Are you kind to yourself when you fail? Do you try to help prevent others from suffering when they fail? Research has begun to show that this ability is a key to success and happiness in life.
Identified as self-compassion, cultivating this life skill is very different from current western parenting theories that focus on building self-esteem. Praising everything our children do and shielding them from disappointment have been shown to increase fragility and neuroticism later in life. The opposite approach, pushing children to achieve via threats and criticism, has been associated with the development of anxiety and depression.
However, being kind to ourselves and committing to help reduce the suffering of others, helps us to survive blows, become stronger and learn.
I, personally, was one of those people who subconsciously believed that beating myself up whenever I failed would somehow make me less likely to fail. I was VERY good at torturing myself. So much so that I became fearful of trying anything new. When failure is so painful you start to shut down.
When I had my children, I started to realize that modeling this behavior would be devastating for them. So I began to work hard to to change my relationship with failure. I tried not to see it as a sign of personal inadequacy but more as a result of the circumstances at the time, some of which I could change, but much of which I had no control over.
I also worked hard not to be so attached to success. I found that wanting anything with every fiber of my being tended to push it away. So as I began to try new things, I cultivated the patience to be bad at things and not take things so seriously.
I had always wanted to act in plays but never had the guts to attend an audition. So I took classes and started to go to auditions but my focus was NOT on getting a part. My focus was on getting through the audition and the ensuing “wait for the call” process afterward.
Instead of waiting by the phone for validation of my worth, I would congratulate myself on getting through my reading, and imagine all the ways that NOT getting the part might be a good thing, ei I’d have more time to spend with the family, I could go on weekend trips etc. Yes, I would think about the things that I could do better at the next audition, but I would also recognize that I wouldn’t know about those things unless I had gone to that initial audition.
As my children grew, so did I by leaving my comfort zone on a regular basis. Eventually I took the biggest leap by enrolling in an improv class. There I discovered that people can accomplish AMAZING things when they practice reacting positively to failure on a regular basis. (In fact studies actually associate self-compassion with the ability to access higher levels of creativity.)
Improvisors welcome failure. When they play games and someone makes a mistake they greet it with warmth, laughter and appreciation. The embrace of failure is a HUGE part of any improv training.
As I began to perform with an improv group, I found myself transforming even more, editing myself much less, and becoming much more comfortable with expressing myself in all types of situations.
As my life circumstances have changed, I found that self compassion freed me to jump in and try all sorts of new things and learn as I went. These included, social media marketing, blogging, speaking and facilitating interactive presentations. A desire to help others cultivate self-compassion has also pushed me to follow a new career path of sharing these skills with non-performers.
I have no doubt that studies will continue to show great value in developing self-compassion. After all, if you truly understand that we are all connected, you can see that it’s the core of most great spiritual traditions. You can’t really give to others. Whenever you give, you only give to yourself.
Giving is not difficult. But changing how you look at the world, failure and your part in it certainly can be. I, for one, can testify that it is one of the most valuable investments in yourself that you can make.