For a lot of people, the urge to self-criticise is strong, but it is rarely useful. Showing kindness and compassion to yourself improves the quality of your life as well as your ability to achieve – but sometimes it’s easier said than done. Here, Alisa Camplin shares some tips on how to become your own best ally.
Alisa Camplin is Australia’s first ever female Winter Olympic gold medallist, a working mum and dedicated resilience and high-performance consultant.
Life is not all sunshine and rainbows. When something goes wrong in our lives, most of us will fester in the frustration and then either punish ourselves for the situation at hand, or blame someone (or something) else. The reality is that both of these responses have their limitations.
If you opt to put the blame elsewhere and absolve yourself of any responsibility, it will possibly feel good in the short-term. However, you’re then less likely to be open to examining the reality of the situation – and that can mean missing the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons.
Conversely, if you decide to take full responsibility for the situation, you can become overly critical and move into a space of self-loathing. If that’s the case, your perception of self and your own potential can become skewed – stifling your ability to develop through (and, ultimately, past) the event.
Self-compassion is the middle path
Fortunately, there’s a space between these two choices – and that’s what we refer to as self-compassion. To show compassion to yourself is the ability to appreciate your own self-worth and to genuinely care about your wellbeing in the wake of a setback. Self-compassion should not be confused with self-esteem, because self-compassion requires you to be judgement free (of yourself or anyone else), whereas self-esteem involves evaluating yourself in comparison with others.
Be your own friend
Dr Kristin Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has described self-compassion as the capacity to give ourselves the same kindness and care that we’d give to a good friend. If a close person in your life came to you with a problem, how would you react? Generally, you would strive to comfort them first and then help them accept the situation. You would withhold judgement and be kind and balanced in your analysis of the events. If possible, you’d assist them in finding the silver linings of whatever has occurred – and you’d endeavour to do so with empathy and understanding. If we’re happy to show that courtesy to others, doesn’t it make sense to do the same for ourselves? In this sense, you could say that self-compassion is the purest expression of altruism because it’s the ability to show kindness to yourself without any expectation of the outcome.
Make your #onechange
Find an hour this week to sit down and write yourself a letter of gratitude that celebrates your strengths and acknowledges your limitations with kindness.
Live an authentic and evolving life
Self-compassion is inextricably linked with the concept of cultivating a growth mindset. If you can treat yourself with kindness and understanding, you’re more likely to forgive yourself as part of learning and evolving to become your best self. With forgiveness comes motivation to avoid replicating prior mistakes. Dr Jia Wei Zhang, assistant professor of experimental social psychology at the University of Memphis, has argued that self-compassion cultivates a greater sense of authenticity because it minimises negative thoughts and self-doubt while elevating emotional resilience and optimism.
In this sense, the more you practise self-compassion the greater your connection to yourself – which, in turn, leads to a more authentic life. This is critical, because people who are in tune with themselves, tend to feel more secure and therefore freer to take strategic risks as part of discovering who they might become. They have a genuine sense of wholeness within themselves and more meaningful relationships with others. Which is surely more satisfying than pretending to be someone other than yourself or trying to live up to another person’s definition of success. Practising self-compassion as part of living true to ones-self, delivers a raft of mental health benefits and increases performance outcomes too.
How to cultivate self-compassion.
- Practise basic self-care. Eat, sleep, exercise, rest and refresh consistently.
- Identify three things that you like about yourself.
- Aim to spend time around positive people. Remember, attitudes are contagious.
- Practise self-awareness. Recognise what triggers your unkind thoughts so you can manage them.
- Try new things. Be curious about yourself and your ability to grow.
- Remember that perfection doesn’t exist, and try to avoid judgement and comparison.
- Cultivate things that you’re good at and immerse yourself in your passions.
- Be your own cheerleader. 9. Have people in your life that you can turn to for support when your self-compassion waivers.
Bringing it home
What does all of this mean in a tangible sense? Well, looking at my own life – I stop and think, “Wow, I need to be far more mindful about teaching my children the skill of being kind to themselves.” The most effective way for me to do that is to visibly model it in my own behaviour and teach by example. In stopping to consider that, I thought about the role models I had in my own life growing up. I also took the opportunity to sit Dr Kristin Neff’s self-compassion test – which, fortunately, I scored highly on.
So where did I learn these behaviours? I think a lot of it comes back to my parents. My father is a reflective person who journals a lot. He would take the time to sit and ponder life and that undoubtedly influenced me. Growing up, he openly shared his own shortcomings and taught me that nobody is perfect, so there’s no point in judging ourselves harshly for mistakes. Instead, he showed me the great strength in finding the learnings in difficult or erroneous situations. My mother had a never-give-up attitude, and she was always encouraging me as child. Even at a young age, I could see that she was courageous in her career but she was always kind to herself and others along the way.
Find the courage to be your own best ally
Now, at 44-years-old, this manifests in me choosing to accept and like myself as I am. Of course, I am still a life in motion, growing and maturing, and a huge part of that process is realising that our relationship with ourselves is the most important one that we’ll ever hold. You have the choice to be your own lifelong friend or an adversary. I figure there are enough enemies in the world, I should at least try to be my own best ally. I know we need many good people in our lives but, equally, I want to be comfortable in my own skin and be at peace with myself.
It takes courage to sit and appreciate your own qualities and imperfections. When I first tried this, my reaction was, “I think I’m a good person.” Then, I stopped for a second and questioned why I had started with ‘I think,’ because that reflects a need for external validation or at least a lack of personal conviction. So, I took a breath and said to myself, “You know what, I am a good person.” Even that was more of an emotional challenge than I expected.
Like many people, I’ve spent a long time trying to be accepted, being evaluated, and feeling judged. Now, I realise that it’s okay to have high expectations of yourself, to want to keep improving, to work with or around your limitations and importantly to be kind to yourself along the way. It’s hugely liberating to stop and say, “I like myself, and I have a place in this world with all my strengths as well as my scars.” I hope you can do the same, because it’s not daggy, it’s powerful. Self-compassion leads to greater performance outcomes as well as a healthier, longer, better life.