Guide to Self-Compassion

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10 min

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What it means

Self-compassion is our ability to feel compassionate towards ourselves, which means treating ourselves with kindness, empathy and understanding. The more accepting we are of ourselves, the more we can cultivate a sense of satisfaction with our lives, and simultaneously, build the strength to bolster our resilience for when we need it.

Self-compassion goes beyond having positive thoughts towards ourselves; it means recognizing when we add to our own suffering and choosing to adopt a more self-supportive approach.

Why it matters

It supports improved and sustained work outcomes. We may think that the inner critic in us is the part of us that pushes us to do more, be more, and perform better. Being our inner critic can, indeed, help us move forward, however, if our inner voice becomes harsh and overly critical, it can create the opposite effect: harsh inner criticism leads to suffering by keeping us stuck in negative thought patterns that prevent us from moving forward in life and growing as an individual.

Self-compassion is a mindset and practice that allows even the most competitive of us to reach higher heights—it is a stronger foundation for improving, learning and performing.

It can increase resilience. Empirical evidence shows that being able to practice self-compassion leads to a better ability to deal with the anxiety that comes with life’s challenges and setbacks (Neff et al., 2007). Self-compassion also allows people to better adapt their emotional reactions, a kind of emotional plasticity, which helps in taking in any external situation (Leary et al., 2007), boosting resilience.

The antidote to narcissism. Unlike self-esteem, which can trigger what psychologists call “self-enhancement bias” (hold your head up and puff your chest), self-compassion provides a more realistic sense of self and is a better tool than self-esteem in reducing depression and increasing overall wellbeing.

Research shows that self-compassion leads to a more stable sense of self-worth, one that is not based on narcissism.

Beliefs that show it’s a strength

  • I try to have compassion and patience toward the aspects of my personality that I would like to change.
  • I see difficulties that may come my way as a normal part of life.
  • When I’m struggling, I am sure to give myself extra support and tenderness.
  • When I fail at doing something that matters to me, I take a step back and I keep a sense of perspective.

Beliefs that show it’s a growth area

  • I’m my own worst critic—I spend a lot of time judging myself and my shortcomings.
  • I often get carried away with negative feelings about myself.
  • When things get difficult, that’s often when my negative self-talk really kicks into high gear.
  • When I fail at something, I tend to beat myself up over it.

Tips to Maximize It

Learn to be your own supporter.

Our thought patterns are not set in stone. If you notice that you tend to be harsh on yourself, you can work (maybe with your coach) to shift your perspective about yourself and turn inner-criticism into self-compassion.

Treat yourself as you’d treat a good friend.

Would you blame a friend who’s struggling at work? Would you put a friend down for not winning a competition?

Probably not. You may provide them with feedback, and then try to cheer them up. If you struggle with self-compassion, try to think of yourself as a good friend—giving yourself realistic feedback, and encouraging yourself, too.

Practice being kind to yourself at work.

Research on self-compassion at work shows it not only increases job performance but also employees’ engagement and emotional well-being. Meditation is a way to come back to your self-encouraging voice and stop the critical one.

You can also take a moment to repeat to yourself affirmations that will bring you back to a self-compassionate mindset, such as “I am enough” or “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself. May I give myself the compassion I need.”

Activities to Try

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Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
- Louise Hay
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BetterUp Studios creates and curates research-backed content, activities, and tools to help people everywhere pursue their lives with greater clarity, purpose, and passion.

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