What do you think of when you hear the word ‘self-compassion?’

‘Weakness’ ‘being fluffy’ ‘hippy’ ‘being soft’ OR ‘understanding of failures’ ‘kindness’ ‘self-awareness’ ‘progress’

Self-compassion is about being kind and understanding to yourself when faced with failures, challenges, mistakes or difficult times. Some athlete’s think that being overly critical on themselves help them to improve but that can have a negative impact on your long-term confidence and self-worth; these athletes are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, burnout and retirement from a sport after a setback.

Self- compassion is necessary for long-term performance and well-being. In sport, business and life, it is easy to tie our self-worth and self-esteem with our successes but unfortunately failing and making mistakes is part of life and part of growth.

Self-criticism and self-judgement stem from this idea that we are supposed to be perfect; but whoever said we were supposed to be perfect and what does perfection even look like?

Research suggests that female athletes worry that if they are compassionate they will become complacent whereas males worry it can impact their masculinity. However self-compassionate athletes are the ones that perform higher for a longer time with better mental health.


  • When you are going through a hard-time, you’ve made a mistake or failed at something; speak to yourself as you would to be a friend.
  • Recognise that you are going through a hard time; ignoring your thoughts and emotions or fighting them can only make them stronger.
  • Sometimes things just don’t go to plan, use this times as opportunity to reflect and grow from rather than getting caught in a cycle of self-criticism. This way we can get the most from the experience whilst still having a stable confidence and self-worth that is not relying on outcomes/achievements.
  • Acknowledge that good and the bad experiences in fights, and training, are part of improving; use them to make helpful changes that are in your control.
  • Be clear on your values as a person: What do I value about myself, e.g. taking on challenges, hard-working, kindness, showing heart etc. Tap into these in times of struggle and use them to guide what you might do in the situation; for example if you don’t get the result you want, did you show heart? Did you take on a challenge?

When we make mistakes or have setbacks they will still be difficult experiences but using self-compassion can help us to get the most out of the experience, whilst enjoying the overall process and looking after our mental well-being.

Here is a great 1 minute video on how one athlete used self-compassion:

If you want to learn more check out Kristin Neff’s work in sport.

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