Need to motivate yourself? What’s better, self-esteem or self-compassion?

Trying to rev yourself up to improve your speaking skills? There has been some interesting research done recently into what helps you to feel better about yourself: self-esteem or self-compassion?

Psychological studies are finding that self-compassion – being kind to yourself – is more effective than high self-esteem when it comes to helping people to make changes in their lives.

~db~ via Flickr
Wisdom Compassion Kindness ~db~ via Flickr

When you want to see new possibilities, to motivate yourself to make changes and take action in the outer world, self-esteem isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A study by Kristin Neff from the University of Texas, and her colleague Roos Vonk, analysed data on the benefits of self-compassion vs self-esteem in over 3000 people from all areas of life, and found all sorts of benefits to compassion, including its being associated with a “steadier and more constant feeling of self-worth.”

And interestingly, part of the study found that “participants self-compassion levels, but not their self-esteem levels, predicted how much anxiety they felt” when asked to participate in a mock job interview set up to “test their interview skills”. (And additionally, those with high self-esteem became just as anxious as those with low self-esteem, as they were thrown off balance.) Plus high self-esteem has been associated with narcissistic “it’s all about me” personalities.

If you’re interested, Kristin has written a book, and an article she’s written is here:

It does take focus and practice (like most things that are worth doing), and you need to work on 3 core elements as defined by Kristin:

  1. self-kindness, rather than judging ourselves sternly
  2. common humanity – feeling connected with others
  3. mindfulness – being aware of our experiences rather than trying to ignore our anxieties or dwell heavily on them

Keeping this idea in my mind has been a good focus and reminder when I starting judging and talking to myself unkindly – which can still kick in when I’m tired, or do something I’m not proud of.

There’s also a great short article here on the motivational power of self-compassion: about a different study.

I’d love to hear what you think!

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Comments (5)

  • Need to motivate yourself? What’s better, self-esteem or self-compassion? | Good News For A Change | Reply

    […] Psychological studies are finding that self-compassion – being kind to yourself – is more effective than high self-esteem when it comes to helping people to make changes in their lives.  […]

    at 10:42 am
  • Peter Watts Reply

    I’ll be going out to buy this book Sarah. The ideas that you’ve just described make so much sense, and like so many things that make sense…… had never occurred to me before. As you describe it, self-compassion would create a powerful bed from which to present, and the three markers that you list are points every presenter can benefit from.

    at 9:50 pm
    • Sarah Denholm Reply

      Glad you found the article useful Peter. We’re often so focused nowadays on building ourselves up to get out there and wrestle with the world to get ahead: many clients come to me with the belief that they need to chase the goal of high self-esteem to be good presenters…and they can be so hard on themselves!

      It can make a real difference for them to shift perspective to being kinder to themselves, even for small amounts of time: which then allows new, helpful ideas to take hold.

      And as you say, it’s a great ‘bed’ from which to speak to groups because when we’re kind to ourselves and mindful in the present moment, we also have more connection and compassion towards our audience – and they can feel the positive results, though they might not consciously be aware of the reasons why.

      As presenters, the audience takes their cue from us.

      Thanks for the opportunity to chat more about this topic in my reply 🙂

      at 11:13 pm
  • Are your Public Speaking Expectations Helping or Hindering You? - Improve Your Public Speaking Training Coaching Melbourne Australia Reply

    […] low and slow; talk kindly to yourself (self-compassion is also a big part of it as I talk about here); and focus on your next action, it helps to build that balance of present and future […]

    at 12:16 pm
  • What Navy Seals Can Teach Us About Reducing Public Speaking Fear - Improve Your Public Speaking Presentation Skills Training Coaching Melbourne Australia Reply

    […] This is easier said than done, I know: but remember that self-compassion – being kind to ourselves – is shown in many research studies to have a much great effect on our ongoing motivation and confidence-building than high self-esteem. I wrote about this here. […]

    at 6:29 pm

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