Self- Compassion as a Self Improvement Strategy

Self- Compassion.  Does this phrase bring up thoughts of ego, self- centeredness and self- pity? It often does, because most of us were learned to fear mistakes and judgment when we made a mistake or did something WRONG as children. We also learned to feel guilt and even shame for those misbehaviors.  Some of us high achieving perfectionists (you know who you are) have spent our lives beating ourselves up over real and even imagined imperfections. We tell ourselves, “I really messed that up! Why am I so stupid?” “I’m never going to get that job!” “I really bombed that big presentation!”  Negative criticism and guilt lead to anxiety which inhibits clear thinking and now we really can’t perform at our best.

What can we do to turn down that guilty, self- critical voice and start clear accurate self-reflection so we can do better next time? We can show ourselves some self- compassion!  In fact, people who are self- compassionate are more honest about their strengths and weaknesses and more resilient. IN turn they are more honest and forgiving of others.

So, what is self-compassion?  According to researcher/ author Kristen Neff, Ph.D. Self Compassion, 2011 Harper Collins, it is comprised of 3 components:

 *self- kindness- an understanding and non -judgmental attitude

 *recognition of our shared humanity- everyone makes mistakes; experiences pain

*Mindfulness- a full awareness of our experience

When we are fully present to our mistakes, weaknesses and suffering, without judgment, we are better able to problem solve.  This clear thinking empowers positive action to comfort, soothe and motivate us to change and grow.   Facing our experience as it is with kindness rather than amplifying it or avoiding it due to fear, helps us move forward.  Remembering that all humans are imperfect and experience pain in life, puts our experience and our self -worth in perspective. We have the courage to change.   As we approach ourselves with both honesty and kindness, we can also be positive and accepting of others and support them to grow.

Let’s take a business situation.

Dean (not his real name) worked in finance in a global corporation.  He was extremely intelligent, detail -oriented, and trusted by the C-Suite.  Dean’s self -talk was critical most of the day, every day.  He was convinced that sooner or later he would make a big mistake and could lose his job.  The truth was he was highly valued and his boss, the CFO, often told him he was way too hard on himself.  Still, he lived with anxiety and self- doubt about his performance.  Unfortunately, he managed his people with the same highly critical attitude.  He didn’t dare take the time to just chat with them or go to lunch because there was too much to do.  Not surprisingly, the only time they heard from Dean was when he found an error in their work and his feedback could be harsh.

As Dean’s executive coach, I explained the neuroscience behind relentless negative self- criticism.  We talked about how critical thinking is hampered by the anxiety it generates and over time performance suffers.

Conversely, mindful acceptance of a mistake allows us to face it without exaggerating it or shutting down due to fear.  Reminding our self that everyone makes mistakes and that we are capable adults, enables the mind to clear so we problem solve and remedy the situation.  As we turn the mind away from criticism toward acceptance with non- judgment, we relax and use our energy to create solutions.  As Dean practiced Mindful breathing every day, especially during times of challenge or mistakes, he experienced greater confidence with the big boss.  Not surprisingly, he started to risk taking the time to chat with his direct reports and get to know and enjoy them.   When they did make a mistake, Dean approached employees with a teaching style, so they learned and developed their skills.  They in turn felt more valued and calmer which reduced their mistakes.

Self -compassion is not coddling ourselves. It is honest acceptance with recognition of our humanness, and it helps us address our mistakes with courage, creativity and resilience. Sounds like a sound self- improvement strategy to me!


Upcoming Events: 

Mindfulness Based Support Group

5 Thursdays, 12 Noon – 1:15 pm

Starts May 2 and ends May 30, 2019

Registration is $160 and includes of Marjorie’s CD:

Come to the Quiet: Meditation for Relaxation and Healing

Register at


Marjorie presents “Cultivating Deeping Awareness: Mindfulness Practices for Coaching”

June 20, 2019 ICF Philadelphia

Contact Marjorie for more info



Did you know Marjorie is a highly sought -after speaker for Leadership Retreats?  Her highly interactive, content rich keynotes focus on critical leadership and emotional intelligence competencies that set winning companies apart.  


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1 thought on “Self- Compassion as a Self Improvement Strategy”

  1. Mary Evelyn McGann

    Hello Marjorie,
    Loved the piece on self-compassion. So true, but so hard to practice when a perfectionist!
    Mary Ev

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