Creative Arts

Take These 3 Steps to Cultivate Self-Compassion and Silence Your Inner Critic

It’s a busy time of year, and I’m hearing about people feeling burnt out already—On the flip side, others are focusing on building healthy new routines now that spring is officially here.

Whether you are trying to power through a serious to-do list, or you’re taking stock and making changes to your diet and exercise routines, one of the keys to success is self-compassion. I’ve found that if you don’t include a healthy dose of self-love when you’re asking a lot of yourself, you’re bound to fail.

Luckily, Holstee (the company that made the amazing Holstee manifesto that you not doubt have come across) has this amazing monthly kit that focuses on a new theme every moon cycle: it’s like a subscription box for your soul.

Each month you get a lovely piece of letterpress-printed, uniquely designed art (that you can frame or send to a friend in the included mailer), and a guide with exercises to help you focus on that particular goal. When I see the Holstee envelope arrive in the mail, I know that I need to set some reflection time aside in the next week to work my way through that month’s guide. It’s like getting an IRL nudge to do that important work we all want to do, but might find difficult to address on a consistent basis.

Here’s an excerpt from the Holstee Compassion Kit, which is part of its monthly membership.

A 3-Step Exercise to Cultivate Self-Compassion and Silence Your Inner Critic


“Put on your own oxygen mask first.” It turns out this wisdom is worth applying outside the aircraft as well. Buddhist teachings remind us that we need to care for ourselves before we can properly care for others.

Modern science shows that, specifically, self-compassion motivates us more effectively than
self-punishment, and Dr. Kristen Neff, one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, even suggests that it should take the place of ‘self-esteem’ in our vocabulary. She says that it “offers the same protection against harsh self-criticism as self-esteem, but without the need to see ourselves as perfect or as better than others.” Self-compassion asks us to see ourselves as whole and worthy of love without being influenced by comparison to or the judgement of others, whether those judgements are positive or negative.

The following exercise helps us become more aware of our mental narrative, encourage flexibility of perspective, and become our own “compassionate observer.” We recommend you actually sit in three different chairs to really connect with these conflicting parts of yourself and experience how each aspect feels in the present moment.

Take a seat in the first chair. Think about a personal flaw or issue that comes up in your daily life. Write down what the self-critical part of you is thinking and feeling. Take a moment to note the words you use, the emotions you feel, and even the body posture you take in this seat.

Take a seat in the second chair. Try to put in words how you feel being criticized in this manner, responding directly to your inner critic. Again, notice the language you used. Is it sad, discouraged, childlike, scared, helpless? What was your posture like?

Now allow your heart to soften and open. Move into the third chair where the compassionate observer sits. What observations or words of compassion naturally spring forth? What wisdom do you have for the criticizer? For the criticized?

To actually become a compassionate observer, it’s important to keep what you felt and learned during the exercise in mind. According to habit expert Dr. Art Markman, it is helpful to set triggers that remind us of the habit we want to create, like self-compassion post-it notes around our workplace and home (or maybe the art in our Holstee Compassion Kit!). Eventually, if we can keep self-compassion in our awareness and continually practice it, the behavior will become a habit that will help us live our best lives.

Want more where that came from? Holstee’s monthly membership helps conscious people (like you!) live a more meaningful life through actionable guides, inspiring art, thought-provoking content and a like-minded community.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.