Self Compassion as part of Resilience at Work
Self Compassion as part of Resilience at Work
A logical starting place for a definition of ‘Resilience’ might be the Oxford English Dictionary. I found that it said ‘recoiling, springing back, resuming original form after stretching, bending etc..’ We can feel stretched and bent in both our professional and personal lives. Left unchecked we can be left broken; commonly referred to as ‘burnt out’ with devastating effects.
Of course we are so much more than plastic or metal. Being under stress can be both physical as well as emotional. In my opinion, being resilient as a human being means more than just getting back to your own shape, like an inanimate piece of material. It means more than that. It means being able to move on from a position of even greater strength than you had before. (Whereas metal for example, actually becomes weaker after stretching and bending. It will eventually break.) This is one reason, why I’m so passionate about Resilience Training.
I have found through my own learning and working with other people, that how we treat ourselves in difficult times is crucial. Many of us will be familiar with the concept of compassion towards others. Being compassionate towards ourselves is for many of us, somewhat harder to talk about.
With ever increasing pressures at work, taking time out to be kind to ourselves might at first glance appear to be self indulgent or even a sign of weakness. We might even think that it might make us feel better, but will it actually make us get better? Might we just feel better, yet at the same time not perform better in our work. Perhaps our motivation to succeed, to excel may be dampened by such an approach. Is such a philosophy really helpful?
When things get tough, when faced with a challenge, when at first we don’t succeed, self criticism seems justified and even necessary to get us back on track. We might, understandably think that being tough and demanding on ourselves keeps us on our toes, ahead of the game. The evidence suggests that this, in practice, is not actually the case.
The people I have worked with have found that Mindful Self Compassion is at the heart of transformative resilience building. There is now a wealth of empirical evidence from the world of neuroscience which indicates that profound improvement in our wellbeing can be achieved by learning and employing this approach. The thoughts, beliefs and images we have in our mind actually affects the physical structure of our brain. We can literally change our brains. This ability to change is known as neuroplasticity. This translates into amongst other things, better creativity, problem solving, improvisation, interpersonal skills and team building. It has also been shown to improve physical and psychological health, reduced absenteeism, increased performance at work.
Three key components of self compassion are:-
Common Humanity v Isolation
It is common for us to think that we are the only ones facing whatever difficulty that we have. This is not helpful. It can lead to isolation; being disconnected from others. We have a tendency to make distorted comparisons to others. This can lead to a negative spiral downwards. It does not take us anywhere helpful. In difficult times, connection with others is crucial.
Mindfulness v Over identification
We are not these thoughts, beliefs, emotions and bodily sensations. They are not us, even if they at times feel that they are.
If there is anything to be done to improve on the situation, awareness of our thoughts, perceptions and bodily sensations is crucial. Awareness of emotions is found through our body. This allows us to be with that experience and observe in a curious, non judgmental way. We are then in a better position to assess what it is that we need right now. More rational and helpful decisions can then be made.
Self Kindness v Criticism
Think of how you would speak to a friend or colleague in your situation. What would you say? What tone of voice would you use? What course of action, if any, would you suggest? Compare this to how you speak to yourself. If you were sitting on the train for example and overheard someone talking to someone else as you do yourself, what would your reaction be? Who was your most inspiring teaching at school? The one that was most critical, or the one who was most present, kind and encouraging?
Self kindness does not mean simply saying ‘oh it’s ok, it doesn’t matter’ Self compassion can mean making very tough choices, doing things we don’t necessarily feel like doing. It’s not just taking the soft option. It’s not always about taking the easy option. In the long run, however, it’s the more helpful one.
Developing resilience is essential for individuals, teams, organisations.