Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Need Motivation After Quarantine? Try Self-Compassion

Criticizing yourself into success doesn't work.

Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels
Source: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

Coming out of quarantine can excite and even motivate many of us to finally take that first step toward change. Conversely, the pressure of these new goals can also cause anxiety, worry, and harsh self-criticism. We’re prone to engage in negative self-talk that can sound like I am not… “losing enough,” “doing enough,” “trying enough,” or “working enough.” It’s not long before our minds easily interpret that as “I am not enough.” It’s a slippery slope.

Let’s pause for a moment. Take a second to ask yourself: Would I ever tell my best friend, sibling, or better yet, my child that “you are not good enough?” Absolutely not. Why? Because we have compassion for them, we have empathy for them, because we genuinely care about their feelings.

Now ask: Why is it so easy for me to say that to myself? The answer is simple. It’s because you lack compassion for the person that matters most in your life, you. Unfortunately, absolutely every human being on this planet has fallen victim to it themselves. This is our truest common humanity. Not only do we inherently fear the judgment of others, but, I believe in my heart or hearts, the judgment we most fear comes from ourselves.

We are often our own worst critics. Many of us have even been taught from a young age that this kind of self-inflicted pressure or verbal bashing is precisely what we need to motivate ourselves and even to succeed in life. When in scientific fact, the exact opposite is true. It is kindness, understanding, empathy, and compassion for yourself that helps you to perform better at tasks, not your criticism.

So, how do you start being compassionate toward yourself?

1. Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up.

You’re new to this concept. We all are. This is a novel idea to almost all of Western society. Take the position of a lifelong student. This is just like learning a new language; you’ll undoubtedly make mistakes. Just keep with it.

2. Practice. Practice. Practice (when you can).

Everyone forms habits after different periods of time. For example, research says that some people can develop a habit in as little as 18 days and some in as long as 254 days. Either way, the more you practice, the more likely you’ll be able to easily integrate kindness into the conversation with yourself.

3. This will feel awkward when you first start. Normalize this.

Back to the language analogy. When you first attempt to speak a new language, do you feel 100 percent confident that your words and grammar are perfect? Probably not. It’s more likely that all of your insecurities and self-doubt will come bubbling up.

The same is true of beginning to learn self-compassion. You may think, “This is ridiculous,” or “I’m coddling myself”; you may even fear that if you’re kind to yourself, it will extinguish your motivation. I’m here to tell you that none of that is true, but it is a common experience.

You may even cringe at the thought of giving yourself loving feedback, and that’s OK too. We’ve been conditioned to think this way, but it’s time to do some “unlearning.” Your job now is to notice the resistance with a sense of playful curiosity and let it go little by little. Continue trying day after day until it no longer feels uncomfortable. Repetition is key to creating a positive belief.

4. Think about the most compassionate responses you’ve ever received. Log them.

This did not come naturally for me. As compassionate as I am with others, my self-compassion lexicon was just about equivalent to that of a rock’s. I had not the slightest clue where to begin.

I then began thinking about the most compassionate people I knew and took mental notes of how they responded when they made mistakes, didn’t achieve their goals, or didn’t succeed. Another method is to ask yourself, "If this were happening to my significant other or best friend, what would I tell them?" Remove yourself from the equation when you’re first learning this language—it's much easier this way (trust me).

5. Put daily reminders in your phone that promote self-kindness and validate your feelings.

Cell phones can be effective tools… sometimes. Reminders can be set to occur daily, weekly, or monthly. Set a simple reminder that can become your mantra: for example, “This is not easy; I’m doing the best that I can, and that is always enough.”

Be Well,

Dr. K

More from Psychology Today

More from Kailey Spina Horan, Ph.D., LMHC

More from Psychology Today