I recently stumbled upon a New York Times article that argues this: Instead of practicing self-confidence, we should be treating ourselves with the same kind of tenderness and kindness as we would a loved one — in other words, practicing self-compassion.
Off the top, it might seem like the piece is downplaying the benefits of trusting and taking pride in yourself. What's so wrong about believing in yourself, setting and accomplishing goals, and attempting things you fear? The main problem with self-confidence, from where I sit, is that it can often bleed over into the realm of arrogance — you know, self-absorption, an inability to take criticism, and a belief that things should go your way and only your way, period.
But I don't want to frown upon self-confidence so much as give us all something higher to aim for in terms of worthy character traits.
So what exactly is self-compassion? Let’s focus on what straight-up compassion is first. Many people are under the assumption that it's nothing more than pity, like that feeling you get when you find out someone is upset or in need. But that common premise isn't quite right: According to Dictionary.com, compassion is actually "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering." In other words, compassion is a true action word. You don’t just feel a certain way about a particular problem; you want to go above and beyond to become a part of its solution. When you’re compassionate, you are both aware and humble enough to want to improve upon current conditions and situations.
OK, now apply that same feeling to yourself.
Unlike self-confidence, self-compassion doesn't have the potential to lead to arrogance or the overestimation of your own abilities; instead, it helps you recognize the issues within your abilities and makes you want to become a part of your own solution.
Self-compassion makes you strong and self-assured enough to be able to take a look at your own flaws and missteps, process them, and then figure out ways to become better.
Self-compassion makes you want to hear our your significant other and willing to make compromises for the sake of both of you.
Self-compassion makes it possible for you to productively heed your boss' recommendations when you're critiqued at work.
Self-compassion makes you want to resolve an argument with your friend instead of waiting for them to do so first.
What makes self-compassion so important is that it encourages you to be kind to yourself; once you're able to treat yourself with care and tolerance, you'll have the willingness to attempt things that will make you a better person.
When it comes to characteristics and frames of mind we should all aspire to hone, self-compassion is the one to beat.
Read more about self-compassion versus self-confidence over at The New York Times.