20 Jan Be Kinder to Yourself
via the HBR by Alice Boyes
Often, we’re our own worst critic. When we feel anxious or frustrated, we talk to ourselves more harshly than we’d find acceptable by anyone else. I blew that presentation. Everyone on my team has such strong technical skills; I can’t follow the conversation. My kiddo is going to be so mad at me for working late again. We wrongly assume that criticism will motivate us to do better. We become even more of a perfectionist than usual. Instead of talking to ourselves with self-compassion, we raise our standards for our behavior as a defense against our feelings of doubt, anxiety, or frustration.
Self-compassion improves people’s participation in groups and is associated with a more adaptive attitude to failure. People who are self-compassionate recover better from psychological knocks, like relationship breakups and career setbacks. One way to show yourself compassion is through self-talk. Here’s what that is and how it works.
What Does Compassionate Self-Talk Look Like?
There are four elements of self-compassion: using a tone of kindness, recognizing that pain is a universal human experience, taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions that neither suppresses or exaggerates them, and expecting yourself to make the best decision you can in the situation you’re in.
Here are three examples of what it looks like in the real world:
Sometimes, compassionate self-talk is a gentle and supportive nudge. For example, I like to ask myself, What do I need right now? This gives me the flexibility to choose what’s most self-compassionate in a given situation. Since I’m prone to worry and micromanage everything, a message like trust the process for a while can help me let go. At other times, greater self-discipline is the kinder thing to do. For example, I might need to knuckle down to do a task I’ve been putting off. If that relieves my dread, it’s self-compassionate. In this scenario, I might say to myself, You don’t want to start because you’re anxious. That’s understandable. You want to do a good job. The best way to do a good job is to chip away at it. You don’t have to work on it all day. Give it 90 minutes and then enjoy the rest of the day.
Sometimes, self-compassionate talk is an irreverent challenge of beliefs. For example, I’ve written hundreds of blog articles. Some have over a million reads. Yet sometimes I’ll doubt myself. I’m not very good at this. I have nothing unique to say about this. Instead of taking these thoughts seriously, I will lightheartedly say to myself, Yup, you’ve forgotten how to do this. A fairy must’ve come overnight and taken away all the skills you used to write those other hundreds of articles. Everyone who shares your articles thinks they’re boring. That’s why editors keep giving you opportunities. That irreverence jolts me into a more realistic view of my competencies and opportunities.
And sometimes, self-compassionate talk is reframing a trait or tendency, like perfectionism. Use it to prevent psyching yourself out and letting perfect be the enemy of done. Perfectionists are less likely to be self-compassionate. Self-compassion can help you take a more balanced view of yourself and see when not everything is great (say, your performance on a project), but not everything is terrible (your entire career is a flop). A perfectionist might say to themselves, I have to get this exactly right, first try, or I’ll never get another opportunity. That attitude can make starting at all feel too daunting. Someone who is self-compassionate might say to themselves, Everyone has blind spots that result in first attempts being imperfect. I don’t have to get everything right all on my own. I can use others’ perspectives. That’s how great work happens.
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