Resolved: How Being Kind to Yourself Can Make 2022 Your Best Year Yet

The research is in and the message is clear: being kind to yourself, even (perhaps especially) in the face of setbacks, is an extremely powerful driver of well-being and an engine for meaningful change. What better way to start the new year than with a commitment to put failures and mistakes in perspective, recognize that they are part of being human, and manage the negative emotions that arise around them so you can start again?     
 
Self-compassion opens door to growth
Contrary to common messages that high self-esteem grows out of increasing accomplishments, self-compassion expert Kristin Neff, Ph.D., has found that linking your self-worth to external markers is a recipe for feeling discouraged and even jealous rather than motivated and fulfilled. When people live in fear of not measuring up or judge themselves harshly for mistakes, they become less willing to admit inadequacies and areas for development (limiting opportunities for growth) and are more likely to try to blame others for what they see as failures.
 
Through decades of research, Neff, the best-selling author of Self-compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself, and her colleagues have discovered that self-compassion fosters positive feelings such as happiness and optimism, and enables people to flourish, even in times of great difficulty. In her book, she points to research suggesting that self-compassion makes it easier to admit failure, rejection and loss and to take greater personal responsibility for improvement.
 
Self-compassion as catalyst
Even the most supportive workplaces demand that we meet KPIs and typically involve a certain degree of competition for key projects and advancement opportunities. Those pressures often result in two responses to workplace setbacks: we become defensive and blame others, or we berate ourselves, explains Serena Chen, Ph.D, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Writing in Harvard Business Review, she says both responses shut down learning and hamper personal and professional development.
 
Chen clarifies that where self-esteem tends to involve comparing yourself with others, self-compassion does not involve judging yourself or others but instead helps create a sense of self-worth “. . . because it leads people to genuinely care about their own well-being and recovery after a setback.” 
 
Neff’s research backs that up. “Self-compassion doesn’t just amount to letting ourselves off the hook,” she writes. “Rather, by softening the blow of self-judgment and recognizing our imperfect humanity, we can see ourselves with much greater honesty and clarity.”
 
That clarity can drive greater motivation to learn, grow and make needed changes. A survey tool Neff developed, and that has been used extensively by researchers and mental health practitioners, shows that people who score high on self-compassion tend to have greater motivation for self-improvement. That perspective can manifest itself in an ability to:
 
  • Embrace purposeful risk-taking with the security of knowing that mistakes and setbacks do not define you or mean you are a failure.
 
  • Ask for help when you are struggling.
 
  • Focus on the problem and potential solutions rather than shifting blame or protecting your ego.
 
  • Take responsibility for your actions and apologize if you have hurt or inconvenienced others. 
 
  • Re-assess your career path and personal decisions if you are dissatisfied with results.
 
  • Empathize with the suffering and failures of others.
 
  • Adopt a growth mindset through realistic self-appraisal and a belief that you are capable of making improvements and expanding your skills.
 
Self-compassion is a powerful tool to help you stretch toward your potential. Those who embrace it experience greater enthusiasm, interest, inspiration and excitement than people who are more self-critical. Self-compassionate people are also more curious and curiosity, Neff explains, encourages us to explore, make new discoveries, take risks and grow. Here’s to a rewarding 2022 filled with the courage to stretch and the compassion to try again.
 
If you are ready to kickstart your professional growth, register for the 2022 WFF Leadership Conference today.

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