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My sister makes the best cheese dip — and it’s not something I want to eat every day, if you know what I mean. To manage my weight and cholesterol, I generally avoid cheese, but enjoy a pinch of cheddar on a salad or chili now and then.
So after working out hard and eating lots of vegetables last week, I was feeling on top of my game… until I went to my nephew’s 3-year-old birthday party. I wasn’t super hungry, but there was the cheese dip, calling my name. For a few tense moments, the all-or-nothing voice in my head tried to shame me for even considering having the cheese dip. “Are you kidding, after how well you did this week? You want to erase all that? You suck! Just walk away!” Thankfully, the kinder, more reasonable voice won. “Eating cheese dip isn’t a sin. I love it, I hardly ever get to have it, and in the context of my healthy lifestyle, it’s not a big deal. I’m going to have some — and enjoy it!”
Do you ever struggle with a perfectionist mindset when it comes to your health and fitness? Psychologists call it all-or-nothing thinking; it’s a common type of cognitive distortion. And it creates a huge roadblock in your quest for a sustainably healthy lifestyle; I see it all the time in my coaching clients. “I was on track until my husband brought donuts home. I blew it; I’ll just try again next week.” It’s easy to get off track and throw your whole plan out the door just because everything didn’t go exactly as you planned it. But absolutes don’t exist in reality; unless you stay flexible, bending this way or that to accommodate life’s twists and turns, you’re going to be perpetually frustrated and unable to reach your goals.
If you normally run for 30 minutes at lunchtime, what happens if your meeting runs late and you only have 15 minutes? Do you bag it altogether, go for a shorter run or walk, or run after work instead? Which choice is best for staying on track with your fitness goals? A flexible mindset gives you options; all-or-nothing thinking backs you into a corner.
Researcher Kristin Neff, Ph.D., argues that practicing self-compassion is far more effective than self-criticism in keeping you motivated. In fact, self-compassionate people have greater self-efficacy — they believe in their own ability to succeed — and they’re better at rolling with the punches, learning from mistakes, and moving forward. They also experience less depression and anxiety, conditions that stifle success.
So remind yourself that you’re human, and that nobody’s perfect. Practice flexibility and self-compassion every day. Catch your self-critical voice, and counter it with truth and kindness. Be patient; changing the messages you give yourself will take time and effort. But whatever your wellness goals, you’ll be amazed at the level of success you can achieve when you become your own ally.
How do you work flexibility and self-compassion into your everyday routine?
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy – by David D. Burns, MD, 2009
Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.