Self Compassion, not Self-Esteem, Enhances Performance

Juliana Breines

Juliana Breines

Self-compassion is treating one’s own suffering with the same support and compassion offered to others.
It is even more important than self-esteem when developing skill and performance, found University of California, Berkeley’s Juliana Breines and Serena Chen.

Self-compassion enables people to accept their mistakes and shortcomings with kindness.
It also enables equanimity when people are aware of painful thoughts and feelings.
Self-compassion is optimized people accept responsibility for ineffective performance outcomes, and use this performance information to non-punitively improve.

Serena Chen

In Breines and Chen’s research, volunteers considered a personal setback with either a

  • self-compassion perspective or
  • self-esteem-enhancing perspective focusing on the person’s positive qualities and accomplishments.

People who practiced a self-compassionate perspective tended to view personal shortcomings as changeable, and felt more motivated to improve performance by avoiding the same mistake in the future.

Another task induced failure, then provided an opportunity to improve performance in a later challenge.
Participants 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.

Self-compassion can enhance performance, suggested Breines and Chen, because it enables more dispassionate assessment of actions, abilities, and opportunities for future improvement.
In contrast, self-esteem-bolstering thoughts may narrow focus to consider only positive characteristics while overlooking opportunities for improvement.

Robert McCrae

Self-compassion measures were related to positive personality characteristics outlined in Robert McCrae and Paul Costa’s five factor model of personality known by the acronym OCEAN:

Paul Costa

  • 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)
    in a study by Kristin Neff and Stephanie Rude of University of Texas, and Kristin Kirkpatrick of Eastern Kentucky University.

Kristin Neff

Neff’s team found that higher levels of personal well-being, optimism, initiative, conscientiousness, curiosity, happiness associated were associated with self-compassion.
Higher self-compassion was also related to lower anxiety and depression.

Self-compassion’s less effective reciprocal, self-criticism, seems associated with imagined assessments by others and comparisons with other people.

Mark Baldwin

McGill University’s Mark Baldwin found that participants who thought of an important person in their lives experienced more negative self-evaluations, self-criticism, and negative moods.

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?

Related Post
Working toward Goals with “Implementation Intentions”

©Kathryn Welds

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