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Having self-compassion can make you more successful than having self-esteem.Getty Images/iStockphoto

Self-esteem has long been touted as a key ingredient for success. But psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson says on her The Science of Success blog that recent research suggests high self-esteem does not predict better performance or greater success, even if people with high self esteem may believe they're more successful. But research also suggest a substitute that may be the key to unlocking your potential for greatness: self-compassion.

Self-compassion is a willingness to look with kindness and understanding at your own mistakes and shortcomings. People who are self-compassionate don't judge themselves too harshly when things go awry and also don't feel compelled to protect their ego by focusing defensively on all their great strengths.

"It's not surprising that self-compassion leads, as many studies show, to higher levels of personal well-being, optimism and happiness, and to less anxiety and depression," Dr. Halvorson writes on her blog.

Research by Juliana Breines and Serena Chen, of the University of California at Berkeley, found that people who experienced self-compassion are more likely to see their weaknesses as changeable. "Self-compassion – far from taking them off the hook – actually increased their motivation to improve and avoid the same mistake again in the future," notes Dr. Halvorson.

In one of the studies, participants who failed an initial test were given a second chance to improve their scores. Some people were asked beforehand to reflect on boosting self-esteem, others on heightening self-compassion. Those primed to take a self-compassionate view of their failure studied 25 per cent longer, and scored higher on a second test, than those who were prodded to increase their self-esteem.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter