Let’s set the scene: you are chatting with a friend, and they are sharing their struggles with sticking to a goal. Odds are you are likely to offer support, encouragement, and compassion, they are your friend after all, and they would do the same for you. Then why is it that when we struggle with our own setbacks, some of us are less likely to show ourselves the same compassion that we would show a friend?
“Often times you don’t see yourself as someone to take care of like you would a child, or a friend,” says Dr. Terese Weinstein Katz, MFT, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist who specialized in diet-related issues. “It’s an over-determined thing in our culture that we tend to be nicer to other people and harder on ourselves.”
It turns out that showing yourself a little self-compassion can go a long way. Studies have shown that people who practice self-compassion are more likely to eat well, exercise and take good care of themselves.
So, what exactly is self-compassion? “It’s giving yourself the same kind of understanding, basic kindness, forgiveness, and encouragement that you would give a friend,” says Katz. It’s understanding and accepting that you are not perfect, and cutting yourself some slack.
How it works
When you show yourself kindness and empathy you are better able to see your successes and failures as a part of a bigger picture.
Struggles with self-compassion can arise when we are trying to make a change. “It’s not just weight loss. Any kind of major change that is going to be at times uncomfortable, and is going to take some effort, is better achieved if you come from a place of relaxation and self-acceptance, rather than trying to bully yourself into trying to do something,” says Katz.
Being hard on yourself can lead you on a downward spiral; the tougher you are on yourself, the worse you feel about yourself. “It’s difficult to take on a challenge and believe you are going to be successful when you are being hard on yourself,” says Katz.
By showing yourself compassion you are more easily able to keep track of times where you are having trouble. Is it a certain time of day that has you making bad choices, or an emotional situation that has you reaching for the ice cream? If you are being nice to yourself you can take a step back and ask yourself what happened, and see the situation a little more objectively.
“Self-compassion allows yourself to look at imperfect times – and with weight loss, there are always going to be imperfect times – and ask yourself what happened, and figure out a practical way forward. It allows people to start making some different choices and to get out of slip ups more easily and effectively,” says Katz.
Self-compassion sounds great, but how can you incorporate it into your life in a practical way? Dr. Katz shares some tips and tricks to start being kinder to yourself today:
Write it down
“Start to notice where you are being hard on yourself. Keep a journal to note what’s going on around the times you want to eat, or have just eaten. It’s a great place to check in with yourself and see how you are feeling and what you are saying to yourself. Then you can start to talk yourself through these times and feelings differently,” she says.
Is journaling not your thing? No problem, simply jot down one or two sentences, positive or negative in your phone, to help you keep track of times where you may experience struggle.
Say it out loud
A big way we are unkind to ourselves is the way we talk to ourselves. “Sometimes if you are noticing that you have this mean voice inside yourself, it’s weirdly helpful to say it out loud. There is something about saying it out loud that makes it clear how absurd it is,” says Katz.
Talk to yourself
Combat negative self-talk by talking back to yourself but in a positive way. “Positive self-talk is kind, neutral and realistic. It doesn’t have to be phony or fake. If it’s too over the top your mind will reject it,” she says. Telling yourself that you are human and you are trying your best are great ways to combat negative thoughts.
Practicing self-compassion can have positive impacts beyond the number on the scale. Were you short with a family member? Did you have a slip up at work? Showing yourself kindness and understanding can help improve your mood and sense of wellbeing, as well as your ability to care for yourself.
Sirois FM et al. Self-compassion, stress, and coping in the context of chronic illness. Self and Identity 2015;14(3):334-347
Terry ML et al. Self-compassionate reactions to health threats. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2013;39(7):911-926