Joey Calandra1 July 2020

The secret to adaptation is self-compassion

Don’t you hate it when you have one of those ‘aha’ moments in your life, only to realise that your emotional baggage is still a ball-and-chain?

My recent ‘aha’ moment was like assembling a puzzle. I recognised each piece and as I put them together, a familiar image became obvious and clear. The image of that young boy, now a 40 something man, believing he is not good enough. Still.

It started during my research to run Inventium’s productivity and wellbeing program, called the Workday Reinvention Program. A big part of which is to re-learn focus and avoid being distracted by things like email and social media. Research from the behaviour change expert Nir Eyal, highlights that distraction – just like all behaviour – is another way for our brains to try and alleviate pain.

Distraction starts with an uncomfortable emotion we are trying to escape from. Just like pain killers, distractions, especially digital distractions, can be addictive and take us away from being our best selves. And research from drug addicts, shows their sense of powerlessness was as important in relapse after treatment as was their physical dependence. Which means that mindset matters just as much as physical dependence.

So, what we say to ourselves is incredibly important. There is actually science that shows by changing the way we talk to ourselves, we can increase our sense of wellbeing and resilience. Self-compassion makes us more resilient to letdowns by breaking the vicious cycle of stress that often accompanies failure.


If you are anything like me, it’s time to embrace the scientific evidence and reset the way we talk to ourselves. It’s time to talk to ourselves with the same compassion, that we give to everyone else. When we find ourselves listening to that bullying voice in our head, don’t accept it or argue with it. Remind yourself that hurdles are part of any growth process. We don’t get better without practice, which let’s be honest, can be tough and even awkward at times.

Nir provides a very simple rule – talk to yourself the way you might talk to a friend. Since we are our own worst critics, if we talk to ourselves like a friend – we see the situation for what it really is. I love this, because there is no way I would ever criticise a friend. Yet, I have no qualms about criticising myself.

For business, it is more important than ever to learn and adapt quickly. This is the only way to thrive in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in. That means we need to learn new tools and techniques, which inevitably comes with failing as we try these out. And the research states that it is those that are more self-compassionate, that are better at failing and then getting back on the horse to try again.


From an innovation perspective, research shows us that for a culture of innovation to thrive, embracing failure is critical. That means providing compassion to yourself when you start out experimenting with business ideas and embrace the fail fast mentality. This will help you bounce back after each set back. It means you can learn quickly and cheaply, and de-risk your innovation efforts. Saving your organisation time and money as you grow through innovation.


In the new world where failing fast and adaptation is the new normal, don’t let your own mindset hold you back. The time has come to gift yourself the compassion you give to everyone else. In doing so, you can realise your potential, and ultimately make an impact in your work and home when it needs it the most.