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The butterflies, light-headedness, sweaty palms, fidgety legs, shaky knees, and incoherent mumbling? A few years later, I had become one of the best public speakers – in my high-school, and then in my college.
Whether it was mock trial, monetary policy, or business presentation, I went from being one of the worst to usually the best or second-best.
There was no chance encounter that fortuitously changed my fate – no girl I was trying to impress or mentor who pushed me to reach my full potential. Repeated a few dozen times over the course of a few years, and I had slowly turned my weaknesses into strengths. Until a month ago, I didn’t know why. What was it that made that personal responsibility so natural? For which I’m glad, because that advice is a form of shifting responsibility from oneself onto others in order to promote artificial self-esteem. There’s no reason to modify the entirety of our individuality in response to social pressure, but our bad habits? Another potential consequence of excessive, unconditional praise is the tendency to view failure as evidence of stupidity, rather than as normal human experience. My parents didn’t congratulate me when I drew random colored lines on a piece of paper and called it a painting. A great meta-analysis of the self-esteem research: Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?
As I’ve become more American (I was raised by Indian immigrants), its started hurting for me too. Americans tend to over-estimate their ability to drive, the value of their contributions to team projects, and their academic and job performance.
Easterners tend to over-estimate their ability to get along with others and fit in (they think they have above average ability in appearing to be average).
There was no need for me to search for excuses, for reasons to pass on responsibility or to stop caring. Just like with optimism, too much self-compassion can be a problem, but you’re probably not anywhere close to reaching that point.
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Three studies which increased levels of self-compassion were found to positively affect several measures of mood and well-being. In the 2008 study, the authors did not actually mention the % increase in life satisfaction, only that there was a statistically significant increase. In the 2007 study, the negative correlation between self-compassion and negative mental patterns like anxiety and rumination is strong (see here), but the absolute increase in compassion and well-being is not reported, again suggesting the increases may have been small.
In two studies which measured biological markers of stress like blood pressure, those with higher levels of self-compassion were better able to deal with mental and social pressure. Replace nagging self-criticism with some self-love and it’s no surprise that anxiety and depression stand a chance of going away. The six week experimental study which trained participants in compassion meditation had a terrible control.
Across five studies, self-compassion was found to increase prosocial behavior, attitudes, and feelings. Four 2011 studies of college students and newlyweds, two correlational, one experimental, and one longitudinal, found self-compassion to be associated with greater motivation to correct interpersonal mistakes, more constructive problem-solving behaviors, reports of more accommodation, and fewer declines in marital satisfaction. There are dozens of exercises you can use, many of which have already been empirically tested. In a 2012 study of an eight week compassion meditation program, the self-compassion levels of participants increased, on average, by 30%.13 Over the course of the eight weeks, participants meditated for a total of approximately 13 hours.
One easy way to soothe and comfort yourself when you’re feeling badly is to give yourself a gentle hug.
The next time you are aware of having a self-critical thought, try to dampen or even replace it with a more compassionate one.
Loving-kindness meditation is the most empirically validated technique for enhancing compassion. Probably not as effective, but I don’t like chanting mantras or listening to guided meditations.
I dig what they do, but your emphasis is different: on scientifically researched and vetted sources. Yes, I plan on using this, my gratitude posts, and many of my future posts as the backbone of my first paid product.
Wonderful post Amit – so nice to read the scientific evidence of what I stumbled upon in talks by the late theosopher, Sydney Banks!
The tracking guide is a great way to incorporate all that juicy information into a valuable action that we can follow up on.
But what I’ve seen is that it takes dozens of exposures to the same idea before any action gets taken, which indicates a problem with the bloggers.
Wow, I have to agree with the gang here: I’m blown away by the thoroughness and abundance of research in this post!
I’ve been coming across the metta loving-kindness meditation just about every day from different sources. Of what a person can accomplish when they have the courage to look bleak reality in its face. Twice, my public speaking skills bought me entry to The Federal Reserve Board of Governors, where I got to meet Ben Bernanke, the sexy bald guy that tries to control the American economy. I told myself, “no matter how unfair the judge or good the opponents, if I had done things differently, I could have won. The difference is that different cultures value different things – on being above average in different areas. However, a number of other studies have found that self-compassion and self-esteem are positively correlated. In addition, the stress buffering effects of self-compassion were only found when the participants perceived the presence of social support.
It’s possible that the positive effects could have been the results of the meditation in general, and not the compassion meditation in particular. It involves focusing on deliberately generating feelings of compassion, first for oneself, then loved ones, then friends, strangers, and finally for enemies. They include the simple, but nice PDF at the end for people to type up their own goals without having to create their own tracking sheet.
Are there any currently widely held and practiced ideas which, in a few years or decades will turn out to have been harmful or useless?
I thought your emphasis on self compassion was great, as well as the practical advice it generated. Thank you for putting the time and effort into this article and allowing for hierarchical study if needed.
However, this study had a poor control, for which reason I believe self-compassion may buffer against stress both when social support is perceived and in neutral situations. The only requirement is that you remind yourself, perhaps once a week or once a month, of what you are trying to accomplish. You can read meditation instructions here, or download for free six guided meditations here. Then, instead of verbalizing a mantra, I just focus on generating the emotions of compassion.
Rosenberg, Joel Finkelstein, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Margaret Cullen, James Doty, James Gross, Philippe Goldin (2012). The field of psychology went astray when they thought you have to give people self-esteem from the outside-in, when in fact they already have all they need when they’re not thinking against themselves. Where do you draw the line between really being true to yourself versus running away from things because it’s the easy way out? As both self-compassion and self-esteem correlate with well-being, the effect of self-compassion after controlling for self-esteem is likely smaller – perhaps half as much.
Unlike hugging yourself, which is an easy habit to pick up, directly modifying thought patterns requires frequent refocus. Once I’ve got a good feel for those emotions, I imagine myself and once again try to generate feelings of compassion. Enhancing compassion: A randomized controlled trial of a compassion cultivation training program.
I also enjoyed this because it feels like the scientific version of a lot of what Bobbi, Lori, and other A-List Blogging Bootcamps people generate. Research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin, provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions, and calms cardiovascular stress. Attachment, self-compassion, empathy, and subjective well-being among college students and community adults. But, you say, tell a kid that the reason they can’t get dates is that their appearance needs an upgrade, and their self-esteem is likely going to nosedive.
Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression.
Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources. Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress.

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