone I love and feel easy care and goodwill towards.
What would I tell her if she were standing right here in this same situation?
“Oh, I see you’re having a rough day.
That makes so much sense.
Isn’t it funny how the little things just pile up like that?
It’s ok to pause and rest.
To clean up.
To send a text saying you’re running late.
You’re ok. You’re not broken. This is human. This is life.”
And that’s it.
I finish the checklist for now.
My heart softens to myself.
I spend a few minutes cleaning up a mess.
I stop making it mean something dramatic about my character.
I find a little kindness in my heart for the pain I’m feeling in this moment, in this day.
And I go on with life.
Until the next opportunity to practice self-compassion.
Which never takes very long to arrive.
What does self-compassion look like in your life?
Are you willing to try out these 4 steps?
PS – This edition of the Magic Words of the Week was inspired by a question my friend Jessie asked last week. Was it helpful?
This post was originally sent as an email to the Magic Words of the Week newsletter list. Every week, I share reflections on a word, quote, or phrase I think will help you thrive in your life’s work.