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Positive Attitude

Why Self-Compassion is A Better Motivator than Self-Criticism

Many of us can be quite tough on ourselves, believing it is necessary to grow, improve, or simply execute our lengthy to-do lists. But research suggests that self-criticism can lead to lowered self-worth, anxiety, and depression. The good news is there is another way. Self-compassion, recognizing a difficult moment or situation, and treating yourself with kindness, as you would a friend, has been found to be empowering and motivating.

In our culture, the unwritten message is that being hard on yourself is the price you have to pay to get things done and meet the often impossible expectations, standards, and ideals we sometimes hold for ourselves. So people may resist a self-compassionate approach, seeing it as “soft” or believing it leads us to avoid problems, stay unmotivated, or become passive about our own or others’ missteps. But researchers have found that the opposite to be true. A 2012 study at the University of California Berkeley found that self-compassion is more effective than self-criticism and more effective than a self-esteem boost, “not only in helping you cope with a setback, but also in encouraging you to move forward.” Self-compassion creates self-confidence, because you learn to face challenges, disappointments and failures with acceptance and kindness. From this place, you have the ability to choose effective and skillful actions.

Here are three keys to tame your inner critic:

  1. Make friends with the voice in your head. Realize that the worrying, scolding voice is trying to help you, keep you out of trouble, and be sure you’re okay. Greet the voice with “Thank you. I know you are trying to help. I am okay. I’ve got this.”
  2. Realize that you are not alone. It is part of our common experience to struggle or have hard times. Realizing that you are not the only one to fail, experience job loss, drop the ball, hurt others, or make mistakes helps you see that all of this is part of being human.
  3. Deepen your self-awareness. Pay attention to the language you use to talk to yourself. Would you say that to a friend? Practice talking to yourself as a kind mentor or close friend would talk to you.

If self-compassion feels counterintuitive, know that you can shift how you see and relate to the voice in your head.

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