Self-compassion, on the other hand, is a way of dealing with the inevitable failures that show up in life. It's a way of acknowledging that things didn't turn out how we wanted, but that we specifically are not the problem. Here's a quote from Neff's TEDx talk:
"Self-compassion is not a way of judging ourselves positively. Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly, embracing ourselves as we are, flaws and all."
Fortunately, showing ourselves a little bit of love and consideration isn't terribly difficult. It just takes practice. Here are the three steps Neff suggests for getting there.
- Self-kindness. This involves simply talking to ourselves the way we would a friend with the same problem. When we do this, we recognize that our negative self-talk is destructive; we're talking to ourselves in a way we would never speak to someone else.
- Common humanity. Understand and accept that imperfections are a part of life. Nobody is without flaw and nobody has only ever achieved success. When we realize we are all more alike than different and aren't in direct competition with every other person on the planet, that pressure to be "special" is alleviated.
- Mindfulness. Here's where meditation comes in. We can be with what is in the present moment. We can acknowledge and validate our suffering in order to provide compassion.
We shouldn't be surprised at how difficult this is to do. For most of our lives, we're given examples of how intense, focused criticism gets the job done. We glorify coaches who are tough on their players to achieve better performance and we heap praise on people who lash out at their subordinates over mistakes.
But, research has shown that extensive criticism is ineffective for achieving better performance in the long run. There may be short-term benefits (possibly based on simple regression to the mean), but over time relentless criticism leads to people feeling beaten down, ineffective, and unmotivated.
Our bodies are programmed from birth to respond to warmth, soft voices, and gentle contact. Self-criticism creates a fear response – useful for a short-term task (like running away from a predator) but counterproductive for stronger, long-term motivation.