Founder and CEO of PLANERGY, with decades of international experience in Procurement, Spend Management and Technology.
Few of us enjoy the feelings that come with making a mistake or failing to meet expectations — whether those expectations are set by others or ourselves. And in the wake of failure, it’s very common for resilience to be leavened with self-recrimination and criticism.
Judging ourselves harshly might seem like the most natural reaction. We often resolve to avoid future errors by relentlessly monitoring and correcting our behavior moving forward. After all, simply ignoring problems or rationalizing our shortcomings does nothing to change things for the better.
However, the negative self-talk and brutal assumptions many of us engage in when dealing with a setback can be just as counterproductive. Self-criticism and self-analysis have an important place in self-improvement, but we also need to make room for self-compassion if we want to successfully move beyond mistakes and toward future success.
The Case For Self-Compassion
The Golden Rule, treat others as we would like to be treated, is often used to encourage empathy. But what if we reversed its teachings and applied them to our own struggles? What if we gave ourselves the consideration, kindness and room for improvement we extend to our coworkers and professional peers?
Blending mindfulness with empathy and kind, but honest, self-reflection, self-compassion is a tool we can use as professionals to take a step back, evaluate our current challenges and find healthy, positive and productive solutions.
It might seem easy to conflate such kindness with self-indulgence. “Getting ahead,” says conventional wisdom, “requires ambition and a commitment to growth, not a free pass when the going gets tough.”
Yet research shows excessive self-criticism can paralyze rather than motivate and create greater problems, including procrastination, avoidance behaviors and even depression.
Self-compassion is active, honest and anything but a free pass. It requires self-awareness, vulnerability and a willingness to give yourself a chance to learn and grow. And by applying it effectively, you can end your dependency on self-esteem (which relies on others’ perceptions) and shift your actions and thoughts toward positive, lasting growth.
Benefits of Self-Compassion
It might sound like too soft an approach if you’re accustomed to toughing things out. But research directly links self-compassion to better mental health, better physical health and a number of other benefits that I have noticed firsthand, including:
• Higher motivation, better learning and stronger performance through a mindset emphasizing continuous improvement and personal growth.
• Greater empathy for stronger personal and professional relationships.
• Greater resilience, lower narcissism and reduced maladaptive perfectionism.
• Better leadership skills through a growth mindset example and compassion that extends beyond the self to others.
Blending Self-Compassion with Self-Analysis
Like any other skill, self-compassion can be learned and improved over time. Applying it in your professional and personal lives doesn’t have to be difficult; you can get started with a few simple techniques.
To err is human, but self-awareness is essential to both self-compassion and self-improvement.
When you’re facing a setback, ask yourself:
• Do I have a clear understanding of where things went wrong, my role in the outcome and the measures I need to take to correct things, avoid future errors and improve my performance?
• Am I keeping my thoughts and feelings in proper perspective rather than engaging in self-flagellation?
• Am I acknowledging my fallibility as fundamentally human and a trait I share with others?
• Am I extending to myself the same care and understanding I would to a coworker or friend?
Breaking counterproductive patterns begins with a clear head and a clear picture of what’s actually happening.
Ask For Help When You Need It
Through the lens of self-esteem, needing help of any kind is often seen as a weakness. And, of course, relying too heavily on others can be both counterproductive for you and tiresome for others.
But to paraphrase John Donne, nobody’s an island. Recognizing when you genuinely need help, and having the grace and vulnerability to accept it, can help you resist burnout, overcome feelings of inadequacy and improve your interpersonal relationships.
If you find it challenging to ask for help, you can start by simply accepting help that’s offered. It doesn’t have to be a major project, but it should be with someone you trust to support you.
Remember, supporting someone can be as positive an experience for others as helping others is for you. Learning to accept empathy and compassion will make it easier for you to extend it to others, providing a powerful example to those you lead.
And best of all, by welcoming help from others, you may gain new insights that can help you guide your organization to better technological or security policies and practices.
Treat Yourself Like A Friend
Everyone’s vulnerable to the occasional bout of negative self-talk or impostor syndrome. Self-doubt is part of the human condition, but too often we hold ourselves to impossibly high standards we’d never impose on those we work with and care about.
If you’re struggling to come to terms with a difficult situation, take a step outside yourself and consider how you’d help a friend in the same circumstances. Visualize the words you’d share and actions you’d take and apply them to yourself. Chances are, you’ll gain some much-needed perspective — and the distance required to take healthy corrective action.
Treating yourself like a friend can help you do the same for others. A CTO or CSO who balances “the human factor” against the tech and security needs of their organization can make choices that support business goals while still accommodating the needs of the user base (e.g., improving compliance with additional training and education, collaboration with different business units to ensure software, technology and security are inclusive of special needs, etc.).
Rigidity and negativity can sabotage even the best intentions. Without reflection and a measure of kindness, we can’t grow as people or learn effectively from our mistakes. In a world increasingly defined by disruptions and unprecedented challenges, practicing self-compassion may be the best way each of us can transform our individual setbacks into greater shared success.