Self Compassion for Weight Loss and Guilt-free Resilience!
It's easy to think the way to our goals is being tougher on ourselves, especially when trying to change our habits. People take on all or nothing diets, unrealistic workout schedules, and my least favorite, harsh self-criticism.
We act like the secret to success is tough talk from an internal drill instructor- that we need loud, intense discipline to reach our goals. Then we feel mentally weak and terrible when we run into problems.
In The Happiness Lab podcast episode "Dump Your Inner Drill Sergeant," Dr. Laurie Santos brings on psychologist, professor, and author Dr. Kristin Neff to talk about self-compassion. It fits perfectly into the Fit for Freelance Guilt-free Framework, where we build adaptive business leaders through compassionate health coaching.
Self-COmpassion is the foundation to adaptive self-esteem
What's the difference between self-criticism, guilt, and shame?
To understand self-compassion, it helps to understand when it's missing. Early in the episode, Dr. Neff says self-criticism is an action; guilt and shame are possible results of the criticism.
Self-criticism can be aimed at different targets and have a range of emotions, so it's not necessarily a bad thing. In other words, being "critical" of a behavior we've done will have a different effect from attributing a behavior to our personal characteristics. "I did a bad thing" vs "I am a bad person."
Also, self-criticism from a healthy moral compass can lead to guilt that guides us to be kind towards others.
Dr. Neff says when we internalize shame from misdirected self-criticism, we can:
- feel hollow and dissociate from our bodies
- make it harder to course-correct or apologize
- block out the truth about the consequences of our actions, and
- lose motivation to do better next time
So, contrary to our intuition, being hard on yourself actually makes it harder to reach your goals! (Instead, our clients focus on adapting in and managing our environment.)
Shame's not a motivating mindset; it's actually a debilitating mindset
When we feel threatened, we naturally go into a fight, flight, or freeze response. Attacking the danger is natural, but counterproductive when our own mistake makes us feel threatened. Using harsh thoughts to control yourself and your safety can keep you a stuck casual implementer.
Shame is directly connected to the flight response, as we hide from further criticism from ourselves and others. If you tell yourself you're mentally weak or stupid for trying, you reduce your perceived risk of embarrassment or another attempt.
Rumination, anxiety, and repeated negative thoughts are the freezing response. Dr. Neff compares it to playing dead, but I think of it more like a deer in headlights. I defer to her expertise =)
How would you treat a good friend?
Dr. Neff goes on to say we don't feel as threatened when a friend makes a mistake, so it's easier to be kind and caring to someone else than to ourselves. Later, she talks about how kindness and compassion tie into our mammalian care system, where we feel safe, close, and connected to others. She lists benefits like:
- mental and physical health
- better exercise, immune function, and sleep
- improved trauma recovery, learning performance, and motivation;
- better relationships and sex
"It's like the ability to support ourselves with self compassion is a superpower."
Imagine how your child would respond if you shamed them how you might shame yourself? If you said things like "You're an idiot. I don't love you anymore, I hate you. You're a horrible person." That wouldn't be helpful, would it?
What if, instead, you said, "It's ok, mistakes happen, let's clean this up. How can I help?" That child would feel less shame, and be better positioned for success. From this example, we might remember a parent, teacher, or caregiver who wasn't always able to support us. However, as adults, we are empowered to be the compassionate and adaptive leaders we need for ourselves, or get a coach to help us practice this superpower.
Dr. Neff states that research supports this- people who score higher in self-compassion tests, or who are reminded to relate to themselves compassionately after a failure:
- Try harder and persist longer
- Are more likely and motivated to try again
Comment below: How does self-compassion help you lead the healthy, fulfilling life of your dreams?
Self-esteem vs self-compassion
According to Dr. Neff, self-esteem is an internal measure of self worth. She discusses how the method is more important than the result:
If you have high self-esteem from feeling superior and constantly comparing to others, your self-esteem is dependent on your success. So when you inevitably run into challenges, your self-esteem plummets. It's like if you've taught a student he is much smarter than his classmates, he will be especially crushed when he fails a test.
On the other hand, self-compassion is not dependent on success. It's the process of being kind, warm, and supportive to yourself, even in the midst of a failure or struggle. There is an element of unconditional acceptance. This is telling a student he is resilient- when he fails a test, he will try new resources and efforts to pass.
So in our most trying moments, self-compassion is the foundation to adaptive self-esteem. It is the difference between saying "I'm mentally weak and I suck at this," and "Oops, I need to make some adjustments."
It's important to note that self-compassion is not just pretending things are perfect. It's actually recognizing the truth of our imperfections and how certain situations challenge us.
Self-compassion for weight loss is not selfish or pity
Mindfulness is a key to self-compassion. It gives us awareness and lets us accept the difficult emotions connected to our shortcomings. Minding these feelings lets us, or a friend or coach, support us through connection. Recognizing the Latin in compassion meaning "to suffer with," Dr. Neff says self-compassion is not self-focused. Rather, it's about connecting with others on the humanity of making mistakes, instead of feeling isolated, ashamed, and lonely.
It's not like we have 3 compassion drink tickets to split between self and everyone else each day. Instead, think of it as a delicious wine we share freely because have so much of it at home.
On the other hand, selfishness and pity have a sense of relative superiority/inferiority compared to others.
Self compassion isn't passive and lazy- it's courage directed by principles
There is a popular perception that being compassionate is being soft. I know that's dangerously wrong. Dr. Neff agrees when she talks about balancing fierce and tender self-compassion, comparing it to yin and yang.
- Fierce- making aggressive changes to unhealthy patterns, protecting yourself and your boundaries
- Tender- accepting yourself and the situation for clarity to heal and assess effective choices
In Conclusion: How to use self compassion for weight loss
Though this is a major pillar to the Guilt-free Framework, I didn't want to summarize the whole episode because Dr. Neff says it so well herself. Please check out the podcast episode yourself.
4 tips from Dr. Kristin Neff to dump your inner drill sergeant:
- Ask- what would I say to a friend? or what would a compassionate friend or grandparent say to me?
- Mindfulness- accept how challenging the situation is
- Remember, everyone makes mistakes; you aren't alone and this is part of the process
- Give yourself kindness
Ready to practice self compassion for weight loss?
You could get the results you want through force, and there are plenty of hardcore disciplinarian health coaches out there. But if you want self compassion for weight loss, Fit for Freelance is dedicated to building adaptive business leaders through compassionate health coaching. I'll even share podcasts from "The Happiness Lab" as we help you lead the healthy, fulfilling life of your dreams.
If you're ready to learn more about your very own Guilt-free Gameplan, visit fitforfreelance.com/coaching.