Why self-compassion can be unhelpful - Michelle Gibbings

We hear a lot these days about the importance of being kind to yourself and not being overly critical of our challenges and failings.

But are there times when being kind to yourself isn’t the best approach?

When you are being kind to yourself you are showing self-compassion. This is a term that has been explored in depth by Kristin Neff.

I’m a big fan of her work, and her book Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself is worth reading.

Kristin defines self-compassion as having three core elements:

  • Self-kindness
  • A sense of common humanity
  • Mindfulness

It is important to love ourselves, be caring, kind and understanding, and also patient with ourselves accepting that we aren’t perfect, and things will go wrong. Repeated cycles of negative self-talk can be incredibly destructive – creating patterns of behaviour which stop you from progressing and being your best self both personally and professionally.

However, if being kind to yourself means you don’t accept accountability for your part in what happened, and you don’t seek the learnings for next time it isn’t helping you progress.

Instead, you are using kindness as an excuse and a crutch to make you feel better in the short term, and in a way that won’t help you for the long term.

A case in point…

A couple of years ago, Craig and I were walking the Milford Track in New Zealand. It was all going well until Day 3. Day 3 we reached the top of Mackinnon Pass (and yes that’s the picture of us celebrating at the top). Then it was, both literally and figuratively, all downhill from there.

The main track was shut and we had to use the emergency track. It was a much harder track, and trying to navigate the steep decline with a 12 kilo pack became arduous for me pretty quickly. I struggled, and then my mindset went into a very unhelpful place. I was convinced that if I stopped I’d never get up, and so rather than pacing myself and ensuring I was appropriately hydrated and energised with food I kept pushing through. It was a bad strategy.

If I was being kind to myself I could blame the fact that there had been an avalanche and the main track was shut; that I had a heavy pack; that the path was not well maintained and very steep; it was the first time I’d done a hike of this length….the list could go on.

But if I was realistic and honest with myself, the fact was I hadn’t done enough training for the walk. I wasn’t prepared for the unexpected, and my ideal pack should have been 3 – 4 kilos lighter. In short, I needed to have put more effort into being prepared and I should have practised.

I contrast the Milford hike with my recent hikes in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, which were done in blistering heat. This time, I breezed through them because I had practiced, was considerably fitter and made sure I stayed hydrated and nourished. I was ready – both mentally and physically.

Whilst being kind to yourself is an important concept, it’s also not helpful if it’s used as an excuse for a lack of preparation and focus.

Next time, when you are faced with a situation that has arisen where things haven’t turned out as you had hoped ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about the outcome?
  • How much of the outcome was in my control?
  • How much of it is due to a lack of preparation?
  • How could the outcome have shifted if I’d put more thought and energy into the planning?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • What will I do differently next time?

As the legendary, tennis player, Billy Jean King said: “Champions keep playing until they get it right”.

So, what do you need to keep playing?

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’. For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact michelle@michellegibbings.com.

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