How different would your life be if you really trusted yourself?
What if you knew in your bones that you had the internal resources you needed to deal with disagreement, disapproval, discomfort, disappointment, setback, loss….
What if you felt deep in your gut that you would be kind to yourself when things go sideways?
What if you understood in your core that you are just as worthy of your own love and kindness as anyone else?
What if, when you felt stressed or anxious, you discovered your profound capacity to respond in peaceful and purposeful ways, rather than being reactive or avoidant?
The word compassion comes from two roots — “com,” which means “with,” and “pati,” which is often translated as “suffering.” However, if you go back further in the origin of the root “pati,” you will find the meanings “enduring” or “experiencing.” Therefore, when I think of compassion, I think of “experiencing with.” We can “experience with” another — the wonderful stuff and the hard stuff of life. And we can experience the wonderful and hard stuff of life with ourselves.
Being with the experience of life rather than resisting or avoiding the experience of life is a huge shift in energy use. We are capable of burning a lot of calories being hard on ourselves. This is done in the hopes that, if we are good enough or prepared enough, we can avoid the inevitable challenges that come with being human. Good luck with that.
Sarah Peyton, author or The Resonant Self, uses the phrase “Of course” to embody this sense of compassion. When someone (including ourselves) is upset, sad, frustrated, annoyed, scared, angry, or struggling in just about any other way, we can acknowledge this normal human experience with a simple “of course.”
I believe that this is an especially powerful self-compassion practice if we combine it with putting our hand on our chest and waiting until we feel a glimmer of kindness for the fact that we are having a normal human feeling. “Of course you are feeling this.” That’s all. We do not have to go into a whole big story about why or about who is to blame for it. We can stick with awareness, acceptance, and compassion for the moment.
The word confidence means “to have full trust.” I love that. True self-confidence is not some sense that you are better than anyone else. Nor is it the belief that you have a set of skills that you do not have. The first is arrogance and the second is ignorance. Arrogance and willful ignorance are often postures to cover for insecurity. Confidence is not a cover, it is simply the felt trust that you can deal with whatever happens next. Dealing with it often includes learning from it.
The phrase I associate with this kind of confidence is “I am up to it.” We can’t know the outcome because the outcome is in the future, and the future is fundamentally unknowable. However, we can know that whatever the outcome is, we will be able to work with it. This is true even with really big losses and failures. Imagine feeling that you are up to the worst thing that life can bring your way. Better still, consider what it would be like to know that you are up to the worst thing that you imagine life can bring your way.
After the challenge has passed, we can use the phrase “I was up to it.” Maybe I didn’t “win.” Maybe I would like to have a do over. Maybe it was as uncomfortable and awkward as all get out. And “I was up to it.” I am here. Still standing. Perhaps a bit bruised, but alive to learn and live another day.
Often we react strongly to unexpected or unpleasant stuff in an effort to escape the discomfort we associate with it. We yell at people we love in an attempt to alleviate discomfort in our body. That discomfort is often the result of a fear that we are unsafe or that our need to belong or to matter is at risk. I have seen highly accomplished adults lose it with a small child or a life partner because the they feel that they are not being listened to or taken seriously.
Without compassion confidence, we judge our value by external success, approval, wealth, admiration, praise, titles. The problem is that no amount of this is ever enough. After the initial tide of pleasure, there is always a need for more. And when we don’t get what we are hoping for, there can be a wave of retribution — toward others or ourselves.
So, compassionate confidence is the skill of experiencing challenges — internal and external — with the trust that we can all deal with it. Further, we can deal with it with kindness. It might not be pretty, but we are equipped to do so. It does not preclude preparation or learning — in fact, in my experience, compassionate confidence clears the way for more effective preparation and learning because we are not spending as much energy on worrying about the future or beating ourselves up about the past. Or…we are not spending as much energy worrying about how much we will beat ourselves up if things don’t go the way we want them to.
This is not PollyAnna stuff. In the practice of compassionate confidence there is a clear acknowledgment that aspects of life are uncomfortable, unwanted, painful, and just plain difficult. It is the acceptance of discomfort, not the pretense that we can eliminate it.
And this skill is not built by just thinking about it. The skill of compassionate confidence is cultivated with embodied practice. It is developed by feeling, being, and doing. Through mechanical, methodical, emotional, and sensational practice we move it from an idea to a resource that we can access whenever we need it. Over time, this state becomes the default that we return to quickly and effortlessly.
Putting your hand on your chest, breathing deeply into your belly, smiling gently, and saying to yourself “of course I am feeling this, and I am up to it.” It is important to wait until you can actually feel it — that you can really acknowledge and accept that you are simply having a human experience and that you can work with whatever comes next.
My experience with people (including myself) is that these kinds of practices feel quite awkward at first. Most of us weren’t raised with practices that were internal, embodied, or felt. Quite frankly, if you had suggested this to me twenty years ago, I would have hit you with a serious combination of eye-rolling, arm-crossing, and heavy sighing. \
But here’s the thing — I have a pretty reactive nervous system. I spent a decade struggling with debilitating anxiety and doing damage to relationships with rageful outbursts, desperate approval seeking, and crazy avoidance of discomfort. The cultivation of compassionate confidence has transformed my life. I experience more peace, joy, love, and fulfillment in my daily life than I ever thought was possible.
This is a great practice to do when you wake up in the morning, before the big meeting, before the difficult conversation, or before you walk into your house at the end of a long workday.
This does not mean that you won’t experience confusion where you cannot immediately see the way forward. This does not mean that you won’t lose your temper or say the thing you wish you hadn’t said. This allows you to have more patience and trust that a solution with present itself. This gives you the space to accept responsibility for what you said without being self-defensive or without seeking forgiveness so that you can feel better about yourself.
At the end of the day, compassionate confidence allows you to own your life — the whole deal — the good, the bad, and the ugly. It frees attention and energy to learn, grow, and connect with others no matter what is going on. And in my world, that seems like something worth practicing.
Dave helps individuals and teams practice compassionate confidence so that they can live and work peacefully, purposefully, and powerfully. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Applied Attention.