Power of Self-Compassion
When we face a setback at work, we either become defensive and blame others or criticize ourselves. Unfortunately, neither of these responses is helpful. Shielding responsibility by going on the defensive may help alleviate the sting of failure, but it comes at the expense of learning. On the other hand, self-self-accusation may feel justified, but it can lead to a pessimistic assessment of one's potential, undermining personal development. According to research, we should instead respond with self-compassion.
People who do this exhibit three characteristics: First, they are kind rather than judgmental about their failures and mistakes; second, they recognize that failures are a common human experience; and third, they take a balanced approach to negative emotions when they fall short—they allow themselves to feel bad, but they do not let negative emotions take over. Self-compassion improves performance by instilling the "growth mindset," or the belief that improvement is possible with dedication and hard work. It also allows us to connect with a more genuine self.
A Growth Mindset
Most organizations and individuals want to improve, and self-compassion is essential. We often associate personal development with determination, persistence, and hard work, but the process usually begins with reflection. one of the vital prerequisites for self-improvement is a realistic assessment of where we stand—of our strengths and limitations. People who treat themselves with compassion are better able to arrive at practical self-assessments, which is the foundation for improvement.
Self-compassion push people to adopt a growth mindset.
Self-compassion does more than assist people in recovering from failure or setbacks. A Stanford University psychology professor, Carol Dweck, has coined the term "growth mindset." Dweck has documented the advantages of taking a "growth" rather than a "fixed" approach to performance, whether in launching a successful start-up, parenting, or running a marathon. People with a fixed mindset believe that personality traits and abilities, including their own, are fixed. They think who we are now is essential to who we will be in five years. On the other hand, people with a positive mindset see personality traits and abilities as malleable. They see the growth potential and are thus more likely to try to improve—to put in effort and practice and remain optimistic.
Being True to the Self
Beyond increasing employees' motivation to improve, self-compassion has workplace benefits. For example, it can help people gravitate toward roles that better fit their personalities and values over time. According to psychologists, living by one's true self—what psychologists call "authenticity"—increases motivation and drive. Unfortunately, for many people in the workplace, authenticity remains elusive. People may feel trapped in jobs where they must suppress their true selves due to incongruent workplace norms regarding behavior, doubts about what they can contribute, or fears of being judged negatively by colleagues and superiors. However, self-compassion can assist people in assessing their professional and personal trajectories and making necessary course corrections.
Self-compassion can assist people in gravitating toward roles that are more suited to their personality.
What's going on here? Treating oneself with understanding and without judgment reduces anxiety about social rejection, paving the way for authenticity. Optimism appears to play a role as well. People who have a positive outlook on life are more willing to take risks by revealing their true selves. Indeed, studies show that optimistic people are more likely to reveal negative aspects of themselves, such as distressing experiences or complex medical challenges. Optimism, in effect, increases people's willingness to be authentic, despite the risks involved. I believe that the emotional calm and balanced perspective that comes with self-compassion can help people approach difficult experiences with optimism.
It is not complicated to cultivate self-compassion. It's a skill that can be improved. For the analytically inclined, I recommend a three-point checklist based on psychologists' definition of self-compassion: Is it possible to be gentle and understanding with myself? Do I accept flaws and failure as universal human experiences? Am I keeping my negative emotions in check? If this doesn't work, a simple "trick" may be: Sit down and write a letter to yourself as if you were writing to a loved one. Many of us are better at being good friends to other people than to ourselves, so this can help avoid self-flagellation. Don't berate yourself if you're having difficulty cultivating self-compassion in your professional and personal life. With a bit of practice or effort, you can do better.