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How Self-Compassion Boosts Performance

By March 4, 2019October 17th, 2019No Comments

As a mindfulness speaker and coach, I work with a lot of corporate leaders who are convinced that being hard on themselves will yield better results. 

These leaders (like many people) are afraid that self-compassion is akin to self-indulgence.

As Kristin Neff writes, “The number-one reason people give for why they aren’t more self-compassionate is the fear that they will be too easy on themselves. Without constant self-criticism to spur myself on, people worry, won’t I just skip work, eat three tubs of ice cream and watch Oprah reruns all day?”

Here’s what my clients (and you) may not know: research shows self-criticism actually detracts from performance. A self-critical attitude leads to heightened levels of depression and anxiety, lower self-confidence, and an increased fear of failure.

We can observe the impact of criticism in our relationships with others. For example, imagine speaking to an employee or a child after this person admits a mistake. It’s easy to imagine offering the offender compassion and understanding. We know intuitively that yelling at another person will not yield positive results for them (or for us). 

Even though we are willing to be understanding, patient, and supportive with another person, it can be difficult to offer the same support to ourselves when we are going through a difficult time. (Note: Multiple studies by Kristin Neff have found that women have slightly lower levels of self-compassion than men.)

Even though self-compassion can be challenging initially, research shows that the practice improves our performance and our overall well-being. Studies show that self-compassion supports intrinsic motivation, reduced fear of failure, and lower levels of anxiety. 

Self-compassion is also strongly linked to emotional intelligence, a key workplace and personal skill which entails the ability to experience one’s feelings with clarity and to repair and regulate negative mood states.

Here are the three components of self-compassion for improving mood and performance:

  • Mindfulness: The practice of bringing awareness of your inner dialogue, especially your negative self-talk. (If you’re not aware of what’s happening, you have no power to change or shift it.)
  • Common Humanity: Remembering that you’re not alone – others are going through similar challenges.
  • Self-Kindness: Offering yourself warmth, compassion, and kindness. (Treating yourself like a friend.)

To demonstrate the shift to a self-compassion attitude, let’s use a common example: the feeling you have when you realize that once again, you’ve procrastinated on a project and you’re stressed out trying to finish it on time. 

  • The first step of self-compassion is bringing mindful awareness to your thought patterns. You realize that you’re stressed out (your body is tense) and you’re mentally beating yourself up for being in this position again (negative thought patterns).
  • The second step is moving from the isolation to common humanity. You can shift your thoughts of “I’m the only one stupid enough to do this” to considering all the other people in your community who also put off projects and are under pressure trying to finish them. You might even expand your awareness to include all of the people in the world who care about their jobs and doing their best. You can offer these other humans compassion, wishing for them to be peaceful and rested.
  • The third step is practicing self-kindness. Offer yourself the same warmth, compassion and encouragement you would offer a friend (or one of these other people you just connected with). Send those same wishes of peace and restfulness to yourself.  You may wish to take a short work break to breathe deeply, stretch your legs, or mindfully eat a healthy snack. 

Not only does this practice of self-compassion feel better, research shows it actually helps you perform better as well! Self-criticism and the resulting fear and anxiety can drain your energy and prevent you from reaching your goals. Open up to the practice of self-compassion for top performance and overall wellbeing. 

As Chief Mindfulness Officer of Mastermind Meditation, Dorsey Standish brings research-backed mindfulness and mindful movement to clients throughout the state of Texas. A lifelong learner and scientist, Dorsey has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and is enrolled in the UT Dallas Applied Cognition and Neuroscience Master’s Program. After mindfulness transformed her own work, health and relationships, Dorsey left her corporate role at Texas Instruments to share the power of mindfulness with others full-time. Dorsey’s teachings combine neuroscience research with her experiences in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program and multiple weekend and 10-day silent meditation retreats. Join Dorsey for one of Mastermind’s upcoming applied mindfulness programs at mastermindmeditate.com/programs