Is it really possible to transform ourselves in just fourteen days? Tim Desmond, author of The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook believes it is.
Desmond provides an overview of what self-compassion is before presenting his fourteen day program in which readers are encouraged to work on self-compassion exercises for just thirty minutes a day to foster greater self-acceptance. He concludes with tips for applying and maintaining self-compassion in the long-term.
According to the book, self-compassion is about celebrating oneself when life is going well, as well as being kind to oneself when things are not going so well. Self-compassion helps people learn how to best care for themselves, through both the good and bad. Through the practice of self-compassion, people may even become more motivated because they’re more willing to make mistakes.
Though the book presents a fourteen day program, learning self-compassion does not happen overnight. The key to success with self-compassion is realizing that it is a skill, and all skills require practice. Desmond suggests readers focus on developing self-compassion when feeling well, so that the skill can be applied when it’s really needed during more challenging times.
According to Desmond, self-compassion practice includes time spent learning how to embrace suffering. Before embarking on this journey, readers are encouraged to assess where they are now with their self-compassion, and are asked to keep a journal to record the self-compassion practices that they do each day.
One of the practices, the “Self-Compassion Body Scan” is a great tool for anyone wanting to manage their stress levels. Those who already practice mindfulness will be familiar with mindful breathing and being mindful of how their body feels. A second practice, called “Self-Acceptance” asks readers to accept whatever they experience in their bodies or minds. This practice is not about whether a feeling or right or wrong, it’s about being aware. A third practice, called “Embracing Suffering” may be slightly confusing to those who are new to this concept. “Embracing” doesn’t mean liking or wanting the suffering; it means recognizing that it is a normal part of existence.
When the book moves into the fourth practice, which is called “Healing Pain from the Past,” I become a little bit uncomfortable as a clinician. Anyone who has experienced significant trauma or events that have had an impact on their day-to-day functioning may want to work through this section with a therapist due to its intensity.
We all know that we can’t change what’s happened in the past, but as we process it we can learn to change how much it impacts us and our everyday life. Of course, all of us have had struggles, so it’s not to say that this practice couldn’t be done individually by anyone. However, when in doubt, I strongly encourage readers to work through the fourth practice with a licensed practitioner.
I have a similar suggestion for the the fifth practice, which is called “Go Deeper” and is about trying to understand the root causes of suffering. Some of this exercise encourages readers to talk to their past selves as a child, and I think this practice has the potential to take people to a very difficult place. It may be best for some to work through this one with a licensed practitioner as well.
The sixth practice, called “When Compassion Is Difficult” is perfect for anybody. The first component involves overwhelm; something we all experience in this modern world. The simplest way to deal with overwhelm is by getting necessary amounts of rest and recuperation. The second part of the practice deals with competing commitments and is also one that many can relate to.
The seventh practice is called “Natural Compassion,” and asks readers to look for ways of sending feelings of compassion to others, and to imagine others sending us those feelings. Lastly, “Cultivating Joy” entails looking inside ourselves for happiness rather than seeking it externally. As we begin to appreciate what’s happening in the current moment, we won’t be so likely to shift how we feel as our circumstances change. Overall, we will become less reliant on external circumstances to make us happy.
The book includes guidance for each practice, and acknowledgment that not all practices will work for everyone. It is meant to be used as a workbook, and includes plenty of space for writing. Although it is a a fairly big book, there is a lot whitespace inside for doing the practical exercises. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to be able to get through it in two weeks.
While there are some situations in which I think it may not be a good idea for readers to walk through some of the practices alone, Desmond does offer insights for readers who become too overwhelmed. I’m glad he gets to this point quickly, because someone who is dealing with trauma or is just not used to experiencing emotions may struggle with this workbook. That said, the overall principles in the book are well-written and easy to understand for the layperson.
The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook: A 14-Day Plan to Transform Your Relationship with Yourself
W.W. Norton & Company