There is a common misunderstanding that self-compassion means lowering your standards or being lenient with the quality of your work. But it is simply an attitude towards yourself, while you are doing the difficult and worthwhile things that you’re trying to do.
As a coach, most people I work with have very high standards for themselves. They are usually high-performers focused on doing things well in their work. But, at times in their lives, this catches up on them. Feelings of inadequacy, fatigue and burnout creep their way in. When it’s time to apply some self-compassion, the fear that it will make them lazy creeps in.
The double-edge sword of high performance
A sense of duty and ambition can, at times, come at the cost of one’s own well-being. All of a sudden, it becomes harder and harder to perform well. This is a human experience: it’s not indicative of some flaws that any one individual has.
When being tough towards ourselves stops being useful
We have been conditioned to think that being tough towards ourselves is responsible for our success. We take it as a given that beating ourselves up will make us avoid mistakes and make us sharper in the future. It’s understandable why. It worked pretty well through childhood and young adulthood. So, we think this will work well for the rest of our lives. Yet, it’s not really working now, no matter how hard we try to ‘be tough’.
Are you using self-criticism or is it using you?
Criticism is a very useful tool that can help us progress and understand our mistakes. Yet, the inner self-critic can grow into a destructive force that stops serving its purpose. It stops being useful when it’s no longer a tool that we use, but something that uses us! When the self-critic is constantly coming up to say: “I should have already known that”, “I don’t belong here”, “I should be quicker, faster, better”, or “If I was strong enough, I wouldn’t be tired”, then it stops serving its constructive purpose. It traps you in self-loathing and you stop performing at your peak.
So, how do you escape from that?
From self-criticism to self-compassion
Self-compassion means being understanding towards ourselves when we are faced with difficulties, failure, or suffering. Kristin Neff outlines three components of self-compassion:
1. Self-kindness: when we are faced with a personal shortcoming, we accept it with benevolence towards ourselves.
2. Common humanity: we are aware that our individual issues are not unique to us, but rather shared by humanity as a whole.
3. Mindfulness: receiving and observing our negative thoughts and patterns, so that we can deal with them effectively.
So, is self-compassion lazy?
There is a common misunderstanding that self-compassion means lowering your standards or being lenient with the quality of your work. This could not be further from the truth. It is simply an attitude towards yourself, while you are doing the difficult and worthwhile things that you’re trying to do. In fact, the tougher the environment in which you work, the more you will need self-compassion as a tool for resilience. Importantly, if the self-critic is eating up all your energy, then there is little left to perform well. Self-compassion goes a longer way in taking the edge off.
Next time you feel your inner critic paralysing you, give self-compassion a chance. And then observe how you feel.
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