You have a goal. Somehow you have to motivate yourself to achieve it. If you don’t have a full-time coach to hold you accountable, which do you think is more effective: The whip or the carrot?
The whip of self-criticism might seem like a more direct and effective method than the warm and fuzzy motivation of self-compassion, but it’s not. A study published in 2007 in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology examined the relationship between self-criticism and goal progress. It found that self-criticism negatively impacts goal progress. People are less personally motivated to achieve their goals when motivated by self-criticism.
Self-Critics Quit More Often
Self-criticism points out what needs to change as a way to self-motivate. So why does it fail in comparison to self-compassion?
According to neuroscientists, self-criticism:
- Makes you feel inhibited and demoralized, which undermines focus, motivation, and performance
- Makes you feel like a victim who lays blame on external forces rather than owning the situation
- Leads to self-handicapping (engaging in unconscious self-sabotage that gives you an excuse for failing). You don’t want to be harshly criticized for failing… but if you’re already criticizing yourself at the start, how much worse will that self-criticism be if you fail? Might as well quit now while you’re ahead…
Anytime you inwardly yell at yourself to be better, you’re implying that you are no good. Sure, it’s in the spirit of wanting improvement, but if you’ve ever seen one of those aggressive, red-faced Little League coaches who scream at the kids, you know how demeaning that is.
When you bad-coach yell at yourself, it’s not just the words…..it’s the tone of voice and the delivery that makes you think, “Why bother?”
Okay. So self-criticism doesn’t work. But does self-compassion work? Yes! But only if you have the courage to use it!
Why Self-Compassion Gets Things Done
People avoid using self-compassion because they are afraid it’s the easy way out, that they won’t follow through, and that they’ll become lazy and weak. But there’s nothing “soft” about a self-compassionate approach to motivation.
Self-compassion is all about recognizing and alleviating suffering. If you feel compassion for your pain, you want to heal it; if a situation bothers you, you want to change it. You’re motivated by a desire to feel better.
- Makes you happier and more optimistic
- Boosts your initiative to change
- Enhances your self-worth and self-esteem
- Improves your body image
- Makes you more resilient in the face of failure and adversity
- Makes you more likely to persevere until a goal is accomplished
- Reduces anxiety and depression
Self-compassion is a more effective approach no matter how bodacious your goals are. You don’t let yourself off the hook, but instead of inwardly screaming at yourself you activate your inner wise, supportive mentor who helps you understand that you’re okay, that failures and challenges are not disasters, and that you can get things done in a way that feels good.
Using a nicer inner voice helps break out of your self-critical patterns while still being accountable to yourself. It’s also a beautiful expression of self-love.
Spiritual teacher Osho says, “If you don’t love your house you will not clean it; if you don’t love your house you will not paint it; if you don’t love it, you will not surround it with a beautiful garden, with a lotus pond. If you love yourself you will create a garden around yourself. You will try to grow your potential, you will try to bring out all that is in you to be expressed. If you love, you will go on showering yourself, you will go on nourishing yourself.”
Psychologist Kristin Neff explains in her book Self-Compassion: “Researchers found that among women who were on a diet, those in the control group reported feeling more guilty and ashamed after eating the doughnut. And later on, when they were given the opportunity to eat as much candy as they wanted as part of a supposed ‘taste-testing’ session, they actually ate more candy than those who weren’t on a diet.
In contrast, dieting women who were encouraged to be self-compassionate about the doughnut were much less distraught. They also didn’t overeat in the taste-testing session afterward, meaning that they were better able to stick to their weight-loss goals despite momentarily falling off the wagon.”
Self-compassion is a powerful motivating force!! How do you apply it?
Becoming Compassionate Toward Yourself
Becoming more compassionate toward yourself takes a bit of practice but the rewards are oh-so-delicious! Understand that your inner critic is just trying to be helpful, but that she’s learned to do that by being a bad, screaming coach instead of a trusted mentor. Give more credence to what the mentor says.
- Know what you want. Self-criticism points only at what you want to get away from (the pain) – so shift your focus onto what you want (the pleasure). Get super specific about it, write it down. and keep your list somewhere as a visible reminder of what you want.
- Every time you experience negative feelings like guilt, anger or sadness, you have a choice to respond self-compassionately: speak to yourself as if you are supporting a friend. It happens. It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. This, too, shall pass. What’s one thing I can do next time that feels better in the end?
- Forgive yourself. Nobody is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. I am worthy whether or not my performance measures up to my ideals. Learn from it and move on.
- Be grateful. Thank you for this challenge because it’s making me stronger, wiser, kinder, and smarter!
- Help others to discover ways to help yourself. When you’re helping you’re in the moment and mindful of what you are saying and doing for others. Apply liberally to yourself!
Carrots are Better Than Whips
Try these five ways of being more compassionate with yourself as you move away from what you don’t want toward what you do want. You’ll feel better along the way and you’ll be more likely to succeed.