Performance and perfection have never been more in demand, even as self-help books tout the importance of being “the best version of yourself”. Too often do we end up berating ourselves when we fall short of either our own expectations or that of others. While being critical of oneself can be helpful in driving improvement, excessive self-criticism can heighten symptoms of anxiety, chronic stress and depression over time. Self-compassion, on the other hand, has the opposite effect and can increase motivation as well as help one to achieve higher performance standards.
Toning down your inner critic, and being less harsh on yourself need not be a sign of laziness or complacency. For individuals who are prone to a high level of self-consciousness, practicing self-compassion can allow them to be mindful, kind, and free from judgment. Instead of exacerbating a problem by having a self-imagined and exaggerated outcome, one should try to calm down and aim to see the problem from a third party’s perspective for objectivity.
One way to do so is to imagine a close friend or loved family member in a similar situation and think about how you would console and comfort him/her. This kindness and understanding that is extended to others should be applied to yourself as well. We are the hardest on ourselves for a very good reason: we don’t want to see ourselves fail. But consider which is more conducive towards success – brute force or patience? Does a garden fare better under the care of a gardener who knows just the right amount of water to use, or one who empties the entire trough on to the fields?
At its core, self-compassion reminds oneself that it is okay to feel vulnerable and fragile, for true strength is always born out of weakness. Regardless of whether you’re stressed over what’s going on at home, work or school, you deserve a chance to give yourself a second chance. Yes – learn from your mistakes so as not to repeat them, but don’t beat yourself into the ground over it. Crying over spilt milk won’t exactly put it back in the glass.
Critics of self-compassion often argue that it is an excuse for the strawberry generation to give up without really trying your best. It may come across as a means to avoid failing – if you never try, you never fail. While there is some logic to that school of thought, real self-compassion does not make you any less accountable to yourself or others. It enforces your self-worth and encourages you to work harder under less stressful conditions. Reframing your failure as a learning process that is valuable in its own way is also crucial. Find what pushes you in your darkest hour and employ various sources of motivation to keep you going.
Being our own gatekeepers in terms of standards and performance is a harsh reality to face, so there’s no reason to make it any harder or more complicated than it needs to be. Try giving self-compassion a chance by taking a minute to love and appreciate yourself for who you are. Whatever you’re working towards, treat the journey as a sacred path and treat it with as much respect as you would with your goal, and you will flourish and thrive.