What Giving Yourself Grace at Work—and in Life—Really Means

Photo: Getty Images / Maskot
When you’re stuck in a tough spot at work—you’re *this close* to burnout, you’re wondering whether your job is the right fit, your office culture could use a serious upgrade—who do you turn to? Your mentor, who has years of experience you can rely on? Your mom, who always keeps your best interests in mind? Or your BFF, who is dependable for a killer pep talk? Put all three perspectives in a blender, and you’ve got Good@Work, Well+Good’s career advice column. See All

In my work as an anti-burnout speaker and expert, I've seen and heard it all when it comes to possible solutions for managing burnout. Just scrolling through wellness accounts and hashtags on social media, you can get inundated with energy-boosting recipes, restorative yoga posts, and inspirational mantras to help you address burnout and chronic stress. One of the most common (and confusing) mantras I see? "Give yourself grace."

To be clear, I'm not against this idea, but the phrase is commonly used but seldom explained. Even I’m guilty of this in my work as an anti-burnout speaker and expert. So what does giving yourself grace mean?

You likely have heard the so-called golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In my opinion, giving yourself grace is all about the reverse: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. Or in other words, practice self-compassion—aka having understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness of yourself. This looks like being realistic, flexible, and honest about your bandwidth, energy, and interest.

All that said, what does giving yourself grace mean in a real-world context? How do you practice it? Here are some ways I recommend practicing it this month (and beyond):

4 tangible ways to give yourself grace this month (and every month)

1. Say no to perfectionism

Giving yourself grace starts with addressing perfectionism. This trait is often defined as the need to be or appear perfect or the belief that perfection is possible. It's not always a bad thing, but taken too far, perfectionism can be a huge obstacle to happiness. Research shows that perfectionistic concerns (when you feel others are imposting too-high standards on you, and you worry about making mistakes) are associated with workaholism and burnout. These thought patterns are often driven by fear that we won't be accepted or respected if things don't turn out perfectly.

We all make mistakes and stumble—it's part of life—and reframing failure enables us to grow stronger instead of letting slip-ups define us negatively over time. Viewing experiences from a different angle can help you become more resilient and less likely to trip up on the same things in the future.

Ask probing questions to help turn negative energy into something constructive: What did I learn? How can I better prepare for similar events? Investigating beyond failure offers valuable insight into the future.

When we feel overwhelmed, we often fall back into behaviors that don’t serve us. If you find yourself falling back into perfectionist habits, take five minutes and ask yourself what “success” really looks like for the moment, the week, or the project overall.

2. Give yourself credit and a reward

There can be so many competing demands that it’s easy to forget to appreciate the journey. Life is full of highs and lows; when we focus solely on achieving big goals, we can miss out on celebrating smaller accomplishments along the way. Plus, sharing wins with others can be a good reminder that you aren't alone in this journey.

Each day brings achievements that can be recognized. They can come from any area in life. There are tangible milestones like completing a project at work, receiving an award or certification, and improving your health. But don’t overlook intangible successes like enforcing your boundaries or taking a short break to recharge.

Create a habit of daily reflection and jot down these wins every night before bedtime or try a prompt-filled journal as an easy-to-use guide. The best part is every win is one more reason to treat yo’ self. Small daily incentives can help keep motivation high as you save special celebrations for your big accomplishments.

3. Press mute on negative self-talk

Negative thinking is an internal dialogue that creates an inaccurate view of reality. It can limit personal growth, sabotage success, and add unnecessary stress to life—especially when it spirals out of control to dominate your brain space. The hard part is that it can be hard to spot when it’s already ingrained in our thinking patterns.

One way to start overcoming this is by challenging your own thoughts and beliefs. It may sound daunting, but it starts with monitoring your inner dialogue for harmful things such as: "I can't do this," "This will never work," or "No one likes me anyway."

Once identified, replace these responses with more supportive ones, such as: "This might take me some time but I will succeed," “How could I make this enjoyable?” and “People are just different from each other." Challenging and then reframing these thoughts with more positive self-talk can help give you a new perspective, increase your self-confidence, and improve your mental and emotional state.

4. Say no to something

As we get ready for the year, there are a lot of conversations around 2023 goals—but often limited discussion on the items coming off the list. Whether it’s saying “no” or “not now,” this is the perfect time to plan more time for yourself.

Special note for my fellow entrepreneurs, you deserve to say no or not now to things too. Reassess your goals for next year with a more realistic, compassionate framing for yourself and your team.


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