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The Role of Self-Compassion in Goal Pursuit and Well-Being Among University Freshmen

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We examined the role of self-compassion in freshmen students' goal pursuit and well-being across the first year of university. Multilevel analyses of 1 week of daily diary assessment revealed that individuals high in self-compassion appeared to be less vulnerable to the affective consequences of thwarted goal progress. We also found that trait self-compassion moderated the relation of autonomous goal motivation to negative affect, such that autonomous motivation was especially related to low negative affect for students high in self-compassion. Longitudinally, we found that self-compassion was associated with positive changes in life satisfaction, identity development, and decreases in negative affectivity over the academic year. In summary, we suggest that self-compassion is an adaptive trait for new college students.
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Self and Identity
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The Role of Self-Compassion in
Goal Pursuit and Well-Being Among
University Freshmen
Nora Hopea, Richard Koestnera & Marina Milyavskayaa
a Department of Psychology, McGill University, 1205 Avenue Dr
Penfield, Montreal, QC, H3A 1B1 Canada
Published online: 20 Feb 2014.
To cite this article: Nora Hope, Richard Koestner & Marina Milyavskaya , Self and Identity (2014):
The Role of Self-Compassion in Goal Pursuit and Well-Being Among University Freshmen, Self and
Identity, DOI: 10.1080/15298868.2014.889032
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2014.889032
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The Role of Self-Compassion in Goal Pursuit and
Well-Being Among University Freshmen
Nora Hope, Richard Koestner, and Marina Milyavskaya
Department of Psychology, McGill University, 1205 Avenue Dr Penfield, Montreal, QC,
H3A 1B1 Canada
We examined the role of self-compassion in freshmen students’ goal pursuit and well-being across
the first year of university. Multilevel analyses of 1 week of daily diary assessment revealed that
individuals high in self-compassion appeared to be less vulnerable to the affective consequences of
thwarted goal progress. We also found that trait self-compassion moderated the relation of
autonomous goal motivation to negative affect, such that autonomous motivation was especially
related to low negative affect for students high in self-compassion. Longitudinally, we found that
self-compassion was associated with positive changes in life satisfaction, identity development, and
decreases in negative affectivity over the academic year. In summary, we suggest that self-
compassion is an adaptive trait for new college students.
Keywords: Self-compassion; Human motivation; Subjective well-being; Self-determination theory.
Self-Compassion in Goal Progress and Well-Being Among
University Freshmen
The start of college is an important time, engrained in the North American conscious as a
pivotal period for identity, growth, and exploration. In film and television portrayals, the
freshmen year is often glorified as the best time of one’s life, or an opportunity for
independence and new experiences in a carefree environment. For example, in the iconic
film National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), two university freshmen are gleefully
swept up by a whirlwind of toga parties, pranks, and love interests, rather than academic
readings, assignments, or anxieties about developing a new social niche. However, what is
often excluded from media portrayals of this time is that it can also be a psychologically
and academically strenuous period for youth.
In a 2010 survey of the mental health of more than 200,000 US freshmen (Pryor,
Hurtado, DeAngelo, Palucki Blake, & Tran, 2010), it was found that the proportion of
students who had rated their emotional health as “below average” compared to peers had
risen to the highest point in 25 years. While students reported lower emotional health,
students also reported significantly higher expectations for academic achievement than
ever before in the survey. This level of expectation and pressure raises the question of
whether certain personality traits may serve as resiliency factors for students entering
q2014 Taylor & Francis
This work was supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [grant number
410-2011-0465].
Correspondence should be addressed to: Nora Hope, Department of Psychology, McGill University, 1205
Avenue Dr. Penfield, Montreal, QC, H3A, 1B1 Canada. E-mail: nora.hope@mail.mcgill.ca
Received 24 June 2013; accepted 26 January 2014; first published online 19 February 2014.
Self and Identity, 2014
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2014.889032
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college. The ability to self-soothe, such as reacting to disappointment, failure, or thwarted
goal achievement with self-kindness and patience rather than frustration or shame, is likely
a crucial protective factor during this period. As Paul Gilbert asserts
[d]eveloping compassion for self and others can help with many challenges of life, with learning how
to cope with strong emotions that emerge within us and conflicts with other people, and even how to
think about world problems. (2009, p. 20)
Yet, self-compassion has not yet been investigated in the transition to college, nor has the
role of self-compassion relative to goal self-regulation been examined.
Self-Compassion and Adaptive Outcomes
Self-compassion is a personality construct drawn from Buddhist philosophy that entails
being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward
oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and
recognizing that one’s own experience is part of the common human experience. (Neff, 2003a, p. 224)
There are three crucial facets to self-compassion: self-kindness, a sense of common
humanity, and mindful awareness (Neff, 2003a). Self-kindness refers to treating disliked
aspects of one’s personality and behavior with kindness, warmth, and a nonjudgmental
attitude. A sense of common humanity involves viewing one’s experiences of defeat or
suffering as connected to the human condition, as opposed to feeling alienated or
selectively victimized in one’s suffering. Finally, mindful awareness involves holding a
balanced view of subjective emotions and cognitions, rather than being overwhelmed by
wavering emotions and thoughts.
In previous research, self-compassion has been related to a number of beneficial mental
health outcomes. Trait self-compassion is negatively associated with symptoms of
depression, and anxiety, while it is positively associated with life satisfaction and
relatedness (Neff, 2003a), optimism, positive affect, curiosity, and exploration (Neff, Rude,
& Kirkpatrick, 2007). Furthermore, self-compassion accounts for significant variance in
positive functioning, beyond the big five personality traits (Neff et al., 2007). Van Dam,
Sheppard, Forsyth, and Earleywine (2011) compared the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS) and
the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale for the predictive utility of depression and anxiety
in a community sample, and found that self-compassion was a significantly more robust
predictor of clinical symptoms and quality of life. In a longitudinal study of the effects of a
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, trait self-compassion was found to moderate
the effect of the training, with participants high in trait self-compassion experiencing a
greater reduction in stress following the training (Shapiro, Astin, Bishop , & Cordova, 2005).
Moreover, research has demonstrated that individuals high in trait self-compassion tend to
form more accurate appraisals and self-evaluations, without unrealistically enhancing or
deprecating the self, following negative events (Leary, Tate, Adams, & Allen, 2007). While
this research has established the positive benefits of self-compassion, it is still unknown
whether self-compassion can prospectively help students cope with the transition to college,
in adjustment, well-being, and goal pursuit.
Self-Compassion, Goal Pursuit, and Academic Experience
In a set of two cross-sectional studies, Neff, Hsieh, and Dejitterat (2005) found that self-
compassion was positively associated with a mastery orientation to academic goals, rather
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than a performance orientation. Furthermore, among students who were dissatisfied with
their received grade on a midterm exam, trait self-compassion was associated with
emotion-focused coping, rather than avoidance-oriented coping that was associated with
low trait self-compassion. Neely, Schallet, Mohammed, Roberts, and Chen (2009) cross-
sectionally investigated the differential contribution of self-compassion and goal
regulation to well-being among students, and found that self-compassion contributed
additional variance in well-being, beyond the ability to disengage and re-engage in goals.
The authors suggested that self-compassion may be particularly important in preserving
well-being when faced with defeat or disappointment in goal pursuit. Although these
studies provide a first attempt to document the role of self-compassion in goal pursuit, their
cross-sectional nature makes it impossible to draw any conclusions regarding
directionality. The present study represents the first attempt to examine students’
reactions to both thwarted and successful goal pursuit. Additionally, we consider how
motivation for one’s goals may be influenced by and interact with trait self-compassion
during the first year of university.
While most researchers studying goal pursuit have focused on processes that contribute
to goal progress (e.g., self-efficacy, obstacles), others have argued the differentiating the
types of motives for pursuing a goal is critical in determining psychological health and
well-being outcomes (e.g., Ryan, Sheldon, Kasser, & Deci, 1996). Specifically, Self-
determination Theory distinguished between autonomous reasons for goal pursuit (e.g.,
doing well in school because of enjoyment and personal importance) and controlled
reasons (e.g., doing well in school to please parents, or to avoid feelings of guilt and
shame). Numerous studies have shown that autonomous (relative to controlled) motivation
leads to increased effort and goal attainment, and that attainment of autonomous goals
predicts increased well-being (Sheldon & Elliot, 1998,1999). Empirical investigations
suggest that autonomous motivation is more reliably associated with adaptive outcomes,
such as goal progress and subjective well-being, than is controlled motivation (Koestner,
Otis, Powers, Pelletier, & Gagnon, 2008).
To date, few studies have investigated why some people set more autonomous goals
than others. Given that self-compassion involves mindful attention to one’s inner states, as
well as loving kindness towards the self (e.g., Neff, 2003b), it may be likely that people
who are more self-compassionate are more likely to strive for goals for which they feel
volitional and that are personally meaningful, rather than pursuing goals due to external
pressures such as the avoidance of shame and guilt, or to obtain rewards. Additionally,
while autonomous motivation has been generally found to result in positive outcomes, it
may be particularly beneficial for some people. Specifically, it may be the case that
autonomous motivation, which reflects self-expression and the pursuit of personally
meaningful actions, will play an especially important role for individuals high in trait self-
compassion. For freshmen high in self-compassion, we expect that autonomous
motivation will have a more significant impact on well-being, as compared to peers
lower in self-compassion. Furthermore, we think that for those high in self-compassion,
autonomous motivation for goal pursuit will be more important to affect regulation than
goal progress. In other words, we think that for self-compassionate individuals, it is not
whether they are making progress on their goals that counts, it is acting in a self-
concordant manner as they pursue their goals. We focus on the relationship between self-
compassion and autonomous motivation in predicting changes in well-being, rather than
controlled motivation, due to the equivocal relationship between controlled motivation
and adaptive outcomes (e.g., Koestner, Otis, Powers, Pelletier, & Gagnon, 2008).
In addition to examining the relationships between self-compassion, goal-pursuit, and
well-being, we have also chosen to investigate the role of self-compassion in freshmen’s
Self-Compassion, Goal Pursuit, and Well-Being Among Freshmen 3
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development on the psychosocial stages of identity and intimacy, posited by Erikson
(1968) to be critical challenges to resolve for successful adaptation, in order to capture
students’ adjustment more broadly. Due to their ability to self-soothe, direct mindful
awareness to emotions, and feel a sense of common humanity during times of suffering,
we expect freshmen high in self-compassion to experience greater identity and intimacy
maturation over the course of an academic year.
The Present Study
The aim of the present study was to bridge personality research on self-compassion with
research on human motivation in a novel investigation of the role of self-compassion in
students’ goal pursuit and adjustment to university. Specifically, we prospectively
investigated the relations between new college students’ trait self-compassion, goal
progress, motivation, well-being, and psychosocial adjustment, with five time points of
comprehensive data collection from the beginning to the end of their first year of
university. Positive and negative affect and subjective life satisfaction were used as
indicators of well-being. To assess psychosocial adjustment, we looked at students’
development on the psychosocial stages of identity and intimacy, posited by Erikson
(1968) to be critical challenges to resolve for successful adaptation.
In addition to examining general prospective consequences, we were able to examine
the impact of self-compassion on a day-to-day basis through a week of daily diary
assessment, collecting information on freshmen’s goal progress and affective state each
day for a week. The two tiers of data assessment allowed us to evaluate the role of self-
compassion in adjustment over time, and in daily processes, testing the following
hypotheses: first, we hypothesized that trait self-compassion would differentially relate to
the type of goals students set, such that students high in self-compassion would pursue
goals for which they report higher level of autonomous motivation, compared to students
low in self-compassion. Second, while we did not expect self-compassion to be directly
related to goal progress over time, at the daily level we expected that self-compassion
would serve as a protective factor against thwarted goal progress. For students high in self-
compassion, we hypothesized that daily positive and negative affect would be less
contingent on daily goal progress than for students low in self-compassion. Third, we also
hypothesized that individuals high in trait self-compassion would benefit more on a daily
basis from the pursuit of autonomous goals, and thus we expected an interaction between
trait self-compassion and autonomous motivation to predict daily positive and negative
affect over the week of daily diary assessment. Finally, we expected that trait self-
compassion would be positively associated with freshmen’s changes in well-being.
Specifically, we hypothesized that students high in self-compassion would experience less
negative affect, greater positive affect, and more satisfaction with life at the end of their
freshman year (controlling for baseline levels), compared to their peers lower in self-
compassion. We also expected trait self-compassion to predict increased adjustment,
operationalized in this study as identity and intimacy resolution over time.
Method
Participants and Procedure
A total of 159 (72% females) freshmen were recruited for a study on goal progress and
personality factors from McGill University classes, university residences, and classified ads
in September. The mean age of participants was 18 (SD ¼1.04), with a range from 17 to 27
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years old. Thirty-three percent of participants were born in Canada, 23% in the USA, 16% in
China, 8% in Korea, and 20% in other countries outside of North America. Participants
attended an initial laboratory session in September (pre-test, PT), in which participants were
introduced to the requirements of the study, completed baseline measures, and provided
informed consent for participation. Following the laboratory session, participants completed
four fifteen to thirty minute surveys, disseminated online in October, December, February,
and April (T1, T2, T3, and T4), as well as one week of daily diary assessment in October.
Longitudinal Measures
Self-Compassion
In order to measure trait self-compassion, we administered the 26-item SCS (Neff, 2003a).
Participants were instructed to rate 26 items related to “how I act towards myself in
difficult times” on a 5-point Likert scale, from almost never to almost always. For each
participant, a score for mean self-compassion was calculated by averaging the mean of
three positive facets of the scale, self-kindness (sample item: “When I’m going through a
very hard time, I give myself the caring and tenderness I need”), common humanity, and
mindfulness, and the reverse scores of the three negative facets, self-judgment, isolation,
and over-identification (e.g., as recommended by Neff & Beretvas, 2013). In the present
study, the Cronbach’s alpha between the items was .80. The SCS was administered at T1.
Personal Goals
In the initial baseline questionnaire in September (PT), participants were asked to generate four
personal goals they planned on pursuing that semester. We employed instructions from previous
studies (Koestner et al., 2008) in order to help students generate their goals. Examples
participants reported include “Write a new play,” “Become less shy. Let my guard down
especially when meeting new people in school,” and “Earn a grade point average of 3.6 or
higher.”
Goal Motivation
Self-determined goal motivation was measured using Sheldon and Kasser’s (1998) reasons for
personal goal pursuit. For all four goals, participants rated five possible reasons for goal pursuit
on a 7-point Likert scale, from notatallforthisreasonto completely for this reason.Thefive
types of reasons for goal pursuit, from most to least autonomous, were intrinsic (“Because of
the fun and enjoyment which the goal will provide you—the primary reason is simply your
interest in the experience itself”), integrated (“Because you really believe that it is an important
goal to have—you endorse it freely and value it wholeheartedly”), identified (“Because it
represents who you are and reflects what you value most in life”), introjected (“Because you
would feel ashamed, guilty, or anxious if you didn’t—you feel you ought to strive for this”), and
external (“Because somebody else wants you to, or because you’ll get something from
somebody if you do it”). In line with previous research, a scale of autonomous motivation was
calculated as the mean of intrinsic, integrated, and identified scores, whereas controlled
motivation was calculated as the mean of external and introjected scores across the four goals
(Koestner et al., 2008). Goal motivation was measured at T1 and T3.
Goal Progress
At each follow-up, participants were reminded of the personal goals they had chosen, and for
each goal they were asked to rate three statements related to goal progress on a 7-point Likert
Self-Compassion, Goal Pursuit, and Well-Being Among Freshmen 5
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scale, from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The three statements were “I have made a lot
of progress toward this goal,” “I feel like I am on track with my goal plan,” and “I feel like I
have achieved this goal.” A mean score was computed for progress on each of the four goals
at each time point, and a total goal progress score was computed for each time point by
taking the mean of these four scores. Goal progress was measured at T1, T2, T3, and T4.
Positive and Negative Affect
Positive and negative affect was measured using Diener and Emmon’s Mood Report
(1984), a 9-item measure comprised of four words describing positive emotional states,
such as “joyful” and “calm,” and five words describing negative emotional states each of
which is are rated on a 7-point Likert scale to indicate the extent to which the participant
felt that way over the past two weeks. The Cronbach’s alpha for positive affect was .86,
while it was .77 for negative affect. The measure was administered at T1 and T4.
Satisfaction with Life
Subjective satisfaction with life was measured using the Satisfaction with Life Scale
(Diener, Emmons, Larsen & Griffin, 1985). The scale consists of five statements, such as
“The conditions of my life are excellent,” which participants rate on a 7-point scale from
strongly disagree to strongly agree. The Cronbach’s alpha between the items at baseline
was .83. The Satisfaction with Life Scale was administered at T1 and T4.
Psychosocial Adjustment
In order to assess psychosocial adjustment, we used two subscales of the Erikson
Psychosocial Stage Inventory (EPSI; Rosenthal, Gurney, & Moore, 1981) relevant to late
adolescence and young adulthood, one designed to measure identity resolution and one
designed to measure intimacy resolution. Each subscale consists of 12 statements rated on
a 7-point scale, from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For example, two statements
from the intimacy subscale are “I care deeply for others” and “being alone with other
people makes me feel uncomfortable” (r), while a statement from the identity subscale is
“the important things in life are clear to me.” The Cronbach’s alpha for the items
measuring identity resolution was .84, while it was .80 for the items measuring intimacy
resolution at baseline. The EPSI was administered at the PT in September and T3.
Daily Diary Data Collection
For seven consecutive days in October, participants completed nightly measures reporting
on that day’s goal progress, positive affect, and negative affect. The questionnaires were
disseminated to participants nightly at 10:15 pm. One hundred and nine participants
completed at least four of the nightly measures from the week of daily diary collection, and
the measure of trait self-compassion at T1. Among these 109 participants, over 90% of
daily surveys sent were completed.
Daily Measures
To assess dailygoal progress, participants were reminded of each of their four goals, and asked
to rate how much progress they felt they had made towards achieving each of their goals on a
7-point scale from 1 (not at all)to7(very much). We calculated daily goal progress as the
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mean of reported progress across the four goals. To assess negative and positive affect,
participants were administered the 9-item Diener and Emmon’s Mood Report (1984), and
asked to rate the extent to which they experienced each emotion during that day.
Results
Analytic Strategy
As we were interested in both longitudinal and daily diary outcomes, we used two types of
analyses. To examine our longitudinal questions of the effects of self-compassion on
motivation, well-being, and adjustment, we conducted a series of hierarchical regression
analyses. Preliminary data screening showed that the data were normally distributed and
there were no outliers, making it suitable for conducting regressions. To examine the
impact of trait self-compassion on daily affect, and test for interaction with autonomous
motivation for goals and daily fluctuations in goal progress, we performed two-level
multilevel modeling (MLM) in SPSS 20. In the two-level MLM analyses, days were
nested within subjects, with daily variables (e.g., goal progress, negative affect, positive
affect) representing level-1 and trait variables (e.g., self-compassion, autonomous
motivation) representing level-2. These analyses were restricted to the 109 participants
who completed the measure of trait self-compassion at T1, and responded to at least four
of the daily surveys from the seven days of daily diary collection.
Daily Fluctuations in Goal Progress and Self-Compassion Predicting Affect
First, we tested our hypothesis that trait self-compassion would interact with daily
fluctuations in goal progress to predict daily positive and negative affect. As recommended
by Nezlak (2012), prior to conducting the analyses, we centered the predictor daily goal
progress around each person’s mean reported daily goal progress across the week. This
enabled us to examine the impact of daily person-centered fluctuations in goal progress,
rather than daily reported goal progress on negative and positive affect, which could be
biased by response tendencies. In all analyses, we also included day of the week the
responses were recorded and participant gender as predictors, to control for the impact of
both variables on affect regulation.
With daily negative affect as the dependent variable in the model, we entered gender,
day of the week, daily fluctuations in goal progress, trait self-compassion, and the
interaction between trait self-compassion and daily fluctuations in goal progress as fixed
predictors in the two-level mixed model. Gender and day of the week were unrelated to
daily negative affect. Trait self-compassion was significantly negatively associated with
daily negative affect (
b
¼2.68, SE ¼.134, t¼25.09, p,.001). Daily fluctuations in
goal progress were also significantly negatively associated with daily negative affect
(
b
¼2.58, SE ¼.224, t¼22.57, p,.05). Finally, the interaction between self-
compassion and daily fluctuations in goal progress significantly positively predicted
nightly negative affect (
b
¼.19, SE ¼.07, t¼2.5, p,.05) (Aiken & West, 1991).
We employed Preacher, Curran, and Bauer’s (2006) computational tools for examining
2-way interactions in multi-level models, in order to test the simple slope for significance
at high (Mþ1SD) and low (M21SD) trait self-compassion (Aiken & West, 1991). T-
tests for simple slope revealed that the simple slope of the association between daily
fluctuations in goal progress and nightly negative affect was significant at low self-
compassion (b¼2.16(.08), t¼22.07, p,.05), while it was insignificant for
individuals high in self-compassion (b¼.08(.07), t¼1.14, ns). Examining the interaction
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(see Figure 1), it can be observed that for people low in self-compassion, negative affect
tends to increase on days that they make less goal progress. However, for people high in
self-compassion, negative affect does not increase on days for which goal progress is
thwarted. These results support our hypothesis that trait self-compassion may buffer
against the detrimental effects of deflated goal progress on daily affect.
Next, we examined whether self-compassion and daily fluctuations in goal progress
also impacted daily positive affect, as predicted. As with the analyses for negative affect,
we entered gender, day of the week, daily fluctuations in goal progress, trait self-
compassion, and the interaction between daily fluctuations in goal progress and trait self-
compassion as predictors of daily positive affect in the two-level model, nested within
subject. Gender and day of the week were unrelated to daily positive affect, while daily
fluctuations in goal progress (
b
¼.61, SE ¼.24, t¼2.56, p,.05) and trait self-
compassion (
b
¼.30, SE ¼.15, t¼2.06, p,.05) were significantly positively related to
positive affect. There was a marginally significant effect for the interaction between trait
self-compassion and daily fluctuations in goal progress negatively predicting daily
positive affect (
b
¼2.13, SE ¼.08, t¼21.65, p,.10). It seems that while self-
compassion moderates the effect of goal progress on negative affect, it does not
significantly moderate the effect of goal progress on positive affect (see Figure 2).
T-tests for simple slopes revealed that the slope of the association between daily
fluctuations in goal progress and nightly positive affect was significant at both low self-
compassion, M21SD, (b¼.325 (.08), t¼4.34, p,.001), and high self-compassion,
Mþ1SD, (b¼.15(.07), t¼2.31, p,.05).
Trait Self-Compassion and Autonomous Motivation for Goals
Next, we examined whether trait self-compassion and autonomous motivation measured at
the T1 survey (temporally, the closest measurement of autonomous motivation to the week
of daily diary assessment) interacted to predict daily negative and positive affect. Once
again, we performed MLM analyses, with daily recordings of affect and trait variables
nested within subject. First, examining daily negative affect as the dependent variable, we
entered gender, day of the week, trait self-compassion, mean autonomous motivation, and
FIGURE 1 Interaction between trait self-compassion and daily fluctuations in goal
progress predicting daily negative affect.
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the interaction between self-compassion and autonomous motivation as fixed predictors in
the model. Results revealed that gender, day of the week, self-compassion, and
autonomous motivation were unrelated to nightly negative affect; however, the interaction
between self-compassion and autonomous motivation was significantly related to nightly
negative affect (
b
¼2.15, SE ¼.05, t¼23.19, p,.01). We repeated the analyses with
daily positive affect as the dependent variable, and did not find a significant interaction
between self-compassion and autonomous motivation predicting daily positive affect
(
b
¼.08, SE ¼.05, t¼1.52, ns).
Graphing the interaction between self-compassion and autonomous motivation in
predicting negative affect (see Figure 3), it can be seen that individuals high in trait self-
compassion tend to report lower levels of negative affect (NA) than those low in self-
compassion. However, individuals high in self-compassion seem to be more affected day
to day (in terms of daily reported negative affect), by the degree to which the goals they are
pursuing are endorsed as autonomous. It appears that for individuals high in self-
compassion, it is particularly important to be pursuing goals towards which they feel
autonomous.
1
Self-Compassion and Affective Variability Across the Week
Finally, we examined whether trait self-compassion was related to greater affective stability
across the week of daily diary assessment. In order to examine this question, we conducted
two hierarchical regressions, the first to examine the association between self-compassion
and variability in NA, and the second to examine the association between self-compassion
and variability in positive affect (PA). As the dependent variables, we calculated the
standard deviation across each person’s daily reported NA and PA. By calculating the
standard deviation for reported NA and PA, we had an individual variance score that
represented fluctuations in affect across the week. For example, a high standard deviation in
NA across the week would represent a wider range in reported experience of negative
feelings, such as anger and sadness, whereas a low standard deviation would represent
greater stability in reported NA.
FIGURE 2 Trend effect for interaction between trait self-compassion and daily
fluctuations in goal progress predicting daily positive affect.
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In the first regression, participants’ standard deviation in NA across the week was entered
as the dependent variable, while mean NA was entered in the first block of the regression and
trait self-compassion was entered in the second block of the regression. At the first step of
the regression, mean NA was marginally negatively related to participants’ standard
deviation of NA across the week (
b
¼2.18, t¼21.86, p,.1). At the second step of the
regression, trait self-compassion was significantly negatively related to standard deviation of
NA across the week (
b
¼2.26, t¼22.433, p,.05), supporting our hypothesis that self-
compassion would be associated with less fluctuation in NA across the week.
In the regression predicting variability in reported PA, at the first step of the regression,
mean PA was marginally negatively related to participants’ standard deviation of PA
across the week (
b
¼2.18, t¼21.86, p,.1). Once again, at the second step of the
regression, trait self-compassion was significantly negatively related to standard deviation
of PA across the week (
b
¼2.40, t¼24.47, p,.001).
Longitudinal Results
Preliminary Analyses
Correlational analyses revealed that students’ level of self-compassion in October (T1)
was significantly positively associated with autonomous motivation for goals at T1
(r ¼.22, p,.05) and T3 (r¼.25, p,.05), and negatively associated with controlled
motivation at T1 (r¼2.21, p,.05), but unrelated to controlled motivation at T3
(r¼2.17, ns). While we predicted that self-compassion would be unrelated to goal
progress, self-compassion was marginally positively related to goal progress at T1
(r¼.20, p,.10), but unrelated at T2 and T3 (r¼.08 and .00, respectively).
Self-Compassion and Adaptation Over the Year
In order to test our hypotheses that higher levels of self-compassion would predict more
successful adaptation to the first year of college, we conducted a series of hierarchical
regression analyses to examine whether trait self-compassion measured in October would
predict changes in negative affect, positive affect, life satisfaction, identity resolution, and
FIGURE 3 Interaction between trait self-compassion and autonomous motivation for
personal goals predicting daily negative affect.
N. Hope et al.10
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intimacy resolution over the academic year. In the present study, NA, PA, and life
satisfaction were measured in October and April, while identity and intimacy resolution
were measured in September and February.
Changes in NA, PA, and Life Satisfaction from October to April
We performed a series of three hierarchical regressions, examining NA as the dependent
variable in the first regression, PA in the second regression, and life satisfaction in the third
regression. In the first step of each regression, the measure of the dependant variable at T1
(e.g., T1 NA) and gender were entered in order to control for the effects of both, while self-
compassion (measured at T1) was entered in the second block. Entering the baseline
scores for the DVs in the first block allows us to use self-compassion to predict residual
change in the dependent variable.
Regarding changes in NA, at the first step of the regression, T1 NA was significantly
positively related to T4 NA, while gender was unrelated. At the second step, self-compassion
accounted for an additional 7% of the variance in later NA (see Table 1), and was significantly
negatively related to T4 NA (see Table 1). At the first step of the regression for PA, T1 PA and
gender accounted for 25% of the variance in later PA. T1 PA was significantly positively
associatedwith T4 PA, while gender was unrelated to T4 PA. At the second step, a marginally
significanteffect emerged for self-compassion positively predicting T4 PA. At the first step of
the regression for life satisfaction, T1 life satisfaction was significantly positively related to T4
life satisfaction, while gender was unrelated. At the second step, self-compassion was
significantly positively associated with T4 life satisfaction.
Changes in Psychosocial Adjustment, from September to February
We performed two hierarchical regressions to examine whether self-compassion predicted
changes in identity or intimacy resolution from September (PT) to February (T3). In both
regressions, stage resolution at T3 was entered as the dependent variable, while PT stage
resolution and gender were entered as predictors in the first block of the regression, and
trait self-compassion was entered in the second block.
At the first step of the regression predicting changes in identity resolution, PT identity
resolution was significantly related to T3 identity resolution, while gender was unrelated.
At the second step, self-compassion was significantly positively associated with T3
identity resolution (see Table 1). Regarding the results for changes in intimacy resolution,
at the first step, PT intimacy resolution was significantly positively related to T3 intimacy
resolution, while gender was unrelated. At the second step, self-compassion was unrelated
to T3 intimacy resolution and did not account for additional variance in the model.
TABLE 1 Results of Two-Step Hierarchical Regressions
Dependent variable nChange in Rsquare
b
tSignificance level
T4 negative affect 85 .07 2.29 22.90 p,.01
T4 positive affect 85 .03 .18 1.71 p,.10
T4 life satisfaction 85 .02 .17 1.99 p,.05
T3 identity resolution 90 .03 .19 2.33 p,.05
T3 intimacy resolution 90 .01 .08 .92 ns
Note: The relationship between self-compassion and change in adaptive variables across the year. In
all regressions, gender and baseline measures (e.g., NA at T1) of the dependent variable are entered
at the first step, and trait self-compassion entered at the second step.
Self-Compassion, Goal Pursuit, and Well-Being Among Freshmen 11
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In summary, trait self-compassion was significantly related to higher levels of life
satisfaction and identity development, lower levels of negative affect, and somewhat
higher levels of positive affect over the course of the school year. Self-compassion was
unrelated to changes in intimacy development.
Discussion
In the present study, we found evidence for self-compassion as both a protective and
adaptive factor for students entering University. In the daily diary data collection, MLM
analyses revealed that trait self-compassion interacted with daily fluctuations in goal
progress to predict nightly negative affect. As hypothesized, we found that holding high
levels of trait self-compassion was protective against the tendency to experience
heightened negative affect on days in which less goal progress was made. Individuals low
in self-compassion experienced significantly greater negative affect on days in which they
attained less goal progress, while individuals high in trait self-compassion did not tend to
fluctuate in negative affect as a function of goal progress. Neff and Vonk (2009) found that
trait self-compassion was related to greater stability in self-worth over time compared to
trait self-esteem. Similarly, we found that individuals high in self-compassion vacillated
significantly less in terms of negative affect, and marginally less in terms of positive affect,
in response to daily changes in goal progress. We also found that trait self-compassion was
negatively related to individual variability in NA and PA across the week, when
controlling for baseline affect.
While individuals high in self-compassion were less affected by daily fluctuations in
goal progress than their peers, we found that they were more affected by the motivation
behind their goal pursuit. In line with our hypothesis, individuals high in trait self-
compassion benefited more from pursuing goals for which they felt autonomous,
compared to individuals low in trait self-compassion. Autonomy refers to a sense of acting
in a volitional and authentic manner, and it is captured by reports of pursuing behaviors
because they are connected to one’s interests and values. Specifically, those high in self-
compassion tend to experience a greater drop in daily negative affect when they were
pursuing goals towards which they held more autonomous motivation, whereas for those
low in self-compassion variations in negative affect were less tied to autonomous
motivation.
Interestingly, the moderator effects for self-compassion obtained with the daily reports
suggest that highly self-compassionate individuals are less emotionally affected by the
amount of goal progress they are making, but more affected by whether the goals they are
pursuing are self-expressive and personally meaningful. This pattern hints at the
possibility that highly self-compassionate people are more attuned to the process and
meaning of their goal pursuits rather than to the success of such pursuits. These data
suggest that for the highly self-compassionate, the key to feeling good is to be pursuing the
right goals rather than to be achieving success at these goals.
Results from the 5-month prospective study demonstrated that self-compassion
predicted increased NA, PA, and life satisfaction over time. Thus, not only do freshmen
high in self-compassion seem to experience greater PA and significantly less NA on a daily
basis, as seen in the daily diary data, but they tend to continue to grow happier than their
peers over the school year. Furthermore, freshmen high in trait self-compassion tend to
experience increased maturation in terms of identity resolution.
While we found an association between self-compassion and increased identity
resolution from September to February, we did not find an association between self-
compassion and increased intimacy resolution. Erikson theorized eight psychosocial
N. Hope et al.12
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stages across the lifespan, at which a different challenge relevant to the particular
developmental period would be faced, and competencies gained if successfully overcome
(1982). According to Erikson, resolution of the identity and intimacy stages is critical to
well-being and psychological health in adulthood (1968). While Erikson situated the
identity stage as primarily unfolding in adolescence, more contemporary personality
researchers (e.g., Arnett, 2000;Co
ˆte
´& Levine, 1989) have argued this period has become
increasingly delayed in modern North American society, with prolonged periods of
education, delayed marital commitments, and delayed entry into the workforce. Given this
increasingly common experience of emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2000) between
adolescence and adulthood for North American youth, it is likely that identity
development is a more central concern than intimacy development for college freshman.
Future Directions and Limitations
While the present study suggested that self-compassion serves as a protective factor, causality
cannot be inferred from our data. It would be necessary to design randomized controlled
experiments to confirm causal relationships. Furthermore, the present study exclusively relied
on self-report measurement, limiting the validity and interpretability of the findings. Finally,
while our longitudinal results were statistically significant, the effect sizes were modest.
Future research can examine what other contextual factors may strengthen the effects.
In the present study, we found prospective associations between trait self-compassion
and adaptive changes in affect, life satisfaction, and identity resolution. This raises the
question of whether young people trained to execute self-compassionate behaviors and
cognitions in response to experiences of disappointment or suffering would (a)
significantly increase in trait self-compassion compared to a control group, and (b)
significantly increase in subjective well-being overtime. Currently, there is limited
evidence of the efficacy of self-compassion based interventions for clinical populations
(e.g., Gilbert & Proctor, 2006; Kelly, Zuroff, & Shapira, 2009) and community adults
(Neff & Germer, 2013). Based on the results of the present study, an examination of the
effects of a brief self-compassion based intervention on well-being and adaptive
functioning of new college entrants is warranted. In a 2009 study, Kelly and colleagues
found that a self-compassion intervention for chronic acne sufferers, in which participants
were trained to reduce self-attacks, significantly decreased symptoms of depression, skin
complaints, and feelings of shame compared to the control group. In a subsequent study,
Kelly, Zuroff, Foa, and Gilbert (2010) found that a self-compassion imagery and self-talk
intervention on a group of smokers looking to quit reduced daily smoking more rapidly
than a baseline self-monitoring condition. There is also evidence supporting Gilbert’s
Compassionate Mind Training (CMT; Gilbert & Irons, 2005) among clinical populations,
demonstrating that CMT may be an effective treatment for lessening feels of shame and
self-criticism that often play a prominent role in the manifestation of disorders such as
major depression (Gilbert & Proctor, 2006; Mayhew & Gilbert, 2008).
While much of the focus on self-compassion interventions has been on clinical utility of
self-compassion interventions, the results of the present study, along with previous studies
(e.g., Neff et al., 2005; Neely et al., 2009), suggest that fostering trait self-compassion may
be useful for everyone. Recently, Neff and Germer (2013) have evaluated the effects of a
mindful self-compassion program on community adults in both a pilot study and
randomized controlled trial (RCT). In the RCT, participants in the intervention group
showed greater increases in self-compassion, other-compassion, mindfulness, and life
satisfaction, as well as greater decreases in symptoms of anxiety and depression compared
to the control group. Given the significant benefits of self-compassion on adaptation to
Self-Compassion, Goal Pursuit, and Well-Being Among Freshmen 13
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university that we have found as well as the findings of Neff and Germer’s RCT,
administering a brief self-compassion intervention to incoming freshmen could have long-
term adaptive consequences.
Conclusion
Given the recent upsurge in emotional health difficulties for college freshmen (e.g., Pryor et al.,
2010), the present study used a five-wave prospective design and daily experiences sampling to
explore the potential moderating role of self-compassion. It seems that self-compassion
protected students from liability to negative affect on days when they failed at their goals. Self-
compassion also seems to have promoted successful adaptation over the school year in terms of
well-being and psychosocial outcomes. We encourage more research on the development of
self-compassion and the effects of enhancing self-compassion in young adult populations.
Exploring ways of promoting self-compassion could be a valuable avenue for researchers and
improve long-term adaptive functioning for recipients of such training programs.
Note
1. We also probed for a three-way interaction between self-compassion, autonomous
motivation, and goal progress, in order to examine whether self-compassion, autonomous
motivation, and goal progress interacted to predict PA and NA. However, no significant
three-way interaction was uncovered.
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... Τα ευρήματα της παρούσας μελέτης συμφωνούν με τη βιβλιογραφία και η αυτοσυμπόνια σχετίζεται θετικά με την αναγνώριση του ρατσισμού ως σημαντικού προβλήματος και, επί πλέον, οι φοιτητές και οι φοιτήτριες που πρόσφεραν στον εαυτό τους την αυτοσυμπόνια και την κατανόηση βρέθηκε να αντιμετωπίζουν και τον «άλλο», τον διαφορετικό, με λιγότερο ρατσιστικές αντιλήψεις. 14, [45][46][47][48] Στους περιορισμούς της μελέτης περιλαμβάνεται κατ' αρχάς το γεγονός ότι πρόκειται για συγχρονική μελέτη που αποτυπώνει τη συσχέτιση αυτοσυμπόνιας, αντιλήψεων ρατσισμού και κοινωνικο-δημογραφικών χαρακτηριστικών φοιτητριών και φοιτητών σε μια δεδομένη χρονική στιγμή και δεν εξετάζεται η διαχρονική πορεία της εν λόγω συσχέτισης. Με δεδομένο ότι τα κοινωνικο-δημογραφικά χαρακτηριστικά των νέων ανθρώπων μεταβάλλονται συνεχώς, μια συγχρονική μελέτη δεν οδηγεί στα αξιόπιστα συμπεράσματα μιας μελέτης κοορτής. ...
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