What is Self-Compassion?

Self-esteem is widely considered to be the foundation of one's personal growth and success. I wrote earlier about the power of positive thinking; specifically, a technique called anxiety reappraisal. This next technique, self-compassion, will follow a similar pattern.

One might hear the term self-compassion and equate it with lowering expectations or being satisfied with failure - of which it is neither. It also is not removing the onus for the mistake. Self-compassion is a willingness to accept that to err is human, and to view failures with patience and understanding. An important distinction that separates self-compassion from self-esteem is that self-compassion removes identity and ego from the equation. Failures are not viewed as a shortcoming of one's persona.

Self-compassion is a willingness to accept that to err is human, and to view failures with patience and understanding.
Take The Example Of Golf

Let me give you a personal example: my golf game. I'll take anywhere from 80 shots (on a good day) to 90 shots (on a not so good day) to finish a round. Given a round takes upwards of three hours, a golfer is presented with lots of opportunity to obsessively analyze every aspect of their shots, usually to their demise. I'm absolutely guilty of this, as my ego would consider myself to be a reasonably competent golfer. If I were to view these 'failures' with the self-esteem model, I might think something along the lines of "That was a terrible shot. Why do I keep messing up? I must not be a very good golfer, if I keep making so many mistakes". With the self-compassion model, however, I might choose to say "Well, there's no such thing as the perfect round of golf. While that was definitely a bad shot, I'm no professional golfer, so it's okay that I mess up from time to time".  I'm not absolving myself of the responsibility, but I'm also not beating myself up for making a mistake. Personally, this positive thinking is what motivates me to practise, practise, practise.

What The Research Says

There are clinical results to support this line of thinking. This study outlines that while high self-esteem has some correlation to happiness levels, the correlation with better performances at school or work is weak at best. Furthermore, while people with high self-esteem do tend to claim they excel in social settings, these self-evaluations are often greatly exaggerated. In fact the metrics generally contradict these claims altogether. Another study confirms that participants who used self-compassion techniques outperformed self-esteem in social, academic, and self-improvement experiments.

The take-home for those who find themselves repeatedly struggling in social, academic, or work settings is clear. Taking a more generous approach to one's shortcomings can actually inspire motivation for personal improvement, and can result in better performance over time. Remember, self-compassion doesn't mean letting one's self off the hook, nor does it mean lowering standards. Acknowledging that to err is human can actually result in fewer mistakes to happen in the future.