Self-compassion improves academic performance, study says

Joyance Liao Mendoza

Almost everyone has experienced the anxiety of asking questions during class due to the fear of appearing incompetent, but according to UT researchers, self-compassion is the first step in starting to speak up. 

Phoebe Long, assistant instructor and doctoral candidate, and Kristin Neff, educational psychology associate professor, found that self-compassion improves your performance in school. The trait can result in behavior such as increased participation in class activities. The study was published this month in the journal Learning and Individual Differences.

Self-compassion derives from the sense of self-worth, which reduces the pressure to perform academically well, and as a result, students perform better, Long said.

Self-compassion is defined as a way of relating to yourself and the tendency to be kinder to oneself, Neff said. 

“It (self compassion) means that you realize that suffering, failure and imperfection are part of the shared human experience, Neff said.

Using observations from 691 undergraduates, Long determined that those with higher self-compassion can reduce the anxiety of being critiqued in classes.

“People who are more anxious about speaking tend to be more critical of themselves and to perceive others as evaluating them more negatively,” Long said. “Because self-compassion involves a consistently kind orientation towards the self (and) an accepting awareness of one’s experience, it may be suitable for addressing the issues that underlie speaking anxiety.”

A common misconception is that self-compassion and self-confidence are the same, Long added.

“Self-confidence is often derived from our evaluations of our performance and what other people think of us … and it can vary by domain (or skill),” Long said. “Self-compassion is always there for us … especially when we aren’t feeling very self-confident.”

Self-confidence is related to how we present ourselves and what the opinions of others are, she added.

“Prior work on self-presentation concerns have centered on an individual’s desire to present a favorable image to a real or imagined audience, which may often require hiding disliked aspects of the self,” Long said.

Aside from reducing anxiety, self-confidence can also serve as a motivating factor, Long added.

“Self-confidence can help motivate us to pursue the activities we feel competent in.” Long said. “But if we experience failure in a domain that’s valuable to us, research shows self-compassion can help motivate us to keep pursuing our goal.” 

Yet developing self-compassion can result in a long-term commitment and endurance towards the process of achieving success, Long said.

“Self-compassion has the potential to help students stay kind to themselves when they struggle and remember that they are having an experience many others have had before,” Long said. “(It) can help them approach challenging (academic) situations that help them grow even if they don’t yet feel confident about their abilities to perform well.”

Overall, with a little more self-understanding, students can have a more fulfilling academic career, Neff said.

“With self-compassion, we mindfully accept that the moment is painful and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response … providing the optimal conditions for growth and transformation,” Neff said.