As any mountaineer knows it’s one thing to climb to the top, but how long you get to stay at the summit depends on how prepared you are to deal with the ever-changing winds of stakeholder demands and unpredictable geopolitical events.

Self-care and self-compassion are words that don't always sit comfortably with us, yet without them we may be operating on the slippery slope to burnout and exhaustion.

As Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal reminds us: “Self-compassion, being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure is associated with more motivation and better self-control.”

Lacking self-compassion denies us the inspiration to strive and thrive. Far from being mere fluff, self-compassion is a leadership attribute that research has shown to be effective at motivating self-improvement and adaptability to change.

Self-compassion provides the resilience required to address the problems we face. When we are under significant pressure experiencing high levels of stress, cognitive fatigue sets in compounding the risk of more distracted thinking and less effective decision-making.

What is self-compassion?

We are often our own harshest critic, swift to judge and internalising our failures. Self-compassion is the internal reflection of checking in on the validity of those thoughts and acceptance of responsibility to address our personal shortcomings.

Self-compassion grants us permission to take things less personally and reduce feelings of inadequacy in difficult times. It helps to keep things in perspective and reduces negative emotions and self-talk. This is important, as lowering the intensity of emotions helps us retain access to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with logic, reasoning and analysis. This makes it easier to make a better decision for what needs to be done next.

Self-compassion can be developed using,

  1. Self-acceptance

    We are all human, fallible and imperfect. While it would be wonderful to be great at everything we do, we’re not. We make mistakes, we show lapses in judgment, and sometimes we make poor decisions. Having compassion for our failures motivates us to do better next time.

  2. A growth mindset

    The headline of the day may appear catastrophic, but all events are temporary. Every situation is unique and that one failure or unexpected outcome does not predict that all future events will also turn sour. By choosing to look at what you had hoped to achieve and adopting the growth mindset that failure is an opportunity to do better the next time, this leads to possibility thinking, reduces perfectionism and increases the desire to keep going.

  3. Kind self-talk

    A kind word shared with someone you see as suffering goes a long way to bolster confidence and tenacity. So why wouldn't you be a friend to yourself? Far from being narcissistic, self-compassion helps us to relate to who we are.

  4. Practice self-compassion meditation

    If you're open to trying this, this type of meditation can be very useful for reducing the amount of the stress experienced when fighting those internal battles that consume so much of our energy and thinking time. Psychologist and author Kristen Neff's self-compassion meditation exercises are a great place to start.

    As Neff reminds us: “Our successes and failures come and go — they neither define us nor do they determine our worthiness."

Lastly, self-compassion is essential if we are to have compassion for others. Empathetic leaders who come from a place of humility with good interpersonal skills and self-awareness are more resilient, adaptive and effective — skillsets essential for enduring tenure and success.