Why is it that we treat others more kindly than we treat ourselves? This post explores the power and importance of self compassion in achieving weight loss, health and wellness goals.
Imagine a friend sitting in front of you, confessing to their struggle with eating healthy. Maybe your friend is a new mom, just going back to work and having a difficult time finding balance. Maybe they started a new job which requires travel, and can't seem to find healthy options on the road. Or maybe they simply hit a slump and lost the motivation to cook healthy meals at home.
What would you say? Would you call your friend a lazy slob? Tell them you're disappointed in their choices and actions? Are you the type of friend to respond with criticism and judgement? Would you tell them they've already messed up, so they might as well eat themselves into an Oreo coma?
If so, hate to break it to you, but you're kind of a horrible person. Or a middle school girl. Basically the same thing.
Since I'm fairly positive all my readers are kind, compassionate people, I'm going to presume no one would dare say, or even think anything like that. You would listen to your friend, comfort them, remind them what they're going through is a common struggle, and maybe even offer up some advice.
So, why talk to ourselves in this negative, criticizing and judgmental manner?
I've spent an undo amount of time trying to figure out the answer to this question, partly because it's something I see my clients struggle with, and partly because it's a trap I fall into myself.
I think we tend to be harder on ourselves than others because we mistake compassion for permission. We're scared if we forgive ourself for overindulging or missing a workout, that gives a free pass to do it again. In theory, the criticism should motivate us to do better the next time.
It doesn't work that way. Self criticism leads to insecurity and anxiety. It's a self-defeating habit that almost always leads to failure. Self talk holds a powerful subconscious influence on our actions.
In other words, if you think you're a failure, you''ll act like a failure.
A long definition of self compassion can be found here, but basically, it involves changing your self talk to reflect the same kindness and compassion you would display to others.
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There are many benefits of self compassion. Demonstrating self compassion after failure improves chances for long term success. Removing yourself from the emotion of the failure and objectively surveying the situation allows you to develop a better plan for next time. It allows you to constructively criticize instead of outright criticizing. Self compassion removes guilt. It increases resilience and decreases stress. By practicing self compassion, you'll feel less alone by experiencing the common humanity in your struggle.
Next time you catch yourself being critical after overeating or a not-exactly-worth-it splurge, stop and use that moment to practice self compassion. What would you tell a friend going through the same struggle? How would you treat them? Try comforting yourself with a physical gesture, like a hug. Seems weird, any maybe it is, but giving yourself a hug has actually been shown to have a soothing effect. Create a meaningful mantra, something to remind you that your struggle is part of life and you're not alone.
Because you're not alone. Everyone struggles. Everyone fails. We're all perfectly imperfect.