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When self-compassion heals our heart, it also counters a lack of motivation

Author: Yasuhiro Kotera

Associate Professor at University of Nottingham

Full article here (open access)

Kotera Y, Asano K, Kotera H, Ohshima R, Rushforth A. (2022). Mental health of Japanese workers: Amotivation mediates self-compassion on mental health problems. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Workplace mental health is a great cause for concern in many countries. Globally, about 80% of workers suffer from mental distress in 2020. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers have reported additional mental distress. In the UK, 55% of workers who suffered from mental illness reported the negative effect of COVID-19. In Singapore, high levels of depression and anxiety were reported in a national survey, where 70% of the sample was employed in the workforce. Likewise, half of Chinese healthcare workers have reported high depression and anxiety.

Poor workplace mental health in Japan has been known for many years. A recent national survey asking about mental health in Japanese organisations found that 54% of employees reported work-related stress relating to a high workload (43%), troubles in relationships with colleagues (35%) and high-stress work tasks (31%).

Self-compassion is kindness and understanding towards oneself in difficult times. Supporting yourself in challenging times of life is important to your mental health. Unsurprisingly, self-compassion is strongly associated with workers’ mental health (see our systematic review on self-compassion:

Another construct relevant to mental health is work motivation. The degree to which you are willing to engage with your work activities is also linked to mental health. Highly motivated workers tend to perform well and maintain good well-being. I am sure you have witnessed this phenomenon at your workplace. In the self-determination theory, motivation is categorised into intrinsic motivation (you work because it is inherently fun and satisfying), extrinsic motivation (you work because you want something external from it such as money and fame), and amotivation (you are not motivated to work). In general, intrinsic motivation is linked with good mental health, whereas extrinsic motivation and amotivation are linked with poor mental health. Amotivation in particular is often strongly associated with poor mental health.

In our new study, we explored the ways these variables relate to each other, and the most novel finding was that among the three motivation types, only amotivation mediated the pathway from self-compassion to mental health. A mediating relationship was not present with intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

When self-compassion improves mental health, it also counters a lack of motivation. This finding suggests that for an amotivated employee who is not motivated to work, supporting their kindness towards themselves may address their motivation issue, which in turn can help their mental health. Theoretically, a lack of motivation can be explained by self-criticism or shame, which is a key component of depression. Having an understanding attitude towards oneself can reduce self-criticism and shame, leading to reduced amotivation and improved mental health. This study offers an additional advantage (i.e., work motivation) of introducing self-compassion training to Japanese organisations.


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