Many people say February is hands-down the most depressing time of year. The days are short, it’s cold and gloomy and people tend to isolate from inclement weather and now self-distance from the coronavirus. With winter in full swing, a recent study conducted by Onepoll on behalf of Vida Health, showed that 62% of respondents said they usually feel more depressed this time of year with a third (32%) saying it’s consistently the worst season for their mental health.
But February is also known as the month of love—a time to remember the importance of love and compassion toward others as well as yourself. Negative self-judgment can undermine job performance and increase stress, whereas self-compassion—the loving-kindness, supportive treatment toward yourself during job challenges, personal shortcomings and professional setbacks—is a more powerful career advancement tool.
Barriers To Self-Love
Self-criticism and loathing build barriers to career advancement that you might not even be aware of. We’ve been taught that self-love is selfish or narcissistic—even cheesy and that self-sacrifice is a virtue. If you’re like most career climbers, you have a kick-butt voice that bludgeons you with criticism and tells you how worthless, selfish, dumb or incompetent you are. It never rests and gobbles up more mental real estate than the voice that tells you the potential you really have.
You wouldn’t dream of treating a loved one the way you treat yourself: calling yourself names, pelting yourself for the smallest human slip-ups, disbelieving in yourself enough to give up on your goals. When you’re feeling sad, in pain or grieving, harsh words such as, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” or “There are people worse off than you,” or “Get a grip!” can actually worsen your distress.
During the 1990s, comedians mocked the notion of self-love and self-affirmations with tongue-in-cheek phrases such as, “I’m smart enough” or “I’m good enough.” Al Franken created and performed the fictional character Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live in a mock self-help show called Daily Affirmations. Years since, otherwise willing participants have steered away from the off-putting idea of self-love and positive affirmations.
‘Fighting The Fire Department When Your House Is On Fire’
In disavowing self-love, many career professionals find more comfort brutalizing themselves for their missteps and shortcomings. The belief is if we give ourselves too much leeway, it might turn us into slackers, and negative self-treatment is more likely to boost performance and advance our careers. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Coming down hard on yourself after a misstep is like fighting the fire department when your house is on fire. It adds insult to injury and reduces your chances of rebounding and ultimately success. In the aftermath of a career setback—such as a missed promotion, failure to meet a critical deadline or job loss—self-condemnation is the real career blocker, not the setback. Substituting loving-kindness for self-judgment motivates you to get back in the saddle.
When you remove the second layer of condemnation and substitute compassion, you can see the real barrier more clearly and feel more at ease dealing with it. If you don’t like yourself, you won’t be motivated to accomplish much of anything. You might even be more inclined toward career self-sabotage. Only as you cultivate the right attitude toward yourself will you have the right attitude toward success.
The Science Of Self-Love
Neuroscientists have discovered a direct link between self-compassion, resilience and success. You’re more likely to enjoy well-being and success when you give yourself occasional doses of self-compassion. Studies show that self-love and self-affirmations serve as “cognitive expanders,” allowing us to talk to ourselves the way we might speak to someone else so that the judgment voice isn’t the only story we tell ourselves. As a result, self-love provides the fuel that boosts our moods, job performance and achievement. Studies from the University of Wisconsin show the more self-compassion you have, the greater your emotional arsenal. The researchers discovered that compassion meditation changes the brain, affecting brain regions that make you more empathetic to other people. Positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be developed in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport. The imaging revealed brain circuits that detect emotions were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive practice in compassion meditation. Other studies show that the expression of empathy has far-reaching effects in your personal and professional lives. If you cultivate the habit of loving-kindness self-talk, you change the way your brain fires in the moment. Forgiving yourself for previous slip-ups such as procrastination, for example, offsets further procrastination. A survey of 119 Carleton University students who forgave themselves after procrastinating on the first midterm exam were less likely to delay studying for the second one.
How To Practice Self-Love
The first step to practice self-love is to be for you—not against you, but for you. If not for yourself, then who will be for you? In times of distress, talking yourself off the ledge with a compassionate voice in a calm, comforting tone helps you cope as if you’re applying salve to a wound. Watch how often you berate yourself, call yourself names or shame yourself. Stand up to impossible standards and harsh judgments instead of attacking yourself. Forgive yourself for shortcomings and see them for what they are: habits, old behavior patterns or just plain mistakes that all of us make.
When you’re more loving toward yourself and accept your limitations with compassion, you deal only with the stressful experience, not the added negative feelings from self-judgment. The more self-compassion you generate for yourself, the more empathy you will have for others. The best medicine is to give yourself pep talks or positive affirmations. Throw yourself a thumbs-up every time you finish a project, reach a successful milestone or accomplish a goal at work. Whether you’re dealing with a small hassle or a big crisis, a nurturing voice reduces stress and provides the calm and clarity to scale career obstacles. This year give yourself the gift of self-love on Valentine’s Day while you’re doling out love to others.