It Ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way That You Do It

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I’ve been struck this week in my work by how important the attitude we strike is to the effectiveness of things we do to help ourselves. I am starting to believe that it is even possible to use a self-compassion technique so instrumentally that it brings us no real relief.

The proliferation of techniques and tools, such as mindfulness apps, aimed at reducing anxiety and stress, provides a huge variety of opportunities for people to regain peace and perspective. Yet so many clients arrive in my counselling room feeling as if they’ve tried them all but found that they “didn’t work” or that they didn’t work well enough. I don’t think the problem lies in the techniques themselves. Often when they are introduced within a therapeutic relationship, they ‘work’ better, simply due to the acceptance and empathy offered by the therapist. But this doesn’t mean the therapist is necessarily indispensable.

It is possible to perform a mindfulness exercise aimed at not doing anything but simply being, but with the mindset that “there’s something wrong with me, I’m going to do this thing that is supposed to get rid of it, I want to get it right, and get results quickly” — and thereby cause all kinds of stress, judgement and performance anxiety, triggering underlying feelings of “things that work for other people don’t work for me” or variations on the theme. It is also possible to do the same exercise with gentleness and kindness, to sit yourself down and say “well, let’s try and just do this and see how it goes…you’re feeling really stressed and you deserve some relief…”.

Of course if no-one has ever talked to you this way, it is going to be hard to find that voice to use with yourself. Although most people can muster up more understanding and compassion for others, often for complete strangers, than they can for themselves, so that is a resource to draw upon. Sometimes just hearing the possibility of using a tone like this with themselves can make people feel very emotional — they soften up.

And this softening brings more relief, at the end of the day, than any particular technique.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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