When people experience a setback at work—whether it’s a bad quarter, being overlooked for a promotion, or an interpersonal conflict with a colleague—it’s common to respond in one of two ways. Either we become defensive and blame others, or we berate ourselves. Unfortunately, neither response is especially helpful. Shirking responsibility by getting defensive may alleviate the sting of failure, but it comes at the expense of learning. Self-flagellation, on the other hand, may feel warranted in the moment, but it can lead to an inaccurately gloomy assessment of one’s potential, which undermines personal development.
What if instead we were to treat ourselves as we would a friend in a similar situation? More likely than not, we’d be kind, understanding, and encouraging. Directing that type of response internally, toward ourselves, is known as self-compassion, and it’s been the focus of a good deal of research in recent years. Psychologists are discovering that self-compassion is a useful tool for enhancing performance in a variety of settings, from healthy aging to athletics, including enhancing professional growth.
Self-compassion is a less familiar concept than self-esteem or self-confidence. Although it’s true that people who engage in self-compassion tend to have higher self-esteem, the two concepts are distinct. Self-esteem tends to involve evaluating oneself in comparison with others. Self-compassion, on the other hand, doesn’t involve judging the self or others. Instead, it creates a sense of self-worth because it leads people to genuinely care about their own well-being and recovery after a setback.
People with high levels of self-compassion demonstrate three behaviors: First, they are kind rather than judgmental about their own failures and mistakes; second, they recognize that failures are a shared human experience; and third, they take a balanced approach to negative emotions when they stumble or fall short—they allow themselves to feel bad, but they don’t let negative emotions take over.
Most people want to improve—and self-compassion is crucial for that. We tend to associate personal growth with determination, persistence, and hard work, but the process often starts with reflection. One of the key requirements for self-improvement is having a realistic assessment of where we stand—of our strengths and our limitations. Convincing ourselves that we are better than we are leads to complacency, and thinking we’re worse than we are leads to defeatism.
Apart from self-compassion, it is also important to know your limits. It’s common among overachiever types: We like to push ourselves.
All that pushing can feel so smart and productive—until you’re exhausted, overextended, overwhelmed, or otherwise ready to snap. I’ve felt all these things before. If you feel physically, mentally, emotionally, or even digitally exhausted, here are some tips that may help:
How to Give Yourself a Break Physically
1. Allow yourself a little extra sleep, whether it’s by going to bed a half-hour earlier or by sleeping in an extra fifteen minutes and then skipping your usual morning coffee stop.
2. Take a day off from exercising if you usually run, go to the gym, or participate in some type of aerobic class.
3. Skip the stairs and take the elevator or escalator. Sometimes it’s perfectly okay to choose the easy path!
4. Replace strenuous exercise with something less intense, like restorative yoga.
5. Utilize a detoxifying cleanse to clear out toxins and give your digestive organs a break.
6. Take a long, hot bath to take weight off your weary muscles and joints.
How to Give Yourself a Break Mentally
1. Use a deep breathing technique to calm your nervous system and clear your thoughts.
2. Give yourself a complete day without any financial worries; put your statements and bills in a drawer and save all eBills for tomorrow. (Trust me, they won’t go anywhere. Just don’t make this one a consistent practice!)
3. Set aside some time to play and be childlike.
4. Sing, paint, dance, or otherwise express yourself creatively. It’s awfully hard to stress and over-think when you’re engaged in something fun and expressive.
5. Go outside and immerse yourself in nature. Feel the ground or grass underneath your feet and focus on being present on enjoying your environment and the scenery.
6. Close down the multiple tabs on your computer screen and instead single-task. If you’re writing, write. If you’re editing a video, edit. Give yourself permission to get into a state of flow and let all distractions slip away.
7. Take a day off from negative, draining people, even the ones you love. You can be an ear tomorrow.
How to Give Yourself a Break from Technology
1. Commute without technology. Instead of listening to voicemails or tweeting on your phone, read a physical book or write in your journal. Use this small window of time to connect with yourself.
2. Take a completely tech-free hour. Turn your cell phone off, shut down your computer, and put your all your gadgets in a drawer.
3. Plan unproductive downtime, by taking a walk, for example. Research shows this type of disconnected time is crucial to learning and forming memories.
4. Decide to check email only once today (outside of work) so that you spend less time checking messages and more time engaging in activities that feel fulfilling.
5. Identify what you’re really seeking from technology—whether it’s acceptance, acknowledgment, or stimulation—and then look for ways to get that without logging on.
6. Technology fast on a weekend day. This probably isn’t an option during the week—and I’ll admit this is challenging for me even on the weekend—but it’s worth trying: a day without any gadgets.
7. Give your technology a bed time. I know from experience how pre-bed web surfing can negatively impact sleep. Decide in advance at what point you’ll put all your gadgets away, and then choose other relaxing activities before you head to sleep.
8. Decide for a day that nothing is urgent. Emails, phone calls, text messages—unless it’s an actual life-or-death situation, it isn’t a catastrophe and it can wait until tomorrow.
Any more tips that help you? Let me know in the comments 🙂