When the going gets tough... use self-compassion.


We have some of the most incredible women in the Propelle community, including writer, breakup coach, and therapist, Akirah Robinson.

Akirah is a huge proponent of self-compassion, something she spent an entire year of her life working on developing. We wanted to find out why she was so enamored with this topic, how it's changed her life, and why it's good for business. 

This is what Akirah had to say.


So, what is self-compassion?

The concept of self-compassion basically means that when life gets tough and stressful or when we fail miserably, we have the option of treating ourselves with kindness, rather than judgment and criticism. Self-compassion is comprised of three different elements:

  • Self-kindness: Being nice to yourself. (For instance, talking to yourself as you would a friend if she were going through the same difficult situation you’re going through.)
  • Mindfulness: Being aware of what's going on around you and inside you at any given moment and making observations about your emotions, rather than judgments.
  • Recognition of shared humanity: Knowing that all human beings experience suffering at some point and giving yourself grace when you experience shame.

Essentially, people who are self-compassionate practice these three elements on a regular basis, and especially during times of suffering.

You say that starting to practice self-compassion changed your life. What do you mean by that?

I actually first heard of self-compassion the night of New Year’s Eve in 2013. I was going through a very dark period of my life and experiencing debilitating panic attacks every few days. Going to therapy and taking an anti-depressant was helping, but not enough.

So that evening, I started Googling “anxiety management ideas” and this TED Talk about self-compassion popped up in my search.

By the end of the talk, I was in tears and knew I needed to learn how to incorporate more self-compassion in my life. I quickly ordered the book Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff and got to reading.

How has practicing self-compassion impacted your business?

Prior to discovering self-compassion, my life was ruled by to-do lists and achievements. If I didn’t perform as I thought I should—or if I saw others achieving more success than me, it’d put me in a funk for who knows how long.

During the darkest period of my life, I actually started having panic attacks because I felt like such a failure about everything. As you can imagine, this put a major damper on the way I approached my work and how productive I would be.

Nowadays, I set goals for myself but I don’t beat myself up when I make mistakes. If a pitch to an editor is ignored or denied, I might feel bummed for a bit, but I’m able to comfort myself in a way I never could before. Instead of believing that I’m doomed over one failure or that I’ll never be as good as other writers, I can take a time-out and give myself the same pep talk I’d give a friend dealing with similar struggles.

In short, instead of focusing on the fact that my business isn’t where I’d like it to be, I focus on the lessons I’m learning every step of the journey.

How do you practice self-compassion? 

On a “regular” day, self-compassion isn’t something I practice formally. Aside from meditating a few mornings every week, I don’t really set aside time to practice self-compassion. Instead, I aim to infuse self-compassion into everything I do. It guides my approach to life.

However, on a rough day—when I’m feeling stressed, sad, shame, or guilt—I rely on my self-compassion skills to see me through. I breathe deep or pray/meditate outside (I live two blocks from the riverfront). I repeat affirmations such as “I’m really struggling right now, but my mistakes aren’t a reflection of my self-worth.” I also rub my hands, hold my heart to de-escalate my heartbeat, or carry my worry stone (it’s shaped like a heart!).

Connecting with my body in these ways gives me a dose of mindfulness that helps me snap out of the funk and re-focus.

Do you have a favorite technique or practice, or even one that has been the most impactful?

Probably rubbing my worry stone. My husband found it for me on our second wedding anniversary when we were sitting in front of Lake Erie. It holds a lot of sentimental value for me, and not just because it’s shaped like a heart.

Sadly, there was a time when my husband and I didn’t know if we would make it to our second wedding anniversary. It took a lot of work on both of our parts to get to where we are today, and self-compassion definitely helped.

So when I’m struggling and rubbing my worry stone, I’m kind of reminding myself that if self-compassion helped me strengthen my marriage, it can help me deal with other stressors too.

Was there anything that you stopped doing or had to let go of in the name of self-compassion? 

I basically had to let go of my entire outlook on life. Before I discovered self-compassion, I struggled to appropriately accept responsibility for my life. At any given moment, life was either unfair or I was a horrible screw-up. Two extremes, right?

Self-compassion, required that I think of things differently. Self-compassion helped me find some balance in the way I understand my place in the world.

Yes, sometimes life is unfair—but that doesn’t mean we should shirk responsibility and stop ourselves from learn important lessons. Other times, we mess up. But that doesn’t mean we’re horrible people deserving of punishment and shame.

In short, I know now that mindfulness helps me a ton. That as a human being, I’m going to experience suffering from time to time. And, most importantly, that I’m deserving of kindness.

I’m grateful for the ways self-compassion has changed my life and definitely recommend the book Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff to anyone who is interested in learning more.

(Image source: The Context of Things)



Akirah Robinson

Akirah Robinson is a writer, breakup coach, and therapist living in Pittsburgh, PA with her handsome husband and their hyperactive hound dog, Walker.

Her work has been featured on Glamour.com, xoJane, Bustle, and the Huffington Post. Akirah published her first book,
Respected: How One Word Can Change More Than Just Your Love Life in November 2014.

You can learn more about her at
akirahrobinson.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.