Athletes and self-compassion

How many times in the past 48 hours have you beat yourself up over something?

“I’m not motivated. I should be doing more.” “I haven’t done anything with this time in quarantine.” “I’m worthless.” “I’m letting people down.”

(Read below for the full story of my own epic self-flagellation.)

Athletes–injured or not–are experts at beating themselves up. It’s a habit that’s a constant energy drain and sabotages physical recovery. Worst of all, we have the endurance to keep it up long after most folks would quit and move on.

In this edition of Straight talk with IAT, I talk with Ashley Kuchar.

athletes and self compassion

Ashley is a PhD student, studying Educational Psychology, at The University of Texas at Austin with self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff. Over the last 4 years, she has been working hard to develop a program that teaches athletes how to respond with resilience in the face of adversity.

Ashley and I chat about why athletes beat themselves up, how that negatively affects us psychologically and physically, and why self-compassion is your secret weapon to stop beating yourself up.

Please share this video with all the athletes in your life, injured or not!


The story behind the video–my rocky road to radical self-compassion

I’ve had a mega-four-year-long mental block about being in and editing video. As a quintessential introvert, I listen to and focus intensely on peoples’ stories which looks like a blank stare on camera.

Then there was the rude recovering perfectionist voice. “That’s going to look weird.” “What are people going to think?” “It’s not going to be perfect.” “You have no idea what you’re doing.” “You’ll fail.”

“I’d rather handle a snake than be on video,” I told myself. And, if you know me, you know I have a pathological fear of snakes.

There were four earnest attempts with video editing software people highly recommended–that I hated. Click one wrong button, and the previous hour’s work was gone, with no way to undo the mis-click.

Fast forward to the end of February 2020. I attended a yoga and science conference here in Austin with my friend Laurie.

Kristin Neff (you may be familiar with her self-compassion work) rearranged the furniture in my head once again with an impactful presentation. I wanted to thank her for her work because of its transformational power on my deeply-entrenched perfectionist views. I share her work with many of my clients too.

So, I introduced myself, thanked her, and shared how I’m using her work in my practice.

She lights up, “Oh, I need to introduce you to one of my grad students, Ashley. She’s studying athletes and self-compassion.”

Ashley and I connect and have meaty conversations.

Then I think, “You know, Heidi, she’d be a great person with whom to do an interview and try editing again. She is a self-compassion researcher, after all. There’s no such thing as failure or imperfection with Ashley.”

I did a bunch of digging and found an editing software that jived with me.

Then I had to turn up the volume big time on my own self-compassion practice and allow myself to show up and try without any expectation of perfection. All I had to do was take the first step.

So, on Monday morning I interviewed Ashley.

I spent the next two days fumbling around in the dark with editing software. There was a lot of cussing, but, by the end, I started to find my way around.
I intentionally chose something “simple” to edit, but, even so, it took many, many hours of feeling totally inept and incompetent and self-conscious. I marched forward.

The project rendered overnight.

I love metaphors. And knitting. There’s a saying that mistakes should be left in your knitting to reflect that the piece is made by human hands. So, I left some “mistakes” (Let’s all evoke Bob Ross—”There are not mistakes, just happy little accidents.”) in my video.

In particular, there’s one transition at the end that I don’t love and it’s grating on me, but I’m going to sit with the discomfort of it not being perfect. It stays.

I spent yesterday breathing life back into my YouTube Channel.

Then I uploaded the video!

Susan Young’s no-BS-help-me-get-out-of-my-own-head-New-Jersey-accent-voice kept me forging forward. The work we did together helped me find my voice and confidence that I lost as a child.

Then I celebrated by buying my favorite comfort food, coffee. I know, coffee isn’t a food. It is to me. Actually, it’s a food group!

So, find something you’ve been putting off. Keep that in mind when you watch this video, and then take the first step. Let me know how it goes. Oh, and remember to choose how you’re going to celebrate too!



:50 Who is Ashley Kuchar?

1:47 Ashley’s athletic background and her a-ha moment

5:15 What does a lack of self-compassion versus having self-compassion physically feel like?

8:00 What is self-compassion?

9:16 Why are athletes—and especially injured athletes–so hard on themselves? And what’s to be done? Spoiler alert: No, you don’t have to be woo woo to practice self-compassion.

13:25 What can be really helpful when we’re struggling with beating ourselves up?

14:45 An exercise you can do right now to feel better

16:51 Why everything you need for a self-compassion practice you already have innately as an athlete

17:51 How I came to the practice of self-compassion and overcoming my resistance to getting started

19:15 How self-compassion is a secret weapon to helping your body heal and why you cannot separate the body and mind when you’re injured

19:47 Why–as an athlete–you are perfectly wired to practice self-compassion

20:26 The mindset shift and practice of self-compassion and where you’ll see the biggest change

20:58 Overcoming resistance

24:12 What’s behind athletes pushing themselves so much?

28:20 Self-compassion translated for athletes: four essential steps for you to follow

34:25 How to get started, even if you’re skeptical

37:00 Ashley walks us through some of the exercises

40:00 Ashley walks us through using self-compassion to overcome a struggle all injured athletes face

44:15 Physiological and psychological benefits of a self-compassion practice

45:40 Why self-compassion does not mean you’re just accepting your fate, holding down the sofa, and giving up on getting better

48:00 Specific benefits to athletes… Hint: more good, less bad

49:30 How self-compassion can help your motivation (!!!)

52:15 Surprise! Self-compassion is contagious.

53:00 How self-compassion can rescue you from a bad day

55:25 (and at the very end) Resources and where to learn more

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