A key to sustainable progress is marrying fierce self-discipline with fierce self-compassion.
Self-discipline is pursuing what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it; focusing on the task at hand; and showing up consistently, even when you don’t want to. Self-compassion is being kind to yourself in the midst of struggle; creating space to hold softly what you are feeling.
Research shows clearly that both self-discipline and self-compassion are associated with sustainable peak performance. Self-discipline is your fuel as you move forward on your respective path. Self-compassion is your guardrail: it keeps you on course when you go astray.
Self-compassion is especially powerful when things are hard or when you experience failure. Why? Simple. If when you fail you are judgmental and beat yourself up all you are doing is wasting energy. If you are kind to yourself, you can simply get up, adjust, and go again.
Self-compassion makes you fearless. If you cultivate strong self-compassion you can take risks and fail and go to hard places knowing you can hold it all and still be okay. It doesn’t make hard things less hard; it makes you more able to handle them.
Self-compassion is not automatic—it’s a quality to develop. Notice when you are being harsh on yourself. How does it make you feel? What would it look like to change that self-talk? This isn’t about brushing off every misstep. It’s about not wasting energy beating yourself up.
When you are blowing energy beating yourself up or in a ruminative spiral ask yourself: what would I say to a friend in this situation? We tend to be much kinder—and equally important, much wiser—when we are looking out for our friends than when we are looking out for ourselves.
“This is what is happening right now, I’m doing the best that I can.” A mantra I use all the time, with myself and my coaching clients. It snaps you out of your head and puts you back into the present moment. Also, if it’s not true, you realize that immediately and make it true.
Self-discipline takes you to the hard places. It is the firm persistence to keep going. Self-compassion is what gives you the courage when you are at the gate, and what helps you get back up when you are thrown down. And then self-discipline gets you moving forward again.