How Showing Yourself Compassion Leads to More Success and Happiness

This post is by Glad Doggett of

How many times have you messed up or made a mistake and immediately lashed out?

“You big dummy! How did you screw that up? Can’t you do anything right?”

Or, how often have you looked in the mirror in disgust and sneered?

“Time to start a new diet, fatso! You look horrible! You shouldn’t leave the house. What a disgrace!”

Well, according to research by Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, self-talk that is harsh and self-critical can lead feelings of depression, anxiety, and worthlessness. Studies show that using shame, guilt and anxiety as motivators is ineffective and potentially harmful to our feelings of self-worth.

A recent story in the New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope revealed that showing ourselves a little compassion, and extending to ourselves the same kindness and forgiveness we give to our friends and family, may be the first step to living lives filled with happiness, success and well-being.

The science shows that when we show ourselves compassion and talk to ourselves they way we’d talk to a down-and-out friend, we activate the areas in our brains that control feelings of being nurtured, encouraged, and cared for.

If kinder self-talk is the key to more successful, happier life, why do so many of us resist it?

Dr. Neff’s research found that people mistakenly believe self-compassion will lead to “self-indulgence and lower standards.” Many people, it seems, believe that harsh self-criticism keeps them “in line.” Most of us have been influenced through social conditioning to believe that self-compassion can lead to slothful, lazy behaviors. In other words, if we give ourselves a break, we let ourselves off the hook.

But, Neff’s research points to opposite findings. She contends that many people “fall into a cycle of self-criticism and negativity … that leaves them feeling even less motivated to change.”

The research shows that self-compassion helps us maintain—not abandon—our standards. It helps us succeed in our pursuits, reach our goals, as well as increase feelings of well-being.

So, how can we build a practice of extending self-acceptance and compassion to ourselves?

The secret is awareness of our inner critic, and taking small steps to challenge the criticisms it unleashes.

Start noticing times when you berate yourself. Begin to notice how your body feels and the thoughts that run through your head. Instead of going on auto-pilot with harsh self-talk, pause and pay attention. Start being mindful of what’s happening to you in the moment.

Make a daily practice of reminding yourself what’s right about you. What qualities do you like most about yourself? Which of your traits make you unique? List the gifts you share with others that make the world a better place. Fostering self-love is a habit we must build every day. Like brushing your teeth, you can’t do it just once and be done with it.

Change your self-talk. Instead of calling yourself worthless, offer yourself the same encouragement and support that you would offer a loved one. Write several affirmations that you can pull out when you feel the pull to criticize.

Try phrases such as, “I’m doing my best and I’m ok with that.”

Or, “I am enough just the way I am right now.”

Building a self-compassion habit may feel awkward at first. You will be pushing against an old, stubborn mind-set that has been your default setting for a very long time.

But, in the end, being kind and loving and appreciative toward yourself will lead you to a more fulfilling, happy life. And isn’t that truly what we all want?

Glad Doggett is a coach who spends most of her time on the blog Best Laid Scheme. She recently launched an eworkshop called re: Turn to You that encourages building a practice of self-love and compassion through exploring, excavating, and expressing what it means to be you.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this with your audience.

    Cher who organized Int’l Day of Compassion did a phone interview with Patch Adams.

    It is now online and is really moving

  2. Mike Beggs says:

    Good to see another venue pointing out the value of not listening to the stories of self-hate and how being kind and supportive toward yourself is actually the best way to go, as Cheri Huber has been pointing out for years. Check out her web site at for a wealth of information and support to end the self-imposed suffering we have been conditioned to believe is supposed to be good for us.

  3. Great post-showing compassion for yourself and changing the inner talk takes practice, but like anything gets easier in time. You can learn to stop yourself during a self pity session and become aware of your line of thinking and how damaging it can be. With that awareness you can start consciously thinking more compassionate thoughts.

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