Many people believe they have to be harsh on themselves in order to be successful at work and in their personal lives. In its more extreme forms, this attitude can take the form of a relentless and unforgiving internal commentator, or “inner critic.” It may therefore be surprising (and a relief) for you as you learn to be more mindful to learn that there are strategies to maintain motivation without harsh self-criticism.

A way to do this is through practicing “self-compassion,” which researcher Kristin Neff defines as an attitude marked by mindful awareness, a sense of common humanity with others in one’s struggles, and an attitude of self-kindness.  As this definition shows, self-compassion is not a kind of disengaged permissiveness towards whatever happens, but rather an attitude marked by engaged self-kindness and a bigger-picture perspective on our setbacks.

Recent research has highlighted these benefits: in Altered Traits, Dan Goleman and Dr. Richie Davidson cite a study from Tal Ben-Shahar which found that a practicing an attitude of loving-kindness reduces self-critical thoughts.

Meanwhile, further research found that self-compassion can actually increase improvement motivation.  Researchers Breines and Chen found that practicing self-compassion after setbacks or ethical lapses led to higher rates of desire and effort to improve. In this study participants were asked to write about some beliefs about themselves which were critical and negative.  Immediately after this exercise they were then split into 3 groups.  The first group was asked to write about something they liked (positive re-direction).  The second group was asked to write about positive aspects of themselves (self-esteem). The third group was asked to review their negative critical story and re-write it with a self-compassionate viewpoint.  It was found that the group focusing on self-compassion was more apt to believe that change was possible, more motivated to change, wanted to engage with others who also had an improvement mindset and took action to initiate actual change.

Self-compassion can therefore be an alternative to the “inner critic”––a way to maintain healthy motivations in work and personal life, without having to beat yourself up!

In addition self-compassion builds resistance to empathetic distress.  Which is when we feel the distress of others and cannot be with them.  Front line employees typically experience empathetic distress when they are constantly dealing with customer in distress.  In this case Tania Singer and colleagues have observed that compassion training allows people to continue be with others in distress and increases our willingness to help by increasing positive affects in the brain.

Self-compassion is a trainable skill.  Loving Kindness and Just Like Me Meditation practices help build self-compassion.  Let us help you build a more compassionate workplace.