Wednesday, 6 May 2015

#LookAfterYourself: Motivation through Compassion

I had a request from my oldest and bestest friend Amy to do a post about how to get motivated.  It seems like a good time of year to do this kind of post because most of us have exams, or are finishing off last bits of coursework, or perhaps you just want to be motivated to get fit, start a new hobby or whatever!  Personally, I would not call myself an overly motivated person.  I leave things to the last minute and get stressed and beat myself up over it.  However, I thought I would take a subject I have become very accustomed to in the last few months while on placement - a new(ish) therapy called Compassion-Focused Therapy - and use this to inform the topic of motivation.

First things first: what is compassion-focused therapy (CFT)?  CFT, predominantly useful for those who are overly self-critical and experience high levels of shame, helps to develop genuine feelings of inner warmth and soothing through self-compassion.  It teaches one to accept and validate themselves.  However, it can be argued that the basic teachings of CFT can be useful to anyone. I, myself, would say I have benefited just from reading up on the techniques used in CFT.

How can this help me become motivated, I hear you cry. It is clear we have all, at one stage or another, tried to motivate ourselves towards something.  However, many of us may be going the wrong way about it.  Like I said, I leave things late and then I beat myself up about it. I self-critcise.  Self-criticism is a common technique people employ to motivate themselves.  This is because it is thought that by criticising your own efforts it might push you to achieve more. Tough love and all that. The more this method of motivation is used the more likely it is to become a habit.

However, very few people realise how damaging self-criticism can actually be. Countless studies have shown that there tends to be a strong correlation between self-criticism and the development of psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety (Teasdale & Cox, 2001; Gilbert et al., 2006; Irons et al., 2006) - just to name a few.  In fact, this correlation has been recorded back to the early 80's - Blatt and Schichman (1983) found that being self-critical by personality trait led to a predisposition for depression.

So, the alternative - and more effective - way of motivating yourself is through self-compassion.  Over the last 7 years in the world of psychology, self-compassion has proven to be a powerful way of improving general wellbeing as well as being a tool for motivation.  It involves accepting things for how they are, learning that failure is sometimes inevitable and that imperfection is only human.  By understanding that failure can happen and that perfection is an unrealistic target, we can learn to improve ourselves in order to thrive, grow and enhance our lives, rather than to just avoid an intense fear of failure.  Create small, achieveable goals rather than large, unattainable ones and give yourself praise when you reach each goal.

Think of it like this: what would you say if a friend came up to you and told you they were struggling?  Would you punish them and tell them they were useless? Or would you be positive and reassure them?  Hopefully you chose the latter. Now apply that to yourself.  Treat yourself as you would treat a friend in need.

I know this may not be for everyone, but I hope it helps some of you.  Let me know what you think in the comments below! What do you do to motivate yourself?


  1. it's so hard for me to have some self-compassion. every day is a struggle. it's so much easier for me to reassure someone else, whether a friend of a stranger, instead of myself. when I get overwhelmed, I just let it take me down under and I have a breakdown. Afterwards, I feel better, but during the breakdown is when things could go really wrong.