We often focus too much on our performance, forgetting the importance of our mental health. As a result, things start going badly, and we begin to feel anxious, unmotivated, or lacking in strength. We lose our inspiration or our ability to concentrate. And that's when we experience the most frustration. We want to do our best, we know how important it is to give our 100%, but something is coming in the way of doing it.
Let's imagine the following example: Ana feels exhausted. In a few days, she has a deadline for an important project. She is finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate and no longer knows what strategy to use. Thoughts like "you won't make it" or "you always get assigned impossible projects" keep running through her mind.
Those thoughts of self-criticism ("you won't make it") or criticizing others ("they always assign me impossible projects") come to the surface in these situations. And this, among other factors, only makes our well-being, and therefore our performance, worse.
Some studies (Neff, Hsieh, and Dejitterat, 2005) show that the more self-critical messages we give ourselves, the more we become blocked and unable to keep up. On the other hand, the more self-compassionate those messages are, the more we can regulate emotions, activate coping strategies, and become resilient. That said, there is no doubt that it is desirable to introduce self-compassion into our lives as a habit.
What do we mean by self-compassion? Is it feeling self-pity? No.
"Self-compassion is the ability to enjoy ourselves when everything is going well and to be kind to ourselves when life is complicated. No matter how big the challenge, self-compassion will always make us activate the best of ourselves to face it" (Desmond, 2017).
In other words, self-compassion is being there for us when we are enjoying an afternoon with friends, a trip, or a productive day; and also when we are having a bad day at the office, when we got bad news or when we find it hard to concentrate. It is to be our best friend and support, in the good times and in the not-so-good times.
What would you say to a friend if he/she calls you telling you who has had a bad day at the office, or who got bad news, or what would you say if he/she writes you telling you that he/she cannot concentrate for work/study?
It seems interesting to do the exercise of comparing those answers with what we would say to ourselves in those situations. We tend to treat ourselves much more harshly than we would use with others.
Treating ourselves with the kindness, warmth, and support with which we would treat someone we love can mean a before and after in our life, in our well-being, and certainly in our performance.
Self-compassion routine in 4 steps
In this way, it might be a good idea to stop for a moment to have yourself as your best ally and support you. To do this, we suggest you use the following 4-step routine:
1) Body scan: For a moment, focus on your breathing and "scan" your body. Do you feel any discomfort, any tension? Where? Try to focus your attention on how your body feels and where you feel pressure or distress. How would you describe that discomfort?
2) Name it: After allowing yourself to see where you feel the discomfort, try to give it a name. How do I feel at this moment? Am I scared? Do I feel angry or sad?
3) Connect and make sense: Recognizing and observing what is happening to us is a remarkable step when applying self-compassion; such as understanding why we feel the way we do. As a human being, feeling emotions means that your body is healthy. For example, "I feel angry that I didn't anticipate that it was going to take longer than I thought."
4) Accept your humanity: Whether things went your way or you made a mistake, it is essential to accept that failure is part of being human. Even the best painters have done portraits that they have discarded. Focus on your humanity and give yourself permission to have acted as you have.
Continuing with Ana's example, talking to yourself in the following way would be an example of self-compassion:
"Before accepting the project, I had estimated that it would take me less time than it is taking. I have done the best I could, it is proof of how much I value and respect my work. My past self did not have this information. If I had, I would not have estimated that it would take less time. All humans make mistakes. This situation will allow me to learn and grow. Next time, I will have what I am learning from this situation as experience, and I will be even more capable of making it."
Self-compassion changes the rules of the game.
It is a proven fact that those who are motivated by kindness and compassion persevere much better in the face of adversity and use failures as circumstances to learn and grow.
It may take some effort and time to introduce self-compassion into your worldview. Still, it seems that it can give you the turnaround you've been waiting for so long to feel better about upcoming challenges.
Desmond, T. (2017). The Self Compassion Skills Workbook. New York/London. W.W. Norton & Company.
Neff, K. D., Hsieh, Y. P., & Dejitterat, K. (2005). Self-compassion, achievement goals, and coping with academic failure. Self and identity, 4(3), 263-287.