Stop Beating Yourself Up: 9 Questions For Dr. Kristin Neff

Kristin Neff is currently an associate professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, conducting the first empirical studies on self-compassion more than a decade ago. In addition to writing numerous academic articles and book chapters on the topic, she is author of the book Self-Compassion, released by William Morrow in 2011.  Kristin’s work has received extensive media coverage, including through outlets such as the New York Times, MSNBC, and Psychology Today among others. In conjunction with her colleague Dr. Chris Germer, she has developed an eight-week training program called Mindful Self-Compassion, and offers workshops on self-compassion worldwide. Kristin is also featured in the bestselling book and award-winning documentary The Horse Boy, which chronicles her family’s journey to Mongolia where they trekked on horseback to find healing for her autistic son.

1. What gives you a sense of purpose?

I love helping people to learn about self-compassion through research, writing, and the workshops I’m now teaching.  People sometimes tell me that learning about self-compassion has changed their lives. Who could ask for any better purpose in life? (Except for raising my amazing son, of course!)

2. Do you have any daily rituals?

Every morning I meditate. Then, I light two tea-candles to set my intentions for the day.  They’re usually the same intentions – to grow in love and to be my best, wisest self that day.

3. What are your 5 favorite foods to eat right now?

Fresh fish, chard, masala dosa, dark chocolate, and (although it’s really a drink) fresh coconut water straight from the husk.

4. What is your favorite memory?

Too many to count, but perhaps my son playing with baby reindeer on the Mongolian Steppe when we took him to get healing with an indigenous shaman named Ghoste (you can see this moment in our documentary film “The Horse Boy”).

5. What is your most effective strategy for managing stress?

I give myself compassion when I’m having a hard time, usually placing my hands over my heart and giving myself the care and comfort I need in the moment. (I’m been teaching the hand on heart strategy to my son when he’s frustrated and it seems to be helping.)

6. What book are you reading right now?

I wish I could say something like Dostoyevsky — but honestly I like high-quality brain candy as a switch from my academic work.  I just finished a Georgette Heyer novel, who writes Regency Romances (similar to Jane Austen).

7. If you could give one piece of advice to people, what would it be?

Everyone has both strengths and weaknesses. This is the shared human condition.  So stop beating yourself for not being perfect and start treating yourself like you would a good friend – with kindness, care, and compassion.

8. How do you incorporate physical activity into your daily life?

I like to do free-form expressive dance with a local group who I’ve been dancing with for over a decade. It doesn’t feel like exercise, but when the music is really intense I work up a great sweat.

9. Do you have any figures that inspire you (historical or current)?

I’m obviously not alone in this one, but the Dalai Lama is such an incredible reminder of how it’s possible to be immensely kind, joyful, and compassionate even in the face of great suffering. He’s also helped change the face of Western psychology. His interest in science has led to an unprecedented collaboration between scientists and contemplatives, resulting in a great surge of research interest into topics like mindfulness, compassion, and the neuroscience of meditation.

To purchase a copy of Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff, visit


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