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How self-compassion and motivation will help achieve your goals

September 19, 2022 - 14 min read


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The myth of self-criticism

How self-compassion affects motivation

Fear of failure and procrastination

Increase your levels of self-compassion

Why self-compassion is essential for resilience

Self-kindness will get you places

Mistakes are an inevitable part of the human experience. But when they happen to you, it may come as a surprise.

That surprise might cause you to question whether you’re good enough at your job, and this feeling often lingers. You might feel embarrassed about making such a silly mistake or regret causing problems for your colleagues. Before you know it, you’re stuck in a spiral of self-criticism that drains your motivation to work toward your goals.

But what happens when we flip the script?

If a good friend were in a similar situation, you wouldn’t talk to them how you’re talking to yourself. It’d be rude for you to dissect their mistakes in great detail, reminding them where they went wrong and shaming them for it. 

Instead, you would offer comfort and support. You would tell them that mistakes happen, they’re only human, and it’s time to try again.

Self-compassion and motivation are intrinsically linked, so it’s time you extend that compassion to yourself. Let’s look at how self-kindness can help you reach your goals.


The myth of self-criticism

There’s a lot we don’t know about how self-compassion works. But according to a study from 2016, people are often self-critical because they think it’s good for them. They view it as a sign of strength and responsibility — a means to punish bad behaviors and encourage good ones.

And, to some degree, they’re correct. Negative emotions can help people regulate themselves and do better next time by reminding them what it feels like. But eventually, self-criticism becomes self-defeating, causing shame, lack of motivation, and fear of failure. 

“I made a mistake” becomes “I am a mistake,” which erodes confidence and self-worth. Over time, these thoughts form a vicious cycle and negatively affect your mental health. This way of thinking increases your risk of anxiety and depression.

Self-compassionate people might start with similar negative emotions, but instead of wallowing in despair and self-pity, they know how to forgive themselves and try again. 

These individuals understand that practicing self-compassion isn’t self-indulgent; it’s quite the opposite. It acknowledges what makes them human while allowing them to make mistakes and continue learning and growing from them.

People who are self-compassionate also enjoy several other mental health benefits:

These characteristics are essential to helping you achieve your goals. When you’re stuck in a spiral of shame, it’s easy to become lethargic and want to quit. But if you can keep your spirits up and approach a challenge confidently, you’re more likely to succeed.

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How self-compassion affects motivation

At its core, motivation drives you to perform a certain task or behavior. But it’s difficult to motivate yourself if you don’t believe you can complete the task in the first place. Otherwise, why would you even try?

Self-compassion is about protecting your self-confidence so you can fix your mistakes without losing faith in your abilities. This, in turn, maintains your motivation to keep going. 

And it works.

In 2012, a team of researchers found that people who gave themselves a safe, nonjudgemental space to reflect on their mistakes felt more confident and motivated to fix them. People who viewed self-compassion as weakness were less likely to improve on their errors.


So if you want to maintain motivation in the face of adversity and bounce back even stronger than before, self-compassion is the key. You only have so much energy in your reservoir. Negative thoughts and self-criticism use up that energy when you make a mistake. If you can’t break from this cycle you won’t have the motivation to keep chasing your goals — the constant self-punishment is too tiring. 

Self-compassion is about maintaining the emotional resources you need to stay motivated. It means giving yourself time to recover after failure to refill your energy reservoirs and keep going. Let go of limiting beliefs that only drain energy. Then, when you’re ready, you’ll have more energy to continue pursuing your goals.

Fear of failure and procrastination

If you’re prone to self-criticism, it could delay chasing your dreams. You might avoid pursuing your goals because you fear failure and can’t bear the pain of your self-criticism if you don’t meet your expectations. 

This is especially true for the perfectionists out there. If you’re not confident that you’ll get it right 100% of the time, why rush if you’re going to risk failure?

It’s tempting to delay forever, but this attitude only gets in your way. It’s a limiting belief that’s hurting your intrinsic motivation to get up and achieve your goals.

BetterUp can help you overcome perfectionism paralysis. With the help of a coach, you can identify your toxic work habits, break those patterns, and cope with imperfections.

Increase your levels of self-compassion

If you’re used to beating yourself up, self-compassion is difficult. But it’s a learnable habit. Here are some tips that can help:

1. Identify and ditch the negative self-talk

The first step in changing your behavior is identifying when it happens. Develop mindful self-compassion so you can catch negative thoughts before they spin you out of control. 

This kind of self-awareness takes time to develop. It requires knowing your weaknesses, strengths, and extrinsic and intrinsic motivatiors. It also requires constant monitoring and self-evaluation.

Here are some mindfulness techniques that can help you practice self-awareness every day:

  • Mindful breathing: Slow, calm breaths can help you quiet your mind when it’s overwhelmed with negativity
  • Mindfulness meditation: Identify your negative thoughts, acknowledge them, and let them go
  • Journaling: Take your thoughts out of your head and put them on a page to recognize and potentially break negative thought patterns


2. Take care of your physical health

What happens in your mind affects the body and vice-versa. Taking time for physical self-care can help you maintain a positive mental attitude and offset harsh self-criticisms. You can try:

  • Exercising: Just 30 minutes of physical activity per day can release happy hormones in your brain, generating positive feelings. This is also a great way to improve your body image and self-esteem.
  • Eating healthy food: Nutrition will help your body maintain its energy, which in turn can help your mental health.
  • Drinking more water: staying hydrated does wonders for your mood

3. Write a letter to yourself

If your best friend was having a hard time, what would you say to them? Write to yourself as if you were addressing them. Acknowledge and nurture your feelings, then give yourself words of comfort.

4. Practice gratitude

Take a moment every day to appreciate something good that happened — no matter how small. Maybe your lunch was delicious today, you found a penny on the sidewalk, or your garden is coming along nicely. Identifying the positives can help offset an otherwise bad day, and offers validation for your positive feelings when they’re harder to find.


Here are some simple ways to practice gratitude:

  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Tell your loved ones how much you appreciate them
  • Pay attention to the beauty of nature
  • Perform one act of kindness every day
  • Cook meals with love by thinking of the people you’ll nourish 

5. Take time to grieve

After a failure, it’s important to acknowledge and process your feelings. It’s okay to be upset. Take some time to rest, watch a movie, and have a good cry. Let yourself be sad for a day before you go for another attempt.

6. Forgive

You might become angry at yourself or other people as you process your emotions. But anger is like a ball of fire: the more you hold onto it, the more you burn yourself.

Forgiveness will help you let go of that anger so you can heal.

7. Learn from your mistakes

Failure is the greatest teacher. Keeping a growth mindset will help you remember that every mistake is an opportunity for self-improvement

8. Be generous (to yourself and to others)

Giving your time, kindness, and effort has a measurable effect on mental health. Be generous to those who love you and appreciate you. Making someone happy can help make you happy.

Extend that generosity to yourself by taking yourself out on a date, having a hot bath, or ordering your favorite takeout. Make yourself feel loved. 

Why self-compassion is essential for resilience

Resilience is about adapting to challenging life experiences. Sometimes, you’ll overcome hurdles easily. Other times, it’ll be more difficult. And sometimes, you won’t overcome them at all

There are many reasons to quit. But you shouldn’t give up just because it’s hard. The difficulty might help you realize that you want to be on a different path, but if you’re sure where you want to go, there’s always a way to get there. A resilient mindset sees a challenge as a welcome learning opportunity on the path to success.

Failure can be demoralizing, but self-compassion will give you the boost you need to try again. You’ll learn from your mistakes. You’ll grow. You’ll develop a new sense of pride and self-worth. And you’ll pursue your goals undeterred by minor setbacks.


Self-kindness will get you places

As you work toward your goals, sometimes you’ll take two steps forward and one step back. This slow progress can be exhausting, but don’t give up. You can do it. You just need to be kind to yourself and trust that you have the skills to succeed. 

Self-compassion and motivation are intrinsically connected. With the right amount of self-care, you can protect yourself, maintain your energy, and take on whatever life throws at you.

BetterUp is here if you need us. Our coaches can help you progress toward your life and career goals. We can offer professional advice, help you develop skills, and access your full potential — while reminding you to be kind to yourself when things feel tough.

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Published September 19, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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