University of California, Berkeley’s Juliana Breines and Serena Chen conducted a series of experiments that suggest that self-compassion, or treating one’s own suffering with the same type of support and compassion offered to others, is more important than self-esteem in developing skill and performance.
Self-compassion enables people to accept their mistakes, failures, shortcomings with kindness and to be awareness of painful thoughts and feelings with equanimity.
Breines and Chan argue that self-compassion is optimized when accompanied by accepting responsibility for any unsuccessful performance outcomes, and using the information to non-punitively improve performance.
They asked volunteers to consider an actual personal setback or failure with self-compassion or self-esteem-enhancing perspective (considering one’s positive qualities and accomplishments).
Volunteers who practiced a self-compassionate perspective tended to view personal shortcomings as changeable, and felt more motivation to improve performance by avoiding the same mistake in the future.
Breines and Chan validated this finding in a study that induced experience of failure in a task, then provided an opportunity to improve performance in a later trial.
Volunteers who viewed their initial test failure with self-compassion devoted 25 per cent more time to preparing for future trials, and scored higher on the second test than those who focused on bolstering their self-esteem.
Breines and Chan suggest self-compassion can enhance performance because it enables more dispassionate assessment of actions, abilities, and opportunities for future improvement.
They argue that self-esteem-bolstering thoughts may narrow focus to consider only positive characteristics while overlooking opportunities for improvement.
Kristin Neff and Stephanie Rude of University of Texas, and Kristin Kirkpatrick of Eastern Kentucky University considered personality characteristics of people who practice self-compassion, and found measures of self-compassion were related to positive personality characteristics outlined in Robert McCrae and Paul Costa’s five factor model of personality known by the acronym OCEAN:
- Openness (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
- Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless)
- Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
- Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind)
- Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident)
Neff’s team found that higher levels of personal well-being, optimism, initiative, conscientiousness, curiosity, happiness associated were associated with self-compassion.
In addition, higher self-compassion was related to lower anxiety and depression.
Conversely, Mark Baldwin, now of McGill University, offered complementary findings from his research with volunteers who identified the name of an important, close, yet person in their lives.
He found that this “priming” led participants to report more negative self-evaluations, self-criticism, and negative moods.
Research on evoked self-compassion and its negative partner, self-criticism, suggests that compassionate self-appraisals enable people to perform better and experience more positive moods than self-critical evaluations.
-*How have you applied self-compassion to improve performance?