There are lots of misunderstandings and misconceptions about compassion. Here are my top 10 do's and don'ts that provide clarity using some of the latest findings from research. Use them to help build or strengthen your compassion. It is in you to give!
1) Don’t think of compassion as just an emotion.
Compassion is a process that moves beyond emotion, necessitating action that addresses and alleviates suffering. Action is what distinguishes compassion from empathy and sympathy.
2) Do remember to breathe. Breathe deeply. Focusing on your breath, even for just a moment, has a calming, centering effect that allows you to be present and notice what is going on around you. This awareness helps you notice the suffering of difficulties people may be experiencing around you so you can take action to alleviate that suffering, offer compassion to those in need.
3) Don’t get overwhelmed by the complexity of the challenge or suffering. Compassion is more like a bridge built with many little bricks of action than a single sweeping action that alleviates suffering in one fell swoop. Even small acts of compassion make a difference, especially when added to the efforts of others seeking to relieve the suffering at hand.
4) Do recall and visualize times when you have given or received compassion. This remembering primes us to be ready to give or receive compassion again when needed. It starts to build a habit of compassion, where compassion is your go-to response when you encounter suffering.
Your brain likes activities that feel good or are rewarding. This motivates you for providing more compassion
5) Don’t be worried about running out of compassion. Compassion isn’t a limited resource within you that has to be conserved. In fact, when you offer compassion, it feels good. Your brain likes activities that feel good or are rewarding. This motivates you for providing more compassion, fueling an upward, regenerative spiral of compassion.
6) Do cultivate good intention for others. Recognize that just like you, they are deserving and wish to be free from or able to move through suffering to a place of wholeness, autonomy, mastery, and meaning. People were made for this goodness. They thrive when it is made available to them.
7) Don’t overlook your own need for compassion. It’s okay, and actually healthy, to acknowledge your own pain and suffering. Be present and think about one action you can take to alleviate this difficulty in your life. Offer yourself the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a friend or family member, someone you really care about.
8) Do pay attention to the physiology of compassion. Did you know that giving someone a hug or alternately placing an open hand palm to chest over your heart activates your vagus nerve? The vagus nerve is part of your parasympathetic nervous system. When activated, it naturally lowers your heart rate and your blood pressure, offering you a sensation of calm and restoration.
Compassion is a powerful force of transformation
9) Don’t listen to people who say offering compassion is soft or weak. In fact, compassion is a powerful force of transformation. To acknowledge your own suffering and that of others and do what is within your power to make life better is both brave and courageous.
10) And finally, probably Nike says it best, “Just do it!” Taking action is the most important part of compassion. Identify one action that is within your range of doing and do it, even imperfectly. You are not called to be something you are not, and the world needs what you have to give.
If you want to take your compassion further, I want to invite you to my free More Compassion Meet-up that takes place on the 3rd Thursday of the month. I share more compassion tips and tricks and we talk about how it plays out in real life. RSVP on the website. I look forward to seeing you there.