By: Hanlie van Wyk

Which happiness habits would have the greatest impact on individual and organizational productivity?

A good friend once asked me about my inner dialogue: “Would you talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself in your own mind?”. This jolted me a bit. I have been accused of perfectionistic tendencies and wanting things, people, and myself to be ‘just so’. On reflection, I had to concede that I had tougher ‘rules’ for myself than others and that I could be much more generous and forgiving of others than myself. What I lacked was self-compassion.

Self-compassion is a clear-sighted but kind and connected way of relating to ourselves even in instances of failure, perceived inadequacy, and imperfection. It entails treating oneself with kindness and recognizing our shared humanity. Being mindful when considering perceived negative aspects of ourselves provides a safe and non-judgmental context to confront those feelings and strive to better them.

Self-compassion is strongly associated with many aspects of well-being, including:

  • Higher levels of happiness and optimism
  • Lower levels of anxiety and depression
  • Better romantic relationship functioning (at least for women and conscientious men, but that is another article all on its own)
  • Greater emotional resilience

The Behavioural Research and Applied Technology Laboratory (‘BRATLAB’) researched nine happiness habits that could improve productivity and divided them into three categories: Foster, Focus, and Savor. In this series, we have been taking a look at those nine happiness habits and exploring the value that each one can bring. Self-compassion is the third of the three habits that make up Fostering Happiness. We covered acts of kindness and generosity in previous posts. In our next post, we will move onto a new category: Savor.

Five Self-Compassion Aspects to Keep an Eye on

On your journey to be more self-compassionate, there are five aspects or dimensions to keep in mind.

The first is kindness to yourself. This requires you to be understanding and patient toward aspects of your personality you might not like. In my case, I do not like my impatience, especially when it spills over and into my behavior towards another human being. Then there is self-judgment. This is the way I disapprove and judge my own laws and inadequacies. I often break my own rules about self-care. For example, I have a rule about exercising every morning before opening emails and social media. When I fail, which thankfully is less often these days, I am mindful not to judge myself harshly or give reign to my inner disproving voice.

Third is the importance of seeing my failings as part of the human condition which is called common humanity.

Very often when we think about our inadequacies it tends to increase our sense of isolation. Perhaps we fear revealing our inadequacies and therefore try to disconnect from the rest of the world. This is something to guard against as it works against our fundamental need for human connection–try to remedy with a healthy dose of vulnerability. Next, when something painful happens, we should try to take a balanced view of the situation. This relies in us to be mindful. Ira Israel defines mindfulness as “living in a state of raised consciousness, knowing how our minds have been programmed to work, and then making healthy, long-term decisions about how we choose to conduct our lives.” Jon Kabat-Zinn adds that this should be done non-judgmentally.” Finally, we should try not to obsess and fixate on everything that’s wrong (‘over-identification’) and rather attach to the inner friend that soothes and pries us away from this negative spiral.

Making the Change: Why Does Self-Compassion Matter at Work?

Such intimate and personal strategies as self-compassion can seem a million miles away from the typical impersonal workplace. But nothing could be further from the truth.

In the context of work, those who are self-compassionate show greater initiative, curiosity, conscientiousness, and perceived competence; they learn from failures and address personal weaknesses. Having self-compassion leads to greater adaptability in the face of failure. Individuals who practice self-compassion are intrinsically motivated, set mastery goals, and are more effective at adapting when they do not reach their goals. Those with self-compassion aim just as high but aren’t as devastated when they don’t reach their goals.

They are more likely to adopt mastery goals, which indicates intrinsic motivation, curiosity, the desire to develop skills, and to master new material. Self-compassion is related to personal initiative and is significantly related to curiosity and exploration. Self-compassionate people tend to be intrinsically motivated with high conscientiousness. It also promotes perceived competence and primes individuals to learn from failures and address personal weaknesses.

Self-compassion provides a safe and non-judgmental context to confront negative aspects of the self and strive to better them. In this way, it is a more effective method of motivating change (post failure) relative to other approaches to deal with failure. Being kind towards yourself during times of stress or failure and seeing themselves as connected with others, helps you to hold your worries with mindful awareness without ruminating, making it less likely to experience burnout. Having low self-compassion could put you at risk of burnout. You are also likely to feel ashamed of yourself, lose yourself in your work role and dismiss your worth outside of that role.

Well-being and self-compassion are highly correlated including strong associations with happiness, positive affect, and greater emotional resilience.

Any organization looking to evaluate the impact of investing in these habits or wanting to understand more about how to create happy, healthy, and adaptable, change-ready cultures should contact Change Craft on hello@changecraft.consulting.


Hanlie is a behavioral change expert, systems strategist, author, and PhD candidate for Hate Crime Studies. Her fascination with human behavior started while growing up in South Africa. From working to prevent hate crime to humanizing the workplace, her career spans three decades and four continents researching and applying behavioral change strategies to some of the most challenging behavioral problems. As Director of Change for Change Craft (powered by Behavioral Research and Applied Technology Laboratory) she studies, develops, and applies agnostic systems and practices that make change sticky, and results in high performing individuals and cultures.