President's Column: The Transformative Power of Self-Compassion

Jan 05, 2021

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January is a time of resolutions and a commitment to transformation. While the first round of COVID-19 vaccines is here, across the country we are in the midst of a surge of new patients. Given the uncertainty of the next few months, how do we continue to move forward — to transform ourselves and our systems?

In my December column, I talked about the power of inward- and outward-facing connections and their importance to enhancing well-being. When I think about nurturing inward-facing connections, I reflect on the self-compassion research of Dr. Kristin Neff, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research involves self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.

How can we consider resolutions and commitment when there doesn’t seem to be enough time or energy to even pause for a moment? Neff offers an introduction to a self-compassion practice of equanimity for caregivers (e.g., mental calmness and composure) that acknowledges the challenges we face every day. This practice, which simply involves breathing, is designed to be used during a demanding workday but can also be used as a meditation. Give yourself a gift of transformation and watch this short video.

As I talk with nurses across the country, I hear the distress caused by your struggle to “finish everything.” This distress may show up in the conversation you have with yourself as you end your day. One of the strategies to cope with this distress comes from an aspect of self-compassion called self-kindness. Self-kindness asks you to decrease self-criticism and be gentle with yourself when life falls short of expectations. One self-kindness exercise involves recalling how you responded to a friend or a colleague who was struggling. Use this same kindness for yourself, and see how your internal end-of-shift conversation changes.

While self-compassion involves turning inward, the transformation associated with self-compassion also extends outward, like ripples across water. Research demonstrates the beneficial effects of self-compassion on caregivers, as well as the positive effects on the recipients of care. The importance and power of this transformation is captured in this beautiful message:

“We need to take action to develop compassion, to create inner peace within ourselves and to share that inner peace with our family and friends. Peace and warm-heartedness can spread through the community just as ripples radiate out across the water when you drop a pebble into a pond.” – Dalai Lama

Finally, self-compassion requires the recognition of common humanity — the awareness that you are not alone. Have you ever watched the ripples caused by raindrops striking water? While a single ripple may diminish rapidly, when two ripples interact, the effect is augmented. Add in the energy from wind, and ripples turn into waves that can transform the shore. Perhaps the raindrops are all those around you, and the wind is the power of a healthy work environment.

These concepts from Neff, together with the lessons of our beautiful theme art, remind us that we are stronger when our strengths come together — All In Together — All In as One. As we face the challenges and the uncertainty of the next few months, I hope you will consider making self-compassion one of your New Year’s goals.

What ways do you practice self-compassion? Please share them with me at