Having compassion for yourself as you walk the long and twisting road of your career can help you to be resilient and achieve more.
A lot of folks are great at pushing themselves and working tirelessly toward achieving their professional dreams. However, most career goals are not met through these methods alone. There’s also a lot to be said for integrating other tactics into your life which are aimed at boosting your productivity and effectiveness. Self-compassion, for example, can go a long way toward supporting your professional growth. And, this isn’t just theory. Research from Stanford Medicine’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) helps to illuminate the scientific benefits of self-compassion. And, other researchers have arrived at similar findings. Understanding how and why the practice of self-compassion works can benefit you in your career.
Let’s take a closer look at how self-compassion can help you achieve your professional goals:
First, know that you probably weren’t taught this kind of compassion
How were you taught to respond or react to failure when you were a kid? What messages did you get from others directly? And, what did you learn from others’ example?
You may have been taught, one way or another, that being hard on yourself following a setback is perfectly normal. So many folks get frustrated and beat themselves up for any and all “failures”. They go over and over what they did wrong, and how humiliating it was, and they promise themselves never ever to do it again. On some occasions, and for some people, the feelings of self-doubt that follow a professional setback can be so great that they ultimately give up on goals because of it. They decide that they aren’t cut out for the work at hand. Or, perhaps they rationalize that it wasn’t their fault in the first place, which tends to create more problems than it solves.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to agonize over struggles, set-backs, or even professional failures in such an uncomfortable or intense way. And, this tension doesn’t have to hold you back professionally. There is another choice. Practicing self-compassion allows you to navigate professional obstacles in a more productive and positive way. And, the whole process is much easier on you as an individual than what you put yourself through when you beat yourself up.
Keep in mind that these approaches might not come naturally to you. You probably weren’t taught self-compassion as a child. However, it isn’t too late to learn the skill.
The practice of self-compassion hinges on a philosophy of learning and growth that’s essentially the opposite of beating yourself up. After all, you wouldn’t teach a child to learn from their mistakes by repeatedly reprimanding them about the stupidity of their failure, would you? That would only teach them to feel badly about themselves, which would likely lead to more errors not less. So, why would your learning process be any different?
“Self-compassion involves treating oneself as one would a friend, being more mindful, and understanding our situation in the context of a larger human experience,” The CCARE report reads. “When we can be more understanding and gentler with ourselves, identify less with the emotions that surround our mistakes, and understand that failure is a normal part of the larger human experience, we become stronger and more successful in the long run. We become stronger and more resilient. And, as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar so simply put it, the state of your life depends on the state of your mind. So be kind to yourself.”
Self-compassion in three parts:
According to Kristen Neff, self-compassion researcher, self-compassion consists of three main components. First, it’s the ability to refrain from harsh criticism. Second, self-compassion allows you to, “recognize your own humanity” and know that, like everyone else, you are imperfect and experience pain. And, finally, self-compassion affords you the ability to “maintain a sense of mindfulness or non-biased awareness of experiences, even though they are painful.” This means that you are less likely to become reactive toward yourself or others when you face setbacks.
When you learn to be more compassionate toward yourself, you aren’t just less self-critical. (Although, that’s certainly a part of it.) The practice goes beyond that. It allows you to understand the experience more objectively and without having to deal with a heap of negative emotions as you process what happened. You’re better able to move forward, and to learn and grow from the experience rather than being hindered by it.
What we know about self-compassion:
Researchers from CCARE at Stanford have come to some conclusions about how self-compassion, versus self-criticism, benefits individuals. They’ve conducted and collated a host of research on the topic and on other themes connected to it as well. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the most central takeaways from the data.
1. Self-compassion improves resilience
You have to be able to learn and grow in order to advance in your career. Research shows that self-compassion helps you to face setbacks and failures in a way that supports that type of growth.
Being kind to yourself helps you learn, because it starts with an intuitive understanding that you are deserving of care. You accept the fact that you’ll make mistakes, like everyone else, and that you don’t deserve to be undervalued or treated harshly (even by yourself) when you make a mistake. Being aware of your negative emotions without adding to them allows you to move past setbacks more effectively. And, this distance and self-care helps you to recover from your mistakes more quickly. And, you’ll learn more from them too.
2. The practice of self-compassion leads to increased productivity
Self-compassion helps you to make improvements following a challenge. And that helps you to be more productive and ultimately more successful. Plus, instead of ruminating on your failures (which is proven to be horrible for you) you’ll move on more quickly and get back to business. Seeing setbacks as learning opportunities, rather than as a referendum on your abilities or worthiness, has a major impact. The practice of self-compassion is linked with an improved sense of well-being as well as with improved performance outcomes.
3. competitiveness and self-criticism are self-defeating
Being “hard on yourself” can really get in the way of your professional goals and it can make it more difficult for you to be successful. You’ll feel badly about yourself, or become defensive, when you’re faced with criticism. And that doesn’t do you any favors. When your feeling of self-worth is overly tied to your performance, it increases negative feelings like anxiety and insecurity.
Also, tying your self-worth to how you perform in comparison to others is a self-defeating tendency. It has the impact of separating you from others rather than bringing you closer together, which won’t serve you professionally. Other people become obstacles that need to be overcome. This can make you feel even more isolated, and more competitive and self-critical, in turn.
4. Self-compassion can help you manage stress
Researchers have proven that self-compassion leads to decreased stress. Think about it this way – it’s not hard to understand that harsh self-criticism causes stress levels to increase. In some cases, the self-criticism can even overwhelm you, making it hard to learn from failure or be resilient. So, it stands to reason that, on the other hand, self-compassion helps you to recover more quickly from difficulties. It lowers tension, and stress. It helps you feel better and move forward in a positive and productive way.
5. Compassionate people aren’t always self-compassionate
It turns out that showing compassion for yourself is really different than the practice of doing it for other people. There are a lot of folks out there who are wildly compassionate, but struggle to treat themselves with the same loving kindness.
Overachievers who rely on self-criticism to keep them moving forward aren’t the only ones who struggle with self-compassion. Some of the kindest people are also way too hard on themselves.
Other research supports these findings
These findings don’t stand alone. Other groups have also identified proven benefits to self-compassion. Here are just a few big ideas to keep in mind:
- People who practice self-compassion tend to less anxious and depressed, which leads to greater life satisfaction overall.
- Self-compassion helps us engage with others in more compassionate ways too. Researchers have found that therapists who are the most self-critical are also “the most hostile, controlling, and critical of their patients.” Being self-compassionate helps people to engage with clients in a more supportive way.
- Researchers have also found that self-compassion helps athletes to perform better. Women athletes with higher levels of self-compassion also have greater levels of personal growth, purpose in life and a sense of responsibility and self acceptance, and body appreciation. They also have less anxiety and fear of failure than women athletes with lower levels of self-compassion.
- There are some societal misconceptions that self-kindness and self-compassion are narcissistic or overly self-indulgent that need to be addressed. These cultural misconceptions can hinder individuals’ willingness to engage in these practices.
- Self-compassion motivates folks toward self-improvement. Those with self-compassion were more motivated to make improvements toward a known weakness than others were. They expressed a greater desire to spend more time studying, for example, following an initial failure.
Self-compassion can help you achieve your goals and dreams both at work and beyond. And, you’ll feel less stressed along the way too.
So, the next time you experience a professional setback, remember to take a second to pause and think about the impact of what you’re about to do before you beat yourself up. Instead, try talking to yourself the way you would to a good friend. Vow to learn from your mistakes rather than handicap yourself by lingering on defeats. Over time, the practice will become a habit, and a powerful one at that. Self-compassion can go a long way toward supporting you in achieving your professional goals.
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