I’ve been there. The horrible, self perpetuating cycle of messing up, feeling awful guilt, hating myself, and then promising to be better next time. Except next time comes, and I’m filled with so much anxiety that I inevitably end up messing up again.
This can apply to food choices, exercise, amounts of food consumed, or even just general interpersonal actions.
How many times have you been really hurtful to yourself and found yourself trapped in a guilt cycle? Now ask yourself, is this method working?
Negative self talk and deprivation might work in the short term, but they do not yield long term results or lend themselves to good quality of life. And after all, it is so clichéd but we only have one life, and it really is too darn short to spend it feeling like you are letting yourself down every day, and hating yourself as a result.
This brings us to self compassion:
There is a way to experience deep happiness and peace within yourself and your choices, and to fully trust your body. This is known as the practice of self compassion.
It is pretty self explanatory, but this simple concept is one so many choose to ignore! Self- compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure or general suffering.
It is composed of:
- Common humanity
When combined, these three constituents of self compassion provide a very effective tool to deal with negative emotions. For instance, during a personally challenging time/experience, be mindful and aware of your thoughts and feelings, but let your response to them be kind and non judgmental, while understanding that pain and challenging times are experienced by all people and are simply just a part of the human condition. Remember that self compassion is not an attempt make all pain go away, it is about having a caring response and providing support in order to bear the pain.
Recent research suggests that the practice of self-compassion is associated with better quality of life and decreased severity of anxiety and depression. It is also very effective when transforming your mindset around weight loss goals, as we all know that healthy habits start in the mind. This study shows that the combination of both mindfulness and self compassion meditation proved to be the most effective self help weight loss tool when compared to using just one of them, or none at all.
When you are kinder to yourself you actually empower yourself to change your habits more than if you are too self critical. The motivation and sense of self worth you cultivate within help you to continually try to improve yourself on a day to day basis. They also prevent the falling off the rails that occurs when people set unrealistic expectations for themselves, fail, and then abandon their exploits altogether. All or nothing approaches are tempting for people who struggle with discipline but are unfortunately just very hard to sustain!
So here are some ways to be kinder to yourself and finally reach those goals you have set:
• When you feel overwhelmed with any negative emotion (anxiety, anger, sadness, etc), first pull back for a moment and engage in a mindfulness practice like focusing on breath. Then engage in a self care behavioural act like making a cup of tea or going to stand outside for a few minutes. Once you have done this you will be better equipped to deal with your situation.
• Be consistent in your approach to building habits, but each time you fail, remember that you can’t expect to change overnight. A small improvement each day still counts as a step forward. Learn to love to process, appreciate each small bit of progress, and do not aim for perfection.
• Be mindful of the voice in your head. When you mess up, instead of being self-critical, speak to yourself as you would a child or close friend. Replace “I have no self control, I am never going to be able to reach my goal,” with “I messed up today, but I have gotten it right before and I will get it right tomorrow. I totally have the power to do this.”
• When you do mess up, evaluate the events that led to the slip up in a non judgmental way, and formulate a way to prevent it from happening again. It is almost like a mini postmortem of the mess up, coupled with a practical action plan for next time. Don’t dwell on it, but look forward to the next situation so that you are in a position to prevent the same thing from happening again.
• Remember this quote by Danny Lennon: “Consistently good will always beat intermittently perfect.”
For anyone who would like to look further into this concept and better equip themselves to implement it into their daily lives, I highly recommend these self compassion guided exercises. They will really expand your understanding of the concept, and deepen the level at which you apply this personally.