If compassion means to feel empathy and warmth to others in their suffering, then self-compassion simply means to direct that same level of empathy and warmth to yourself.

As a mother trying to balance a career and family, you can often end up feeling guilty, overwhelmed and inadequate while striving to be the ‘perfect mum, and successful in your chosen career.

It’s the feeling of over-whelm and inadequacy that leads you to strive for more, which then creates a vicious cycle.

A growing body of evidence suggests relinquishing a perfect self-identity, and instead embracing a stance of kindness and forgiveness actually increases your chances of success. This is because the ‘be perfect’ ideology can paralyze you with fear of failure and incompetence, which are the root cause of frustration and inner conflict.

It’s unrealistic to believe we can always be happy or get exactly what we want, but our culture today creates an illusion this is possible. You’re encouraged in all forms of media to believe everyone’s lives are more perfect than your own. However the truth is ‘imperfection’ is an essential human trait: every working mother (whether in, or outside the home) experiences the same feelings you do.

To practice self-compassion you first need to become observant that people’s lives are by turns frustrating, fulfilling, tedious and joyful. Nobody’s perfect nor do they have the perfect life. When you start letting go of the need to try to be the ‘perfect’ mum, you liberate yourself from this illusion, this is the first step to practicing self-compassion.

A common thought I’m sure you can all relate to is ‘I’m a bad mother’, it’s this kind of judgmental thought which leads you to start comparing yourself to other mums. If you bring a sense of acceptance and mindful awareness to thoughts such as this, you can choose to respond with compassion by saying something like,” I hear you, you feel pretty bad right now and it’s ok to feel this way”, or something like “you’re managing a huge task here, juggling so many balls, occasionally you’re going to drop one and that’s ok”.

By responding this way, you’re not only practicing kindness and forgiveness, you’re giving yourself permission to be accepting of your situation and perceived failures and acceptance is key to your happiness. It’s through this acceptance the weight of judgment is lifted and the vicious cycle of feeling inadequate and over-whelmed is broken.

Unfortunately there are misunderstandings surrounding the practice of self-compassion which prevents people from trying it out for themselves. Some of these misunderstandings suggest self-compassion is a form of weakness, self-pitying or an attitude which is indulgent.

In truth self-compassion isn’t any of these things, to practice self-compassion requires courage and great inner strength.

Try the following exercise to have a taste of what it’s like to practice self-compassion.

Take five minutes for the exercise and observe how quickly you can feel a shift in your mind-set from feelings of inadequacy, guilt or over-whelm, to feelings of balance and calm.

To begin reflect on a situation which is currently, or has recently, caused you upset.

A situation perhaps where you dropped one of those many balls you’ve been juggling…

Close your eyes and start to pay attention to all the whirling thoughts attached to that situation.

Try not to control the thoughts or push them away, simply allow yourself to hear and experience them fully in this present moment.

While doing this if it’s comfortable to do so, place your hand on your heart or on your shoulder, the way you would if you were comforting a friend.

Think about things you would say to a friend to offer them words of comfort, then repeat these things to yourself.

Observe how cruel your own thoughts can be, and then notice how differently you would speak to your friend- you wouldn’t dream of repeating some of the things you often say to yourself!

Also, pay close attention here to how it feels when you offer yourself compassion. People can occasionally feel awkward or uncomfortable initially because it’s a way of behaving towards yourself that you’re not used to, but just try to go with that feeling and don’t forget to give yourself compassion for that too.

Try this self-compassion exercise when you start to feel yourself becoming over-whelmed or stressed and let me know how you get on- I’d love to hear your thoughts!

You can find me on Facebook and Instagram. Or check out my website www.aimee-leigh.com and sign up for my free video which shows you how to go from feeling over-whelmed tobalanced in an instant.

Originally published at medium.com