Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Self-Compassion with Dr. Kristin Neff

by James Porter June 01, 2011

Our guest this week is Dr. Kristin Neff, author of the book, Self-Compassion. Dr. Neff got her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley and is currently a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, at the University of Texas at Austin. I found out about her work while reading an article in the science section of the New York Times. I was immediately struck by how something as simple as being kind to yourself could have such powerful implications for alleviating pain and suffering.

Most Americans tend to beat themselves up and get into the habit of using self-loathing as a way to self-motivate. But when you stop and think about it when has name-calling or accusing someone of being a "big loser" ever motivated anyone? And this is what we do to ourselves all the time, without even realizing it. Dr. Neff's work offers us an alternative to this classic style of rewarding our good behavior and ruthlessly punishing our bad behavior.

We theorize that this is how we keep ourselves functioning on a high level, yet the things we say to ourselves would never be said if we're talking to someone else. But we seem to have NO problem saying it to ourselves: "I'm such a jackass for not selling my house while the market was booming." "I'm a terrible parent for not attending my child's soccer game."

This concept of being NICE to oneself runs so counter to our Western way of thinking, that it's hard to even get your head around it. Yet I've often heard well-respected teachers from the East (including the Dalai Lama) comment on the surprising amount of self-loathing that goes on in the minds of their students from the West. Dr. Neff's research shows us that this habit of being self-critical is not only hurtful, it's downright unhealthy. As Dr. Neff explains in her blog in the Huffington Post: "the motivational power of self-criticism comes from fear of self-punishment, while the motivational power of self-compassion comes from the desire to be healthy."

 She goes on to say that failure is a part of life and if we beat ourselves up unmercifully for failing we are much less likely to try anything the least bit risky. She says the research shows this to be true. People who are overly self-critical tend to get stuck in depression and anxiety states that stall any attempts to get ones' dreams off the ground.

"Self-compassion recognizes that failure is not only inevitable, but it's also our best teacher, something to be explored rather than avoided at all costs. Self-compassion also allows us to acknowledge areas of personal weakness by recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. We can then work on improving ourselves, not because we're unacceptable as we are, but because we want to thrive and be happy."

"These are not just "nice" ideas," she goes on to explain in her HUFFPO blog. And the research seems to back this up. "Self-compassionate people set high standards for themselves, but they aren't as upset when they don't meet their goals. Instead the research shows they're more likely to set new goals for themselves after failure rather than wallowing in feelings of frustration and disappointment."

She says that self-compassionate people are more motivated because they want to learn and grow, NOT because they want to impress people. And she goes on to say "that self-compassion helps people engage in healthier behaviors like sticking to their weight-loss goals, exercising, quitting smoking and seeking medical care when needed."

So that's a pretty impressive list of benefits. As someone who practices self-compassion you're more likely to take reasonable risks, more likely to meet your goals when you do take risks, more likely to stay healthy and more likely not to wallow in self-pity in the event that you fail. "Self-compassion is not the same as being easy on ourselves. It's a way of nurturing ourselves so that we can reach our full potential," she concludes.

Find out how you can learn how to deal with failure, accept the things that you don't like about yourself and still find a way to keep yourself highly motivated too. You will truly see the wisdom in this approach after listening to just the first few minutes of this interview with Dr. Neff. And after listening to the full 45 minutes you will almost certainly want to incorporate self-compassion into your daily routine.


James Porter
James Porter


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