Self-confidence, being self-assured, and having good self-esteem: these are all seen as essential components in success in our society. While they aren’t bad, what we should try to develop is self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the ability to see yourself clearly and not be too hard on yourself. It includes recognizing your shortcomings while simultaneously being proud of your accomplishments.
After all, don’t we want to show that we are confident? And don’t we want our students to develop self-confidence? Self-confidence isn’t bad. In fact, in many circumstances, it can be an excellent, necessary thing (e.g. public speaking, presentations, etc.). But there are a few potential pitfalls that come along with self-confidence.
• Self-Confidence is Easy to Fake: Often others seem very confident when maybe they are just faking it. There is something to be said for the ‘fake it until you make it’ concept, but it’s essential to recognize that it isn’t always genuine. This ‘fake confidence’ leads people to feel they need to always put on a happy face and often hide their true feelings.
• Overconfidence: Sometimes when trying to develop self-confidence, we can go too far the other direction. We can lose sight of our shortcomings and start to overestimate our abilities, which increases our chances of being wrong.
• Lack Teachabilty: Someone who’s overconfident, brags, or thinks they know everything isn’t teachable. We can start to see ourselves as experts and lose the ability to learn and develop.
• Unapproachable: If you seem too confident, you become unapproachable. Others may not feel comfortable to correct you, give you new information, or ask you for help.
According to Eric Barker, author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, self-compassion enables you to have a more objective, realistic view of yourself. It acts to counter overconfidence and can have positive psychological effects. Here’s how:
• Love Thyself: You take care of yourself. You put yourself first, not in a selfish way, but in a healthy way. You fill your cup, so to speak, so that you can fill others’.
• I’m not Perfect: You recognize your weaknesses, which makes you more humble and more approachable. According to Dr. Kristin Neff of the University of Texas, this is the cornerstone of self-compassion and can positively affect your mental health. In a recent study , Neff and her colleagues found that
those who better accept their own inadequacies are more resilient; thus, can “break the cycle of negativity.”
• More Capable: You are more capable. You continue to learn and grow. Because you are in touch with your shortcomings, it is easier for you to polish them. You seek out new knowledge and try to improve.
• Accepting Feedback: You’re willing to accept feedback from others. A good teacher knows that they don’t know it all. There is no one way of doing things best, and the best teachers are adaptable throughout their career. When you have developed self-compassion, you can look at the feedback others give you for what it is rather than take it personally.
• Empathy: You have empathy for others. Empathy is essential in dealing with parents, coworkers, and our students. Relationships are a crucial part of being an effective teacher. Read more about developing positive teacher-student relationships here.
Here’s how you can make the transition from focusing on self-confidence to self-compassion:
• Accept Yourself: Accepting yourself where you are right now may feel a bit counterintuitive to trying to improve, but until you accept reality, you can’t find your exact starting point. You are where you are for many reasons, but wherever you are is ok. Really. You can start there and do a little better each day.
• Positive self-talk: Stop with ‘I should have…’ ‘I didn’t….’ and ‘If only….’ Focus on what you’ve done well and remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect. Say nice things to yourself. If you say things to yourself that you wouldn’t tolerate from your spouse, significant other, or best friend it’s a good indicator that you need to change your self-talk.
• Affirmations: find an inspiring quote or jot down a few words that inspire you. Something like ‘I don’t have to be perfect’ or ‘I can do this.’ Write it down on a 3×5 card and leave it on your desk. Practice saying it to yourself often. These positive affirmations will eventually become part of your natural thought process.
• “Comparison is the Thief of Joy” – Theodore Roosevelt. When we compare ourselves to others we always fall short, usually because we compare their strengths to our weaknesses. Instead, compare you to you. How are you doing this week vs. last? This year vs. last? Chances are you’ve learned something new and are doing something better.
Maybe you are a highly confident, self-assured teacher, or maybe you are not. Regardless, instead of focusing on developing self-confidence work on self-compassion. You’ll be much happier and at peace with yourself if you do.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.