Think back to the last time you failed at something or made a mistake. Did you turn bright red at the thought and beat yourself up? Is your self-esteem still feeling the bruising after-effects?
Or did you accept that the occasional faceplant is part of being human and show yourself kindness and compassion?
“Self-compassion” and “self-esteem” are similar in some ways: Both reflect how much we value ourselves and whether we consider ourselves to be someone of worth. However, “self-esteem is contingent on success and on people liking you,” says researcher Kristin Neff, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, who has pioneered research on the subject. “So it’s not very stable. You could have it on a good day but lose it on a bad day.”
Self-compassion, on the other hand, is learning to be a warm, supportive friend to yourself at all times, in all circumstances. Cultivating self-compassion creates a sound yet soft cushion from which you can pick yourself up when you feel hurt, embarrassed, or ashamed, and keep going.
Here are three powerful benefits of giving yourself a break.
1. Your confidence will get a boost.
Being forgiving of ourselves means we’re more inspired to take a risk and less fearful of challenges. Self-compassion makes us less afraid of taking chances because we don’t define ourselves by our mistakes and mishaps. We’re also less likely to attribute our failures to our own shortcomings.
Fragile self-esteem, by comparison, can, for example, stop you from throwing out an out-of-the-box idea in a meeting for fear of looking foolish. If you’re afraid of venturing from your comfort zone and speaking up, how will your manager ever hear your great ideas?
2. You’ll be healthier, and more resilient.
Neff’s first studies showed that self-compassion is directly related to our resilience—and boosts our mental health and well-being. Other studies show that those with a high level of self-compassion experience better overall health and fewer ailments like back pain, headache, nausea, and respiratory problems. One explanation: Self-compassion has been found to reduce the inflammation that occurs in the body from mental anguish.
3. You’ll be more proactive.
People with higher levels of self-compassion are generally more proactive, again because they’re less anxious about trying something new. Scientific evidence also suggests that self-compassion allows us the vulnerability to admit and learn from our mistakes.
Many of us believe that being hard on ourselves is a sign of ambition—that measuring ourselves in comparison to others keeps us on our toes. But studies show that self-criticism often backfires, not only increasing unhappiness and stress but also a tendency toward procrastination.
When the going gets tough, you want to be self-compassionate, says Neff, because “it’s going to make you stronger.”