I had the pleasure of meeting Jess Hopkins when she gave a seminar at a Positive Parenting Event. Her talk led to a lot of constructive discussions in our home about how to support both of our children, dyslexic or not, in the cut-throat academic life ahead of them. In addition to causing us to discuss topics already on our “Learn More About” list, her comprehensive presentation gave us easy-to-apply tools to begin implementing self-compassion in our daily lives.
Jess is a twice-certified life coach, holding dual masters degrees in counseling psychology and applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. As a coach, she helps teens and young adults (ages 13–30) and their parents to maximize both their potential and well-being. She also supports her work as a coach with evidence-based positive interventions.
Here is my interview with her. I hope you benefit from her insights as much as our family has.
Jess, you are a Millennial Life Coach. Can you explain to us what that means?
In a nutshell, I aim to help my clients in bridging the gap between where they are today and where they truly want to be. I work in a variety of capacities (private one-on-one coaching, speaking to groups, facilitation workshops, etc.), but my goal is always twofold.
First, I support my clients in deepening their self-awareness around things like self-defeating patterns and behaviors so they can identify areas for growth. I work to deepen awareness around things like core values and innate strengths so my clients can capitalize on what’s already working and make self-honoring choices in the face of everyday challenges.
Second, I offer my clients tangible tools and strategies to attack their biggest challenges because at the end of the day insight without action is useless.
What are the challenges you see in your practice that can hinder emotional well-being?
The biggest challenge I see in kids and young adults—whether or not they have learning differences, to be honest—is believing that they are “enough” exactly as they are while living in a culture that demands perfection and overachievement. We all have that little voice inside, commonly referred to as the inner critic, that says, “You’re not ____ enough.” We all have a personal narrative that fills in that blank—not cool enough, smart enough, skinny enough, for example—and when we get hooked by that kind of self-defeating thinking, we get paralyzed. Because our thoughts directly impact how we feel and behave, the way we think is critically important to our well-being.
Self-doubt and self-criticism can be extremely damaging, but most of us fall prey to it without even realizing it’s happening. It has become our default to compare ourselves to others and despair when we don’t measure up. So the initial challenge is simply learning how to notice when we get caught up in the negative self-talk. The second challenge is making the self-honoring choice NOT to attach to that kind of thinking. We can’t prevent thoughts coming into our mind, but we can absolutely choose whether or not to attach to them.
High academic demand and pressure can be overwhelming for any student, especially for a dyslexic one. What are your recommendations for students to not only survive but also thrive emotionally in today’s academic world?
My rule of thumb is this: stay in your own lane and go your own speed. It’s too easy to compare ourselves to what other people are doing and quickly get overwhelmed. Ultimately, clarity of values is critically important to this conversation. A value is a way of being or believing that expresses what’s most important in your life. When kids take the time to clarify their core values, they usually wind up with a list that has almost nothing to do with things like GPA or college acceptances.
For example, I recently facilitated a values clarification exercise with a client who identified her core values as love, creativity, and family. Does she want to be a successful student? Of course. But at the end of the day, she finds the deepest meaning and fulfillment in other ways. When we have that kind of clarity about what’s most important, we can check back in with those values any time we feel ourselves getting caught up in the “compare and despair” spin cycle, especially when it comes to academics.
Mindfulness and self-compassion are the two big new buzzwords. What do they actually mean?
These concepts have indeed become buzzwords, but they are critically important to our well-being. I’ll do my best to succinctly explain them.
Mindfulness is simply paying attention. That’s it. It sounds deceptively simple, but most of us have deep-rooted patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that lead us to operate pretty mindlessly most of the time. Building the capacity to notice when we are engaging in self-defeating patterns is the very first step to being able to change them. We simply can’t change something that we’re not yet aware of, so mindfulness helps us to become more aware of our patterns. That means paying very close attention to how we think, feel, and behave—without judgment. It’s tempting to start beating ourselves up for engaging in a self-defeating pattern once we’ve noticed it, but that of course is exactly the kind of thinking we’re trying to mitigate through mindfulness! So instead of deeming your pattern as good or bad, right or wrong, the goal is to simply point to it and acknowledge it without judgment.
Self-compassion is the idea of extending kindness to oneself in a moment of perceived failure, disappointment, or general suffering. Self-compassion comprises three individual components according to Dr. Kristen Neff, the leading researcher on this topic.
- The first component is actually mindfulness. Again, in order to be compassionate with ourselves, we must first notice we are being hard on ourselves.
- The second component is common humanity: the idea that everyonefails and everyone To be human is to be imperfect, and no one gets a free pass on struggle. When we really embrace the concept of common humanity, we can find great comfort and relief in remembering that we are not alone in our challenges.
- The third component is self-kindness: talking to yourself like you would talk to someone you love. It is mindboggling to think about the nasty and critical things we say to ourselves in the privacy of our own minds, but we would never dream of saying such cruel and hurtful things to someone we love. Self-kindness is about saying to yourself the very same kind, reassuring, supportive things you would say to a friend in the midst of a struggle.
When we practice self-compassion, a self-soothing technique, we are then better able to bounce back and move forward more quickly.
Clearly, self-compassion can be a great supporting tool for dyslexic children as they go through challenging experiences during their academic life. Can you give us some examples of what self-compassions sounds like?
Here is a slide from one of my presentations on self-compassion. It outlines a scenario that we’ve all experienced—in a classroom, a business meeting, or a social setting. It’s that moment when we say something we think sounded stupid and start to beat ourselves up about it. Here’s what a self-compassionate response would sound like:
Tell us how our readers can get in touch with you or learn more about what you do?
If you are interested in a deeper dive into components of self-compassion, you can check out my four-part video series. There’s also a bonus video that debunks some of the most common myths and criticisms about self-compassion. Check it out here: THE SELF-COMPASSION SERIES
Thank you, Jess, for sharing your knowledge and your support to help to make lives better.
Cigdem Knebel is the founder of Simple Words Books, a parent of a dyslexic child, and author of Sam Is Stuck, a chapter book for young dyslexics. She believes that all children love to read—they just need to find that right book for them.
Her mission is to help young dyslexics, and reluctant and early readers with fluency, comprehension and, most importantly, self-confidence. She accomplishes this by publishing fiction books, and reading and phonics practice resources with the skills of young dyslexics in mind.