Self-compassion is at the heart of human wellbeing but it’s not necessarily an easy skill to develop. In order to show compassion to ourselves, we first need to notice our thinking and emotions, before taking an attitude of open curiosity to understanding our needs. We can then decide how we can fulfil these needs in a kindly manner. It means we can view all of our actions (good and bad) without ego and recognise the common humanity in all we do. I’m not the only person who feels jealous when I see someone else doing well for instance. When I remind myself that jealousy is a common human trait, I can let go of any criticism I may be levelling at myself and look deeper at what I personally need.
So let’s think about the ways self-compassion can make you a better person.
Self-compassion instills a growth mindset
As humans, it’s inevitable that any activity we undertake will undoubtedly lead to a mistake at some point or another. Probably repeated mistakes if we are learning something new. Often, this can lead to us either giving up, or tying ourselves in knots worrying or criticising ourselves over these mistakes. Self-compassion allows us to see these mistakes as an inevitable part of the learning process and human experience. When we stop worrying about the mistake, we can become curious about what lead to it and change our approach or learn ways not to repeat it. The growth mindset is dependent on understanding that effort and learning are central to higher attainment, but we have to see the opportunity to get better. Very often, self-criticism is accompanied by a fixed mindset. “That cake hasn’t risen. I’m terrible at baking.” People often give up at that point. A growth mindset would say “That cake hasn’t risen. I’ll read the recipe again and see if I can do something differently next time.” We we’re kind to ourselves, we can see the humour in our mistakes and the opportunities to improve.
Self-compassion allows us to meet our needs and avoid burn-out
There are a large number of demands placed upon us these days from employers, family, friends and social media. We can spend all day trying to meet these demands and still not fulfil them. Meanwhile, we lose sight of our own needs and become spread thinner and thinner. When we develop self-compassion, we become more aware of what we need to nourish ourselves as well as others. We recognise that we are also in need of support and kindness and that we have the autonomy to make that happen. We can explore the possibility of fulfilling fewer of these demands and find ways to prioritize our own needs amongst everyone else’s. I love the becoming unbusy site for inspiration on simplifying life.
Self-compassion allows us to offer more altruistic kindness to other people
When we’ve developed sufficient self-compassion, we can begin to recognise the common human needs of other people. We see and feel compassion for their suffering and instinctively move to help relieve it without expectation of receiving anything in return. We’re not building our own ego or sense of significance by helping them; we’re helping because it is the right thing to do. Also, when our own needs are met, we are fully re-charged and able to help others without damaging our own wellbeing.
Self-compassion improves your communication skills
There are two ways in which it does this. Firstly, if you’re using self-compassion to help you develop a growth mindset (one in which mistakes are viewed as essential to learning and progression) then you will be less likely to feel threatened or criticised when others offer constructive criticism or even harsh judgements on your behaviour or achievements. You can respond with equanimity and curiosity rather than anger or frustration. Something like “how can I do that better next time?” Secondly, if your own needs are being met, it is easier to extend more empathy and compassion to other people. You are better primed both to understand what they need and support them in meeting that need.
Self-compassion makes you happier
Kristen Neff is co-founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion and her research has shown a strong correlation between happiness and self-compassion. The more we practice self-compassion, the more we build resilience and a sense that we can cope with whatever life throws at us. We also become aware of our autonomy over our own lives and feel confident in making changes where appropriate. In fact, a consistent practice of self-compassion allows us to meet many of the 6 basic needs that Tony Robbins has identified for success and happiness. With self-compassion we have certainty that we can manage our lives successfully whilst dealing with any uncertainty that may arise. It supports our ability to love and connect with others whilst achieving growth in our intellectual and spiritual development.
Are you convinced? If so, perhaps you would like to read part two in this self-compassion series. 5 ways to develop self compassion.