Compassion for yourself! –and how it helps performance.

Written by Dane Barclay on Wednesday, 29 October 2014.

Self-Compassion – its often a dirty word – not from us to others, but to ourselves. I'm going to talk about what it is, why it's worth doing for well being AND performance, and why it's actually a very important skill for you to learn...long term and what the real benefits are.

Pretty much all of my clients say, if I am more self-compassionate, I won't be so driven, I won't push myself! It's a pretty fair statement- but we need to look a lot deeper- and also look at the evidence of how it actually works for us when are vs when we are not compassionate.

Most of the people we see through at PSPC are highly driven, caring, self-sacrificing people. They continue to strive for the betterment of themselves and for the people around them. Whilst these traits in themselves may not seem like a problem – they can be a double edge sword – affecting your external actions: ie: (to feel good/less stressed) and internal actions: (ie: blaming oneself and feeling worse/increasing stress). One of the things that impedes performance AND 'well-being' is self criticism – especially if you tie your happiness into your self-esteem!

Firstly, what Self-Compassion is:
Self-compassion means being understanding toward ourselves when we fail, or feel inadequate, rather than trying to ignore our pain or criticise ourselves. Self-compassionate people accept both rationally and emotionally that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life stressors is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when life falls short of set expectations (or when they fail themselves). Have a think about how you would deal with a loved one who didn't live up to their own expectations, how would you treat them? What would you say?...And most importantly WHEN DO YOU FIND IT HARD TO TREAT YOURSELF THE SAME WAY ? & WHY?

People cannot always be what they want or even get things the way they want them. When this happens, typically our suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism. This absolutely hammers your self -esteem.

Self-compassion means taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions.
(nb)You're not trying to get rid of them, however it is helpful if you are willing to observe your negative thoughts and emotions with openness, so they become less painful – and you can get back to whats actually important to you in the present moment, rather than getting caught up in the reasons why 'you're not good enough' or have 'failed again'.

Nb: We have spoken about this process of mindfulness in previous blogs.

This is what Self-Compassion is NOT:

Self-Compassion is not self-pity. When individuals feel self-pity, they become immersed in their own problems, blaming themselves (or others) time and time again...its that inner dialogue I spoke about earlier that...just...wont...shut up. They feel that they are the only ones in the world who are suffering...which makes sense, as the experience is real, yet it's unhelpful! They find it hard to step back from their situation and adopt a more balanced or objective perspective. In contrast, by taking the perspective of a compassionate person to yourself, you are more willing (and more quickly) to move on to other important things, rather than holding on to stress. It's helpful to remember in these moments, it's not whether thoughts are right or wrong, its how do they help?

Self-compassion is also very different from self-indulgence. Many people say they are reluctant to be self-compassionate because they're afraid they would let themselves get away with anything. "I'm stressed so I'll devour some snickers bars, or burgers or whatever your 'thing' is." This, is self-indulgence rather than self-compassion.

The Benefits of Self-Compassion:

Research indicates that in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, as well as less stress and anger. And all this helps you focus on the important things, rather than being up in your head! So it becomes easier for you to enhance your performance, be that in sport, or relationships, because you are completing the goals you want to and being the person you actually want to be! This in itself enhances your well-being and contentment... All of a sudden you feel good (and hopefully great) because you are doing the things you want to, and you're finally dropped the need to chase a feeling of happiness all the time.

** A LITTLE NOTE ON SELF ESTEEM**
Although self-compassion may seem similar to self-esteem, they are different in numerous ways. Self-esteem refers to our sense of self-worth - how much we like ourselves. Self-esteem is often dependent on our latest success or failure, meaning that our self-esteem fluctuates depending on ever-changing circumstances and outcomes we cannot always control. It's exhausting 'chasing' self-esteem.

So if self-esteem is generated by achieving things that we set out to do all the time...and the importance of these things influences how much we criticise ourselves when we fail to do it... its almost impossible to feel good consistently.

I like to ask the question when people get caught up in self-criticism "How's that ACTUALLY working out for you?" – if all it serves to do is make you feel awful and more stressed, and take you longer to get back to the behaviours you would do when you feel good- ie: committing to what's important for you, than its probably not helpful. Its understandable that we do it, yet its not actually helpful.

This is the beauty of self compassion, you let go of the need to feel good all the time, and it makes it easier to be more committed to the things that are important to you, when you feel stressed.

About the Author

Dane Barclay