Try Self-Compassion When You Feel Like Giving Up

Do you ever get the feeling that you want to give up and crawl into bed for a few weeks—or a few years—until the storm blows over? Or a desire to quit because you’re under a stagnant storm cloud? Though it can be difficult to admit, there are times when the pressures and responsibilities of life and the law overwhelm us and push us to the edge. We may fantasize about changing jobs, switching careers, moving, or doing something drastic to get out from under the burdens we shoulder.

I know from my own lawyering experience, and from coaching lawyers, judges, and law school students, that it is common for many of us in the legal field to feel at some point like giving up. Feelings of defeat may come at different moments in our days and different times in our careers—so many demands, so much responsibility, so little time to recover from stress.

A common response to feelings of collapse is to push ourselves harder to get things done and get them done right. We often self-criticize (being critical of our own faults or shortcomings) in times when we most need self-compassion (being “nice to ourselves” in ways that strengthen our inner confidence). If someone put a microphone inside your head, self-criticism may sound like this: “It’s my fault for procrastinating” or “I should know this already” or “If I were a better lawyer, that would’ve gone better.”

Recent neuroscience research on self-criticism shows that instead of motivating us, self-criticism switches our brains into a reactive/stressed state.* In a heightened stress state, we are less able to perceive options and feel less optimistic about—and therefore less apt to try—creative solutions.

Mindful self-compassion, on the other hand, decreases stress, thereby allowing us to better perceive our options and feel more optimistic about—and therefore more apt to try—creative solutions. Being mindful helps us to slow down, notice self-criticism, and make calm, conscious choices. Self-compassion helps us be more empathetic toward ourselves about where we are and more objectively think through our options. Ultimately, self-compassion helps us recover more quickly than self-criticism when we feel like giving up.

Curious to see if self-compassion works for you? Try this:

  1. Notice when you feel like giving up. Pause.
  2. Say something helpful to yourself. A phrase that resonates with many lawyers is “I’ve got this” or “I’m almost there.”
  3. Repeat your self-compassionate phrase for 30-60 seconds (longer if you have time).
  4. Notice when you’ve completed your 30-60 second self-compassion break if you feel even a tiny bit better.
  5. If yes, now brainstorm a few solutions that will help you to reset; if not...rinse, lather, repeat!

Try this mindful self-compassion practice the next 10 times you feel like giving up. The more you practice, the more quickly you’ll re-wire your brain to respond with self-compassion vs. self-criticism when you’re pushed to the edge.

*If you’d like to read more about the transformative effects of mindful self-compassion read this article by Drs. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer.

Laura Mahr is a NC lawyer and the founder of Conscious Legal Minds LLC, providing mindfulness-based coaching, training, and consulting for attorneys and law offices nationwide. Her work is informed by 11 years of practice as a civil sexual assault attorney and 25 years as a student and teacher of mindfulness and yoga, and a love of neuroscience. Find out more about Laura’s work at

If you would like to connect with other lawyers interested in learning about mindfulness and resilience in the practice of law, join Laura as she presents at these upcoming events:

Lawyer Wellness Retreat: Restoring Your Inner Resilience With Mindfulness, Asheville, NC, Oct. 18-19, 2019. For more information: or contact

“Mindfulness for Lawyers: Building Resilience to Stress Using Mindfulness, Meditation, and Neuroscience” (online, on demand CLE),

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