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Self Compassion

When people experience an interpersonal challenge or professional setback at work, it’s common to respond in one of  two ways. Either we become defensive and blame others, or we berate ourselves. Unfortunately, neither response is beneficial.

Shirking responsibility by getting defensive may alleviate the feelings of failure, but it comes at the expense of learning. On the other hand, self-flagellation may feel warranted in the moment, but it can lead to an inaccurately negative assessment of one’s potential, which undermines personal development.

What if, instead, we were to treat ourselves as we would a friend in a similar situation? More likely than not, we’d be kind, understanding, and encouraging. Directing that response internally toward ourselves is known as self-compassion, and it’s been the focus of research in recent years, mainly as it enhances professional growth in many areas.

Self-compassion does more than help people recover from failure or setbacks. It also supports what Professor Carol Dweck at Stanford University has called a “growth mindset.” People with a growth mindset view personality traits and abilities as malleable and are more likely to try to put in the effort to improve and stay optimistic.

Fostering self-compassion is not complicated, and it’s a skill that can be learned and enhanced. One method of implementing self-compassion is using a three-point question checklist:

  1. Am I being kind and understanding to myself?
  2. Do I acknowledge shortcomings and failure as experiences shared by everyone?
  3. Am I keeping my negative feelings in perspective?

If this doesn’t work, a simple “trick” can also help: Sit down and write yourself a letter in the third person, as if you were a friend or family member. Many of us are better at being a good friend to other people than to ourselves, so this can help avoid spirals of defensiveness or self-flagellation and foster kindness and self-compassion in our life.