To err is human; to forgive yourself can be divine.
You know that voice inside your head, the one that gently (or not so gently) reminds you of what you should be doing to move toward your goals (get on that exercise bike! Start that book! Finish that report now so you can relax the rest of the weekend.) You know the voice, it’s a kind of inner wisdom (or sometimes an inner nag, but you know that your life is better when you listen to it.)
What’s your voice like? Is he or she gentle, or do you have an inner drill sergeant, telling you you’re a maggot if you don’t accomplish your task right NOW??? Do you get a friendly word, a helping hand, or a virtual smack to the back of the head?
Why does it matter?
Sometimes people think that the gentle approach is ineffective, that they NEED to have that drill sergeant hovering over their shoulders, or we’re afraid we won’t get things done.
But which way is really better? So often psychology studies show us how counter-intuitive our beliefs really are. Do we really respond best to self-bullying, or are we more likely to be motivated by a softer touch? Do you really get more flies with honey?
Don’t mistake an inner bully for self discipline.
Let’s say someone is trying to deal with a recent period of low self-confidence. Here are three ways the inner drill sergeant might deal with it:
- Self-esteem boost: think about positive aspects of the self to boost confidence.
- Positive distraction: think back to nice memories to create a distraction from the problem.
- Self-compassion: think about the self with kindness and compassion, seeing the period of low self-confidence in context, without evaluating or judging it.
When psychological researchers tested these approaches they found that self-compassion was surprisingly powerful (Breines & Chen, 2012). In comparison to self-esteem boosting and distraction, this study found that self-compassion was most likely to help participants:
- See the possibilities for change,
- Increase the motivation to change,
- Take steps towards making a change,
- Compare themselves with those doing better, to help motivate their change. (Source: spring.co.uk)
Once again counter-intuitively, self compassion is not the wimpy, wishy-washy approach, but in fact has the most motivational ooomph. By allowing ourselves to be sympathetic and non-judgmental toward ourselves, we are able to move forward while avoiding damaging self-criticism.
This may be because self-compassion creates a more balanced way of responding to both failures in ourselves and difficult situations we find ourselves in.
Or as American author Eric Hoffer put it:
“Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul: where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless.”