Give Yourself a Break: The Gift of Self-Compassion
When you have a setback towards your goals, treat yourself as you would a friend: with kindness and understanding
Even with the best plan and intention, things can go wrong. For most people, their initial reaction in the presence of failure at work is to turn up the inner critic more harshly than we’d find acceptable by anyone else. I have no idea what’s going on here or why I’m on this team. You’re an idiot; you blew that presentation. Get it together, you’ll never have another opportunity at this.
We often assume that criticism will motivate us to do better. In fact, most highly productive and driven people seem to be quite unforgiving of their own mistakes.
To Motivate or To Berate—That is the Question
We hold on to this belief that with enough self-abuse, it will change whatever we believe to be “wrong,” “inadequate,” or “imperfect” about us. Yes, that degree of negativity you drop on yourself falls under the category of abuse, and it really doesn’t move you any closer to your intended outcome. Self-criticism can be paralyzing, and it’s a response that has brought many to my couch as a psychotherapist. While I am grateful to have you, I would like to offer you this instead- what if you were to treat yourself with a bit more understanding and compassion?
When things don’t go as expected, or a goal seems out of your reach, what would you tell a friend in the same situation? That is called self-compassion, and it’s an approach that allows leaders to increase their resilience and outthink their setbacks.
The Science Behind Compassion
There is growing research supporting things like compassion and gratitude, supporting its motivational power on a psychological level. It’s becoming a valuable tool for enhancing performance and improving professional development. Self-compassionate people set high standards for themselves, and in the face of setbacks, when they don’t meet their goals, they are more likely to regroup quickly. They are less likely to get hung up on mistakes or sidetracked by feelings of embarrassment, frustration, and disappointment. In fact, according to recent neuroscientific data, those who exhibit compassion are more likely to have the emotional resilience to combat suffering, anxiety, burnout, or stress, according to Frontiers in Psychology.
“Unlike self-criticism, which asks if you are good enough, self-compassion asks what’s good for you?” – Kristin Neff
Let’s put this into action:
I’m inviting you to try a short experiment. Bring to mind a situation when you didn’t achieve your goal. Please take a few moments to recall the response of your inner critical voice and note what it says and how you feel, especially in your body.
Now, bring to mind the same situation and imagine what you would say to your colleague or good friend in the same case if they brought that same failure to you. Say the exact words you would tell them to yourself (that’s self-compassion). How does that feel in your body?
If you did this short exercise, you probably noticed the following:
Self-criticism made you feel:
· Wanting to quit or give up
Self-compassion made you feel:
· Good enough
· Relaxed and calm
Self-compassion is a mindset shift leaders and managers can benefit from because it reinforces worth, optimism, personal initiative, self-determination, and a sense of control even in the context of the pressure to succeed. These traits tend to be contagious and have a consequent ability to foster resilient teams. Developing a self-compassionate self and team does take time but is possible with intentional effort. Organizations should look at ways to create space for conversations and resources around compassion and navigating stress and change in the workplace.
A few additional ideas to foster the overall resilience of your organization:
Improve your self-talk. Practice responding to yourself in ways you would to support a colleague, embrace criticism from others as a means to personal growth, and engaging with others without judgment or in a tone that would hurt their feelings.
Bring in workshops to grow as a team. Create opportunities for staff to learn from each other, for leaders to take their teams’ temperature, and boost morale and promote better staff engagement. Bring in professionals with fresh ideas or a similar option is to set aside funding to allow staff to pursue outside opportunities (books, webinars, training) that will support their emotional wellbeing. As they invest in themselves, they become a more incredible asset to your team.
Prioritize communication and mental health at work. Having regular meetings where people are encouraged to share not only work achievements but mistakes and experiences around that make workplaces safe for learning. Also, work to improve access to support services onsite (training, consultations, mindful breaks) and outside of work (like EAP). Making compassionate and supportive workplaces a priority reduces pressure, anxiety and improves an organization’s resilience to stress, burnout, and turnover.
It’s innovative approaches that focus on self-compassion and overall well-being that will determine if teams, individuals, and organizations can embrace a more adaptive attitude and thrive through challenging experiences and transitions.
In the comments, make sure to share with us how well you think organizations are embracing concepts like compassion and emotional wellness at work and whether you believe well-being training might be valuable to your team.
Amanda Fludd is a Licensed Psychotherapist, Coach, and Mental Health Consultant addressing the emotional needs of individuals and the work cultures that support them.
If you would like information on how to infuse mental health support at work and facilitate practices like self-compassion, schedule a call here to discuss program options.