By: Mark Travers Ph.D. | August 22, 2022
"Relationships are the foundation of life, and the one we have with ourselves is paramount. Unfortunately, many of us take it for granted. Here, I’ll talk about three research-backed ways to calm your inner demons and approach life with a heightened sense of self-compassion.
1. Respect Your Learning Curve
Many of us have unrealistic expectations about how long it takes to acquire new skills or adapt to new environments. We believe that if we enroll in a program, or take a course, our brains will magically open up and absorb all the new information. Of course, the marketing of quick-fix and speed-learning programs is much to blame for our unrealistic expectations. (Sorry, but there’s no such thing as eight-minute abs or four-hour work weeks.)
Cognitive psychologists will tell you that learning is a gradual process and one that cannot be rushed. There has been a lot written about the 10,000-hour rule—the premise being that, on average, it takes about 10,000 hours to master any new skill. While there’s a lively debate over how accurate this rule actually is, the broad takeaway is highly relevant: Learning takes time.
Yet we routinely chastise ourselves for not getting things right on our first, second, or third tries.
When you start thinking this way (and we all do it), you need to remember to be nice to yourself and respect the learning process. If you don’t, you run the risk of disengaging with the learning exercise altogether.
Furthermore, we have to be careful about setting comparison points. What I mean by this is that if we compare how much progress we’ve made from this week to last week, we’re probably going to be let down. Remember, learning is a gradual process. However, if we widen the comparison window—say, from last summer to this summer—we might find a bit more appreciation for the gains we’ve made. Remember Bill Gates’s famous adage, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.”
On a similar note, it’s important to keep in mind that forgetting is a necessary part of learning. Don’t beat yourself up for forgetting things. If we didn’t forget, our brains would fill up with useless information. Forgetting allows us to synthesize information into usable "models" that reflect how the world works.
2. Show Yourself the Same Kindness You Show Others
Many of us find it easy to express kindness when interacting with others. However, when it comes to ourselves, we are overly critical. We may believe that self-compassion is self-indulgent and lazy, or that it will somehow fundamentally undermine our motivation.
But this is a flawed and counterproductive belief. In fact, research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, led by psychologist Christine Chwyl of Drexel University, found self-compassion to be something of a "motivational supercharger": Our research echoes what studies have found time and time again—self-compassion not only feels better than harsh self-criticism, but it works better too, helping us rise to life’s inevitable challenges.
So, the next time you experience a setback, try reflecting on it from a place of self-compassion (e.g., “How am I a better person because of this?”) as opposed to a place of self-criticism (e.g., “Why do I fail at everything?”).
Other new research on self-compassion published in Personality and Individual Differences finds that the ability to treat ourselves with kindness not only helps us get through difficult times, but it also helps us savor the good times. According to psychologist and lead author of the study, Benjamin Schellenberg: People who are self-compassionate may have a better ability to be mindful and present during good times and recognize that they deserve to experience positive experiences to their fullest."