This is the third in a series of interviews to help you redefine what success means for you and take that ONE STEP towards your goals. I’m chatting to various experts who will share their advice on how to get what you want from different areas of your life.
Freedom (what a great name!) helps millennial women to overcome self-doubt and look after themselves first and foremost so that they can build healthy relationships both with themselves and with their partners. She has a masters degree in counselling for mental health and wellness from New York University as well as a background as a yoga instructor.
Together we talked about the importance of self-compassion and self-care even and perhaps especially when you’re too busy and caught up in your business and your work.
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What is self-compassion?
Well, as Freedom pointed out, it’s much more than going to the spa and having your nails done! Not that there’s anything wrong with that – and we should all do it more often, if that’s what we enjoy. But there is more to it…
One of the leading experts in self-compassion, Kristin Neff, identifies three components of self-compassion:
1. Self-kindness – being warm and understanding towards yourself when you fail or feel inadequate
2. Common humanity – recognising that suffering and personal inadequacy is something that we all go through
3. Mindfulness – observing thoughts and feelings as they are, without judgement or denial
Now the idea of focusing on the self in any shape or form might sound self-indulgent and self-ish. It’s a whole lot easier to be compassionate towards other people than towards yourself and you are usually your worst critic.
And of course you don’t have time for such extravagances with everything you should be getting on with. You’ve got work to be done, a family to take care of, and a whole long list of tasks and chores to complete…
Why is self-compassion so important?
Freedom grew up in New York and her description of the ‘achiever’ mindset of her formative years resonates a lot with me personally and mirrors my ‘good girl syndrome’ that I developed growing up in London. When she decided to explore the idea of self-compassion and mindful living at a Buddhist retreat she suddenly realised that this was what had been missing from her life. But why does no one teach us this? she asks.
When people change career direction, decide to go freelance or set up their own business, their reasons often include having more freedom and flexibility, more work-life balance and less stress and anxiety. In what I find to be a bit of an ironic twist, however, as an entrepreneur you can become even more caught up in your work and in serving others and even less focused on taking care of yourself.
As Freedom points out, you’re always launching something, marketing, creating content, promoting your services… you’re absorbed by all those daily tasks and pulled along by what’s going on outside. But while all those things are important, and of course you need to be building your business and your personal brand, you’re missing the critical point here. If you don’t care of yourself, then none of that other stuff is going to matter!
And, yes, it sounds like a cliché. Take care of yourself, be mindful, practise self-compassion… But Freedom has found that people start to really “get it” once they’ve experienced the benefits that this kind of practice can bring.
“It’s a wholesome, positive behaviour that becomes a positive daily habit.”
Beware the second arrow
Freedom explains how Buddha teaches that the “first arrow” is a painful situation that you experience. Maybe something happens at work to cause you pain, something that you can’t control.
The second arrow, however, is something that you can control. It’s the suffering that you create from your own thoughts. You tell yourself that there’s nothing you can do, it’s hopeless, and it’s all your fault.
To bring this down to a practical example: if things don’t work out with your Facebook ads, that’s your first arrow. If you berate yourself and tell yourself, “I’m so rubbish, I’m going to fail, this will never work…” then that’s the second arrow!
Instead, you must learn to accept the ability to recover from that first arrow. The truth is, it may hurt – but you probably won’t die! So what positive thoughts can you focus on, how can you demonstrate kindness and understanding towards yourself, so that you can then move on and try the next thing?
As an entrepreneur especially, your road will be paved with failures. This you can’t control – but you can control how you react. And reacting constructively will be crucial to allow you move forwards with your business and ultimately to help you help others.
Remember that classic instruction that the air steward gives you ahead of take-off? Put your oxygen mask on first before you help someone else to put it on.
“If you don’t take care of yourself, there is no way you can take care of others!”
How can you practise self-compassion?
The first tool that Freedom refers to is meditation, to help you to come back to what is important, comfort your mind and become grounded again.
If you find the idea of sitting still and doing nothing too uncomfortable, try instead a walking meditation: simply walk slowly, take deep breaths and focus on your steps. Appreciate how the earth is supporting you – and experience how all that noise and clutter starts falling away.
Freedom gives all kinds of other tips in the interview, but one of my favourites is: have fun! Create opportunities to laugh each and every day!
Another idea that might be familiar to fans of productivity and specifically the Pareto principle is the 80/20 mindset. As Freedom explains, you’re taught to always put in 110% – but what about giving 80%? And leaving that last 20% to be taken care of by someone else, perhaps with a little help from the universe?
Finally, Freedom recommends bringing inspiration into your own home. Consider creating a ‘sacred space’ in a corner somewhere, a little place where you can feel calm and centred.
What’s the ONE STEP you can take to practise self-compassion?
Try things out and see what works for you. There are plenty of books out there as well as videos on YouTube to help you get started. There are also apps, like the popular Headspace or something like Mindfulness Bell, which you can set to chime randomly during your day to remind you to come back to the present.
Or you can simply go outside for a meditative walk!
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Freedom Rivera is The Mindful Love Coach who helps millennial women overcome self-doubt and master self-love so that they can build healthy relationships with themselves and with their partners. She teaches them to uncover their inner power and create healthy relationships through mindfulness among other techniques. Despite a challenging childhood, her core belief is that everyone is capable to make their dreams into reality through self-compassion.