Tag Archives: Dr. Kristin Neff

Meet Your Inner Critical Coach

By Pete Kirchmer

About The Author

ccf9e-headshot2Pete Kirchmer is  the Assistant Director for the UCSD Center For Mindfulness mPEAK (Mindful, Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge) Program. Pete specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

When asked what gets in the way of consistently performing at their best, most people can easily identify obstacles such as time, energy, scheduling conflicts, and distractions. These can indeed be areas that need focus but what I’ve found in my coaching practice is that most of our real obstacles are internal. Another way to say this is, our greatest obstacle to peak performance is often ourselves.

Inner CriticThese internal obstacles are experienced as negative thoughts and stories in our mind accompanied by tension in our body. These thoughts can take on a personality and an inner voice that seems to have but one job, to sabotage you from doing whatever you set out to do. This inner voice would like to talk you out of your big vision by convincing you that your plans are unworkable and your aspirations are unattainable. Listening to and believing this voice leads to ambivalence, low self-esteem, catastrophizing, shame, anxiety, worry, exhaustion and ultimately failure. Often they are the internalized voices of influential people and caregivers from our past, and when they treat us badly there may be good reason to consider finding ways of letting them go.

In the mPEAK program we refer to these thought patterns as the “Inner Critical Coach”.

The Inner Critical Coach looks for perfection everywhere. It loves to compare and hold unachievable high standards. It strives to attain, and will drive you to success at all cost-including health, happiness and sanity. You know you’re listening to the voice of the Inner Critical Coach when you start feeling like you SHOULD be better than you are. You SHOULD be “there” by now. And SHOULD be like someone else who clearly has it more together than you. There is an overall sense of not measuring up and just not being good enough. When the Inner Critical Coach is in charge, you may end up making long lists of things to do and staying up late, feeling pushed to do more and more but never feeling quite satisfied.

Everyone has these voices to varying degrees. For some, it only comes out when under the extreme pressures of deadlines or competition and for others; it’s a pattern that regularly dominates their thinking. Perhaps you already know a little bit about your own Inner Critical Coach? Just think of an area of your performance that you feel like needs to be changed. Then imagine how you talk to yourself when you don’t perform the way you’d expected in that area. Chances are, the things your Inner Critic says would be grounds for a breakup or a fistfight if someone else said them to you! “Yep, you blew it again. That was bound to happen.” “Its your fault, if you would have worked harder you wouldn’t have let the team down.” “You’re never going to get it right”.

“Your Inner Critic is actually trying to protect you from others’ disapproval, hurt or abandonment.”

It’s easy to start thinking of your Inner Critical Coach as the enemy but let’s explore it a bit more before making that judgment. According to The Founders of Voice Dialoguing Therapy, Hal & Sidra Stone, its intentions aren’t all bad. Your Inner Critic is actually trying to protect you from others’ disapproval, hurt or abandonment. The philosophy of the Inner Critic is “better me than them”—in other words, it is better for your own inner critic to whip you into conformity before you have to experience the hurt of someone else criticizing you. It has a remarkable underlying anxiety about life and what other people think, because again, its job is to protect you from others’ judgments. Can you see how this might be true for your Inner Critical Coach?

Mindfulness of the Inner Critical Coach

mPEAKThe first step to managing your Inner Critical Coach is to start consciously noticing and identifying it from the other thoughts you have. Once identified as “not you” it helps to slap a label on it. Some participants of the mPEAK course stick with the standard title, “Inner Critical Coach” and others give it a more personalized title- maybe even named after a pushy past boss or grouchy childhood soccer coach! The act of noticing and labeling brings the thought from unconscious to conscious or from subjective experience to something that’s now objective and manageable. The clearer we can be in observing these thoughts, the easier it becomes to manage them.

“The clearer we can be in observing these thoughts, the easier it becomes to manage them.”

After labeling, it’s important to realize that your thoughts don’t have to control you and that you have a choice about how to work with these critical thoughts. Perhaps you dispute the thought by finding evidence against it- a time where you did succeed and you were indeed good enough. Or maybe you get curious, “what am I protecting myself from?” Or, “What’s the silver lining in this?” Sometimes just by seeing The Inner Critical Coach for what it is allows us to simply let the whole thing go and move on. We can even potentially thank the Inner Critical Coach for how hard it has worked up until now to try and keep us safe or protect us from harm in some way.

Meet Your Compassionate Inner Coach

But even as resilient as you may be, we’ve all had occasions where the challenges we’re up against just don’t seem to respond to our usual strategies for moving forward. Maybe you dropped the game-winning pass, lost a key client, sustained an injury, got fired or gained twenty pounds. Try as you might, the emotions that come with failure such as inadequacy and unworthiness can seem to stick like pine tar. Even though you’re aware that your Inner Critical Coach has taken over the ship, you may still feel helpless to turn things around.

SparklerDuring these inevitable difficulties we have participants in the mPEAK course experiment with turning towards another aspect of themselves, their Compassionate Inner Coach. This is the inner voice that is kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain and failure. Your Compassionate Inner Coach has your back and wants whatever is best for you. It wants nothing more than for you to be happy, perform at your best and be free from stress.

“How would you feel if you lost a competition and your coach said to you: “What a looser. You’ll never amount to anything. I’m ashamed of you!” Inspired, confident, ready to take on the next challenge? Of course not – and yet isn’t that exactly the type of language we use with ourselves when we fail? What could your coach say that was more productive? “Hey, it’s okay. Everyone fails sometime and it’s an important part of the learning curve. But I’m here for you. I believe in you. What can I do to help?” This type of kind, supportive talk is going to be a much more effective motivator. Luckily we can start to use this approach with ourselves by learning the skill of self-compassion.”

–Kristin Neff

Compassion is not a term typically spoken in boardrooms or locker rooms and it’s relevance to performance enhancement may not be immediately obvious. Sure we all agree it’s valuable for caregivers like nurses, mothers, aide workers and those religiously inclined to service but how might compassion help an athlete or an executive?

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Dr. Kristin Neff

Though research into the physiology of self-compassion versus self-criticism is still in its early stages, Kristin Neff, the lead researcher in self-compassion hypothesizes a simple model. Harsh self-criticism activates the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) and elevates stress hormones such as cortisol in our bloodstream. When our Inner Critical Coach has a hold on us, we cannot learn from or engage with the deeper lesson or truth that may be there to serve us. Connecting with your own Self-Compassionate Inner Coach on the other hand may trigger the mammalian care-giving system, releasing hormones of affiliation and love, such as oxytocin, which is associated with feelings of connection and well-being.

Offering self-compassion by treating yourself the way a good friend would, presents a healthy way of relating to the self that is not dependent upon performance, success or positive self-evaluations. Treating oneself with compassion involves accepting all aspects of one’s experiences, regardless of how painful or difficult they may be.

“Treating oneself with compassion involves accepting all aspects of one’s experiences…”

Research by Mosewich et al. found that self-compassion was linked with lower body shame, body surveillance, fear of failure, fear of negative evaluation, objectified body self-consciousness, and social physique anxiety. Treating oneself with compassion allows for clarity of one’s limitations and recognition of unhealthy behaviors, which enables action for growth and encourages change to improve well-being (Berry, Kowalski, Ferguson, & McHugh); hence, self-compassion may be a viable resource for achieving human potential. In other studies done by Ferguson and Kowalski et al., Self-compassion was described as advantageous in difficult sport specific situations by increasing positivity, perseverance, and responsibility, as well as decreasing rumination.

Self-Compassion Skepticism

Despite the promising research, some of the participants in mPEAK meet this particular practice with resistance and a healthy skepticism. It’s a commonly held belief in high achievers that “if I didn’t beat myself up, I’d never get anywhere. My Inner Critical Coach is who motivates me to win!” Self-compassion can be perceived as too gentle for corporate culture or too passive for the grittiness of competitive sports. There is a fear that listening to the voice of the Inner Compassionate Coach will make them complacent, or overly tolerant of low standards. “If I’m too kind to myself, I’ll loose my edge.” “If I believe I’m good enough, I’ll never get better.”

But The Self-Compassionate Coach is hardly one to let you off the hook. Neff explains that self-compassion is not a way of avoiding goals or becoming self-indulgent. Instead, self- compassion is a great motivator because it involves the desire to alleviate suffering, to heal, to thrive, and to be happy. A parent who cares about her child will insist on the child’s eating vegetables and doing her homework, no matter how unpleasant these experiences are for the child. Similarly, taking it easy on yourself may be appropriate in some situations, “but in times of over-indulgence and laziness, self-compassion involves toughening up and taking responsibility.”

In experiments by Juliana G. Breines and Serena Chen, it was found that self-compassion actually motivated people to improve personal weaknesses, moral transgressions, and test performance. So rather than giving up, those who are self-compassionate actually try as hard to succeed as those who are less self-compassionate, but are more likely to persist after failing or falling or losing.

Loss, failure and injury are painful enough on their own without us adding an extra layer of self-judgment and insult. If your Inner Critical Coach is holding you back from peak performance and you’re ready to make a shift toward greater Self Compassion, you may consider signing up for our upcoming mPEAK 3-Day Intensive.

logo-mpeakMindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge
3-Day Intensive mPEAK course Program activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices.
CE credits are available. June 26-28, 2015 The Catamaran Hotel, San Diego, CA

For our local San Diego residence you are also invited to register for the full 8-Week mPEAK program held at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness.

 

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How About Making an “Old Year’s Resolution” to Be More Compassionate to Yourself in the New Year?

steve-hickmanBy Steven Hickman, Psy.D.
Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher and Teacher Trainer
Executive Director, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness

Perhaps you have seen the clever t-shirt depicting a pirate on his ship exclaiming “The beatings will continue until morale improves!” We tend to laugh at that sentiment because at some point in our lives we have probably found ourselves on the receiving end of that sort of “logic”. And we also laugh because we know it is a ridiculous notion that pummeling someone with negativity will bring about more positivity. It’s like continuing to put your car in reverse in order to move forward.

But consider for a moment where your New Year’s Resolutions come from and see if there are some seeds of this approach in how you treat yourself. Do you look into the mirror and think, “Listen Big Guy, I know you want to lose a few pounds because it’s important to you to stay healthy for your wife and kids. Can you commit to working on this in the New Year”? Or is the tone a bit more like “What’s wrong with you? How could you let yourself go like this? This is so typical of you. You’re such a lazy bum. You need to get off your butt and exercise. This year’s New Year’s resolution will be lose that ugly gut!”

For many of us these days, the latter judgmental tone is much more familiar than the former, more kind and encouraging tone. And we actually know from the research on self-compassion, done by Dr. Kristin Neff and others, that we are significantly more effective at motivating ourselves to change if that motivation involves a self-compassionate, rather than punitive and critical, approach.

In the Mindful Self-Compassion program created by Christopher Germer, Ph.D. and Kristin Neff, Ph.D., there is a key exercise called Finding Your Core Values (drawn from Steven Hayes’ Acceptance and Commitment) where we guide people to consider what is most deeply important in their lives, and where they are not living in accord with those values. Perhaps you value ease and equanimity in your personal life, and you find that meditation supports you in that, but lately you haven’t been meditating as much as you would like. This is a place where you are out of alignment with your core values. How helpful have you found it to berate yourself for not meditating enough? That’s what I thought!

What if you could connect more deeply with what really moves you and be guided by that in difficult or stressful times so that you make better choices that are more in alignment with what is profoundly important to you? Research suggests that one way to do this would be to let go of the self-critical voice that is desperately trying to take care of you and keep you from harm, but doing it in dysfunctional and counter-productive ways like that pirate above!

When you ponder something you would like to change about yourself or your behavior (things that you can actually change) as part of a New Year’s resolution, consider how you normally talk to yourself about that behavior and how successful that approach has been so far (given that it is still on your list of things you want to change!). And then consider the possibility of speaking to yourself in a more loving and supportive way, the way you would want to be motivated by a mentor or coach or supportive friend. Could the more self-compassionate approach actually touch the part of you that wants very much for this change to happen? What would it be like to motivate yourself out of love and positive regard for yourself rather than criticism, judgment and shaming?

All evidence points to this self-compassion approach being far more effective and sustainable than the self-critical approach and it actually feels better too!

If you find yourself struggling with being kind to yourself, or want to be able to meet your own struggle and suffering with tolerance, warmth and acceptance, you might want consider taking the Mindful Self-Compassion program, either in an 8-week version if one is near you, or in a 5-day intensive format. Check the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion website for more information on programs near you.

Steven D. Hickman, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist and Executive Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. He is a Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) teacher as well as being co-developer of the MSC Teacher Training. Dr. Hickman and Kristy Arbon will be offering a 5-day intensive version of MSC in Barre, Massachusetts on January 18-23, 2015. Check Kristy Arbon’s Mindful Self-Compassion Training website for more information and to register. If you are in San Diego, consider taking the 8-week MSC course in January.

 

Can self-compassion improve through mindfulness?

This post originally appeared on the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM) blog, and is written by Ruth Buczynski, PhD

You shouldn’t kick yourself when you’re down . . .

. . . but sometimes it’s hard not to. Even if we’re compassionate toward others, we can still be our own worst critics. Mindfulness meditation really works. And self-compassion is one of its key benefits.

Kristen Neff, PhD, from the University of Texas-Austin, and Christopher Germer, PhD, from Harvard Medical School, wanted to find out whether self-compassion could be developed through training.

Mindfulness meditation and self-compassionDrs. Neff and Germer randomly assigned 54 people to either an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) program or a waitlist control. The MSC program combined weekly 2-hour meetings with homework and a half-day meditation retreat. The program began with an explanation of what self-compassion is, and incorporated both formal and informal mindfulness practices.

Before the program, participants completed surveys to measure self-compassion, mindfulness, and other internal states. They took the same surveys immediately after the program’s completion, and then 6 months later as a follow-up. And, as it turns out, Dr. Neff and Dr. Germer have good news for people who’d like to develop self-compassion.

After taking the program, participants reported significantly greater gains in self-compassion, along with mindfulness, compassion for others, and life satisfaction when compared with the control group. What’s more, researchers found a large statistical effect size in self-compassion. This is relevant because many previous studies of mindfulness programs have found substantially smaller effect sizes – suggesting that this program might be particularly effective.

Of course, since the research involves only self-report data, we should be cautious about drawing conclusions. When people reply that they’re more compassionate or mindful on a survey, what does that really mean about their mental states? What’s more, this research involves only a waitlist control. That means we can’t be sure what made the difference. People might develop self-compassion just from getting together twice a week. Or maybe doing “mental homework” of any kind helps all sorts of internal states.

So, while I think this is a good foundation, I’d like to see more research that uses objective measures of self-compassion and an active control.

If you’d like to read the whole study, it’s currently in press in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Of course, to see the benefits of self-compassion with your clients, you need to be able to introduce mindfulness effectively. That can be complex, depending on your client, so that’s why we’ve put together our Making Mindfulness Work webinar series. Just click here to sign up for free.

Has mindfulness training ever transformed one of your clients’ capacity for self-compassion? What about your own? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

At the UCSD Center for Mindfulness we offer
two great ways to explore Mindful-Self Compassion

The first is through participating in our 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Program right here at our UCSD CFM Meditation Room. We are the only center currently teaching the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion program as originated by Drs. Neff and Germer.  The next 8-week MSC program begins in January 2013

The second way to explore self-compassion is by attending our upcoming Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Training Retreat, May 12-17, 2013, at EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA with Dr. Chris Germer and Dr. Kristin Neff.

This program is designed for members of the general public, as well as for professionals who wish to integrate self-compassion into their work. Participating in a MSC program satisfies a prerequisite for becoming a MSC program teacher, and teacher training will begin at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness in 2014. A modest, regular meditation practice is required to become a MSC teacher but meditation experience is not necessary to participate in this professional training. All are welcome!

Learn About “The Science Of Compassion” First “Unprecedented!” Large-Scale Conference

The Science of CompassionStanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) presents world experts on compassion, altruism & service The Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures & Interventions
July 19-22 in Telluride, Colorado.

The Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) presents The Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures and Interventions, the first large-scale international conference of its kind dedicated to study of compassion. The Telluride CCARE event will provide an unprecedented gathering of leading experts in research on compassion, altruism, social connection and service to discuss their latest findings. The conference will explore the origins of compassion and compassionate action, how it can be measured, and how we can foster it through interventions.

CEU: APA-approved Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) offered to psychologists and master’s level clinicians. 1 credit per hour of conference attendance.

The conference is open to researchers and the general public. Among the presenters are key figures in Psychology such as Dr. Phil Zimbardo and keynote speaker Dr. Richard Davidson, pioneering researcher on meditation and brain function. Other invited speakers include such distinguished scholars as Thupten Jinpa Langri (His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s long-time translator).

“While compassion is a fundamental part of every religious tradition, there is an ever enlarging body of scientific evidence that being compassionate has immense positive impact on the individual both in regard to their mental and physical health. This first-of-its-kind conference will highlight these scientific findings and provide a forum for researchers from around the world to collaborate with colleagues from a variety of disciplines. We at CCARE are very excited to sponsor the conference and contribute to this expanding field.” says Dr. James Doty, director of CCARE.

Event co-sponsors include the Telluride Institute, the University of California-Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, and the Swedish Association for Contemplation in Education and Research.
Between sessions, compassion meditation opportunities practices and interactive workshops will be offered. Seats limited.

For more information/registration, please go to CCARE. For questions and media inquiries, please contact Emma Seppala emmas@stanford.edu (650) 723-3248

SAVE THE DATE! Attend a Self-Compassion Workshop with Dr. Kristin Neff in San Diego.

Saturday, September 22, 2012, Special 1-Day Self-Compassion Workshop at UCSD presented by, Kristin Neff, PhD, author Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.