In our society, self-esteem is something we believe to be very important to achieve success. We won’t find that job, we are told, or have success in business if we are not supremely confident in our abilities.
But the problem with self-esteem is that it is difficult to maintain in the face of reality. We constantly face setbacks and failure, and it’s hard to maintain the belief in your superior ability when you make mistakes and fail. What you are left with is the fallback position – trying to forget about your failure and focus on the things you do well. It’s not the most effective strategy for achieving success.
And research bears this out, according to psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson. Having high self-esteem does not correlate with success. People who think highly of themselves may believe they are successful, but in reality they are no more successful that people without high self-esteem.
There is an attitude that does appear to predict success better than self-esteem, and that is self-compassion, Halvorson says. Self-compassion means that when you do fail, you are not so hard on yourself. You are able to accept mistakes and failures as a part of life, as something we all inevitably experience. And studies have shown that having this attitude of self-compassion does indeed help people feel better about themselves, to be more optimistic and to experience less anxiety and depression.
You might think that self-compassion would not be terribly helpful to someone who is striving for success, since it gives you license to forgive your mistakes. But although it does allow you to accept your mistakes as a part of living, it doesn’t allow you to skirt responsibility for your mistakes, or to lower your goals. It’s not how you look at the effort, but at how you perceive the setbacks that you face, realizing that they are not deal breakers, as in the self-esteem model, but something that is just a natural part of the mix.
Moreover, people who take a self-compassionate attitude tend to look at their failures as simply steps on the way. With this view, they focus on constant improvement and moving beyond their mistakes. In the end, it is an attitude that is more likely to help a person achieve success, Halvorson says.