A Well-Oiled Mind: How To Achieve Emotional Wellbeing Through Self-Compassion

Our recent look at self-compassion focused on tending to one’s mind— you know, that crucial piece of equipment we rely upon as knowledge workers yet inflict abuse upon without remorse. I must confess that I don’t think Kristin Neff was referring to our mental energy when she wrote, “Self-compassion involves being kind to oneself with regard to one’s mind and body, whether supporting wellbeing or in response to suffering.” But I considered what resonates when working with my clients, and took some artistic liberty when interpreting Neff’s first tenet.

This all brings to mind a pattern that I’ve seen emerge when many coaching clients first come to me. They have the tendency to benevolently self-sabotage without remembering to refresh their minds throughout the day. They pack too many obligations into their schedules, they feel like they’re always on the run (which they are), they are exhausted, overwhelmed and always “busy”.

The slight shifts I revealed in the previous article are the first steps to turning that mental abuse into a clearer, sharper, more creative mind. With that as a backdrop, let’s look at the other aspect of a functional mind: Emotional Wellbeing.


Professionals like you and me suffer daily from small dagger blows to the emotions that steer our lives. And as Vincent Van Gogh once implied, we don’t even stop to realize that these emotions are ruling us. We suffer from fear, loneliness, rejection, social isolation, failure, and the illusion of being “less than”. We fear that others will discover we’re not perfect. Some of us even fear success!

There’s an irony to this suffering: It‘s our choice to respond (or, more accurately, react) to situations or our imagination in this way. Suffering, shame and guilt are all true human dis-eases that we choose to inflict on ourselves. It’s also our choice to be kind to ourselves during these emotional struggles. Look at it this way: An emotion only lasts 90 seconds. Anything extended beyond that is evidence that the mind is grasping on, in trance, and not letting go. Developing and practicing a self-compassionate inner dialogue will afford you emotional courage and a clearer mind.

My favorite emotional wellbeing protocol is R.A.I.N. by Tara Brach. In this simple and quick procedure, you

  1. Recognize what is happening;
  2. Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
  3. Investigate with PERSPECTIVE, interest and care;
  4. Nurture with self-compassion.

And fear not— being self-compassionate will NOT turn you into a slacker or a lazy couch potato. This is simply one of the challenges of self-compassion.

The Realm of Overwhelm

Embracing and practicing self-compassion to achieve emotional wellbeing is a challenge also due to our own guilt and shame. Many of us become convinced that if we’re forgiving of ourselves, we might not deserve it, or worse, we’ve taken the first step toward personal weakness. To illustrate the power therein, just consider all the clichés we toss around to appear invulnerable in our nation of “tough guys” and “superwomen”: “No pain, no gain.” “Suck it up, Buttercup.” “Let’s hit the ground running.” “I have enough good, I need great.” “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” “It’s the American way.”

Compounding this damaging mindset is social media, which brings marketing one step closer to perceived reality. It’s a realm of overwhelm, where women strive to be thin, beautiful and everything we’re “supposed to be”. Manufactured illusions and obsolete social constructs flourish in this medium, where the high points of people’s lives tend to be over-emphasized, leaving friends and other onlookers feeling emotionally empty. Where compassion is not part of the equation, wellbeing cannot be attained.

Now that we’ve established that self-compassion is essential to being truly compassionate to others, my follow-up article will explore why and how to employ the kind of compassion that will result in increased engagement and productivity at your workplace.