Self-Compassion and The Growth Mindset: A potent combination!

  Have you been feeling pretty disappointed with y […]

Self-Compassion and The Growth Mindset: A potent combination!


Have you been feeling pretty disappointed with yourself or others are around you lately? Or frustrated? Or stuck?  If so, paying attention to how you can be more self-compassionate could be a real balm for you.   Now, you may think that you don’t have time to be self-compassionate – that it is too self-indulgent.  You may think that if you are self-compassionate you will lose your drive to succeed.   But, stay with me here because the research shows that people who are more self-compassionate are also better at being productive and reaching their potential.   And they are feeling better about themselves and others while they are getting there.  That sounds like it’s worth making time for, don’t you think?

The Making Room For You Book Group (a virtual group we created – see the PS below for more about this) recently read Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind by Kristin Neff.  If you read my newsletter back in March you would recognize the title and the idea. (If you would like to subscribe to my newsletter, please pop over to my website and sign up there.)   I wanted to share a bit more deeply here because all of us in the Book Group found this book to be very significant. We all found ourselves talking about it  and recommending it to others.

Here’s a brief explanation of what self-compassion is. It has three-core components:

  • Self-kindness – we are gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical or judgmental
  • Common humanity – we allow ourselves to feel connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering
  • Mindfulness – we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it

We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.  (p. 41)

In a deeply personal and very practical way, Kristin Neff walks us through these components and shows us how we can make them work for us.   It is a very readable, actionable book.

Let’s focus on one particular point here in this post.  I want to show you how Kristin Neff ties self-compassion to the growth mindset which I blogged about here (A Growth Mindset: Why We All Need One).   The growth mindset is the discovery of Carol Dweck and is set out in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  Carol Dweck discovered through her research “a simple idea that makes all the difference” – that our mindset affects our ability to fulfill our potential – to grow and learn, take risks, bounce back from adversity, to build healthy relationships.   If we have a “fixed mindset” and believe our qualities, including our intelligence, are carved in stone, we behave in one way.  If we have a “growth mindset” and believe that we can cultivate and grow our basic qualities, including our intelligence, we behave in an entirely different way.  (I highly recommend you learn about this concept, one way or another, for yourself and any children in your life.)

So let’s see how Kristin Neff ties these two ideas together, because it is a potent combination! In the chapter called “Motivation and Personal Growth”, Kristin Neff says: Many people are afraid they won’t be ambitious enough if they are compassionate with themselves.  Research suggests otherwise.

In one study, for example, we examine how people reacted when they failed to meet their standards, and also how high their standards were in the first place.  We found that self-compassionate people were just as likely to have high standards for themselves as those who lacked self-compassion, but they were much less likely to be hard on themselves on the occasions when they didn’t meet those standards.   We’ve also found that self-compassionate people are more-oriented toward personal growth than those who continually criticize themselves.   They’re more likely to formulate specific plans for reaching their goals, and for making their lives more balanced.  Self-compassion in no way lowers where you set your sites [sic] in life.   It does however, soften how you react when you don’t do as well as you hoped, which actually helps you achieved your goals in the long run. (p. 168)

I think the piece about thinking we have to be hard on ourselves in order to move forward is a key piece of the puzzle for us when we are feeling frustrated and disappointed and stuck.  This is an assumption we can now choose to leave behind.

Kristin Neff then ties this self-compassion research to the growth mindset, explaining that those who have a growth mindset have learning goals and those in a fixed mindset are focused on performance goals.    Because those in a growth mindset have motivation stemming from the desire to learn and grow, rather than from the desire to escape self-criticism, they are more willing to take learning risks.  This is largely because they’re not so afraid of failure.

And then we can connect this to confidence.  Have you seen the article in the Atlantic Monthly this month called “Closing the Confidence Gap: Even successful women lack self-assurance at work. Men have too much.”, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman (based on their new book)?   Kay and Shipman also quote Carol Dweck, about some very interesting research about how girls learn to avoid taking risks and making mistakes – they  (we!) have learned to be afraid of failure.   This article is worth reading both, for us as women and for the girls in our lives.

So, considering all this, maybe you will want to make the effort to be more self-compassionate?  A final word from Kristin Neff here: Self-compassion inspires us to pursue our dreams and creates the brave, confident, curious and resilient mind-set that allows us to actually achieve them. p. 171.

Kristin Neff is very generous at her website. There are many useful and free resources, including a quick assessment you can take to see what your level of self-compassion level is.  She also has free guided meditations you can load onto your phone and try:   You can start right now by asking yourself this question: “How can I be more gentle and understanding of myself today?” and then later reflect on how that went for you.

We have so much to gain here and little to lose by experimenting with these ideas!

PS If you want to know more about the Making Room For You Book Group, please see the description of it here.  We are now meeting every three weeks on the phone.  The group has been going strong since October.  We have read these books so far, in reverse chronological order:

  • Love 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson (upcoming selection)
  • Mindsight by Daniel Siegel  (current)
  • Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff
  • When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
  • The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist
  • Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

If you are interested, just let me know by email ( or call me at 416 929 0274 and we can chat about it.

Author: Milisa Burns

Milisa Burns is a certified professional coach, former lawyer and married mother of three, with her own website:

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