A behavior common among very successful people is setting high standards for themselves as well as others. Whether the actions are going to be seen by friends or colleagues, or done strictly in private, doesn’t seem to matter, high achievers place the bar at the top rung for almost anything and everything.

We all know why this approach of constant striving for excellence works. You receive accolades, maybe a promotion and a sense of accomplish and achievement. But, when can it be harmful, even destructive? Are there times we need to lighten up on ourselves for better results? When could we use a dose of self-compassion?

Self-compassion isn’t feeling sorry for yourself, rather it is accepting everyone, even you, makes mistakes, forgets and just plain screws up. Self-compassion allows the foible to be okay without the punitive talk so many of us seems to have earned an advanced degree in. “How could you be so stupid!” “What is wrong with you?” “You never do anything right?” “Wimp, toughen up!” Our self-talk can sound very dramatic, mean, and absolute. It often has a parental tone. More importantly, it generally isn’t true and definitely isn’t useful.

When I find myself talking mean, I try to temper the thoughts by asking this simple question, “If an employee or friend made this oversight would you come down on them as hard as you are doing right now?” Almost always the answer is “no” because I can be much more forgiving of the humanity of others than of me.

Some of you might be saying, “I’m not ready to compromise or accept the ‘B’”. I am not suggesting you should. What I am asking is, “Can you accept a mistake as a learning experience you can move past rather than a character flaw or statement about your intelligence or experience?” Before you’re quick to say “sure” watch and listen when you try. This habit, and that’s all it is, is hard to break.

I’ve come upon some very simple tricks for expressing and showing self-compassion. Let’s start with your most frequently used password. Rather than the name of your dog or combo of numbers noting a family member’s birthday, what would it be like to have a password that actually spoke to you in a positive way? What would the experience of opening your laptop and typing “possibilities” or “go girl” or “Hi Jane” be like? Would it change your frame of mind, set you up to see hurdles as challenges rather than obstacles and start you working with a positive energy? I think so.

A self-compassion behavior I have practiced for years is confronting my negative talk out loud. I’ll be beating myself up over some mistake I’ve made or stupid thing I’ve said and ruminate on it for what seems like hours. Only when I say, aloud, “Stop it” or “Enough,” do I realize how foolish and time consuming it all was. It’s important to speak the words at a volume a person sitting next to you can here. In public its gets you a glance but so many people are yelling into cell phones most ignore. Thinking the commands just doesn’t seem to impact the part of the brain that controls thoughts. If my suggested words sound too harsh, try “Hard enough?” or “Let’s move on.”

Probably the best expression of self-compassion is the ability to laugh at yourself, especially when no one else knows. I burst into laughter, particularly when I realize how important something seemed earlier in the day and now ends up being almost nothing. Looking back at the anticipation, fear, or overwhelm, and then putting it into context or perspective can only help reassure me all is not lost, in fact, it’s pretty funny.

Here’s my take on practicing self-compassion.

  1. Be fair to yourself not meaner or harder.
  2. Visual cues such as positive passwords, a particularly flattering photo of you, or even that small red dot I have on the wall across from my desk all remind us, “It’s okay, this too shall pass or in fact, get better.”
  3. Audible, positive suggestions can quell negative thinking. Demand negative thoughts "go away."
  4. High standards often require acceptance of temporary mistakes or poor choices. Few things are so important they are capable of sabotaging great performance.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.