Cultivating Self-Compassion in the New Year


Self Compassion Graphic

How many of us start the new year with the mindset that there’s something wrong with us that needs changing? Try shifting your approach to goal setting, and make changes from a self-compassion standpoint rather than from a critical one.

As the New Year comes around, many of us start thinking of changes we want to make in our lives such as improving our health and wellness, becoming more organized or productive, improving our finances, or changing some other aspect of our life. And, we often set goals to attempt to make changes in these areas. How many of us start with the mindset that there’s something wrong with us that needs to be changed? We have thoughts like, “Why can’t I make it to the gym in the morning for a workout?” or “If only I were more organized, I could grocery shop ahead of time and prepare more food for my family.”

We sometimes think that if we make ourselves feel bad enough about something, it will force us to make changes. However, according to self-compassion researchers such as Dr. Kristin Neff of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, making changes from a self-compassionate standpoint rather than from a critical standpoint that focuses on what we are doing wrong, may be more effective and lead to greater well-being (Neff & Germer, 2017).

What is self-compassion?

According to Dr. Neff, if we see someone else going through a hard time or a setback, we are often quick to offer compassion and empathy; however, we are much less likely to offer that same understanding to ourselves when we don’t measure up to our own standards (Neff & Germer, 2017). According to Neff’s research, there are several main components to self-compassion:

  1. showing kindness and understanding toward ourselves;
  2. recognizing that no one is perfect and everyone occasionally makes mistakes; and
  3. using awareness or “mindfulness” to observe our experiences non-judgmentally and learning from them (Neff & Germer, 2017).

How does self-compassion relate to motivation and achieving goals?

Okay, so we all make mistakes. If we are aren’t perfect, then why try to improve? Doesn’t this mindset contribute to complacency? Actually, Dr. Neff maintains that if we are loving and accepting toward ourselves, we are more likely to genuinely want to improve ourselves in many areas of our lives, including health and wellness. We may also be more likely to make changes that involve risks because we are less afraid of failure (Neff & Germer, 2017).

Self-compassion, health, and wellness: What does the research say?

In addition to Dr. Neff’s work, a study on self-compassion and health found that people who are self-compassionate are more likely to engage in health-promoting behaviors, including eating more nutritious foods, being more physically active, getting sufficient sleep, and handling stress appropriately (Sirois, Kitner, & Hirsch, 2014). A study also found that among women who exercise, those with higher levels of self-compassion were more likely to exercise based on self-motivation rather than based on external pressure, and they were less likely to exhibit body dissatisfaction (Magnus, Kowalski, & McHugh, 2010). Researchers suggest that people with greater self-compassion may be more successful at maintaining desired behaviors because they may be less likely to give up when they encounter an obstacle; instead they learn from it and move forward (Sirois, Kitner, & Hirsch, 2014).

This article was written by Brittany Bingeman, Extension Assistant Professor FCS, Washington County


  1.     Magnus, C.M.R., Kowalski, K.C., & McHugh, T.L.F. (2010). The role of self-compassion in women’s self-determined motives to exercise and exercise-related outcomes. Self and Identity, 9, 363-382.
  2.     2. Neff, K., & Germer, C. (2017). Self-compassion and psychological wellbeing. In J. Doty (Ed.) Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science (chapter 27). Oxford University Press. Retrieved from
  3.     Sirois, F.M., Kitner, R., & Hirsch, J.K. (2015). Self-compassion, affect, and health-promoting behavior. Health Psychology, 34(6), 661-669.



Leave a Reply