Self-Compassion & Accomplishing Wellness Goals

The start of a new year is the most popular time for people to set personal well goals for self-improvement. Whether you are inherently a goal-setter or not, it is hard not to look at the start of a new year as an opportunity for a fresh start to pursue your inner wish list. Some people set concrete, obtainable goals with measurable outcomes and deadlines. Others set vague goals like “to be active,” rather than, “I’ll work out for twenty minutes five times a week.”

Whatever your goal-setting style, there is the unavoidable wall we all hit when trying to challenge ourselves and we start to fall short or lose motivation. This is when the self-critic steps in and often times engages is self-punishment or abandoning our goals altogether.  It is easy to think that harsh self-talk, deprivation, or comparison with others will be the motivating push we need, but quite the opposite is true. Making self-compassion a top priority will help you find long term success in meeting your goals.

Essentially, practicing self-compassion means treating yourself as you would treat someone you really love. If you had a loved one constantly beating themselves up for not losing weight fast enough because they don’t like they way they look, you would (hopefully) let them know there are many ways they are attractive to others. You would tell them to be patient and focus on losing weight in a healthy way that makes them feel energized and creates meaningful change.

You would perhaps tell them they are human, and they are going to make mistakes, but these mistakes do not take away their value or the fact that they are worth starting again. If compassion for others comes easily for you, then using that well of compassion for yourself can be highly beneficial.

The leading expert on self-compassion as a psychosocial concept is Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor of psychology at UT Austin. She has done extensive research on the impact of self-compassion on various measures of psychological and physical health, has written a book on the topic, and teaches workshops and seminars on developing self-compassion as a skill.

She has published research linking the active use of self-compassion to improved body image among women, greater self-control, higher self-esteem, reduced symptoms of PTSD, enhanced coping skills, lower stress, greater sense of contentment, and a better sense of well-being over all. The benefits of self-compassion practice strongly resemble the goals set by many of us each year for a reason; we are all human and we all want to be happy. Learning to love ourselves and finding connection with others, faults and all, can help us reach this ultimate goal.

When some people hear the term “self-compassion,” they envision a self-centered egomaniac using every excuse possible to avoid discomfort. But this is not the case at all. Having self-compassion, means connecting with the ways we all suffer and using love and forgiveness to help overcome obstacles. Dr. Neff is very clear in outlining what self-compassion is not:

Self-Compassion is Not:

  1. Self-Pity: Self-pity means believing that your problems are worse than everyone else’s and that your situation is unique. Self-compassion means recognizing that everyone has problems, some worse than yours, and using this perspective when dealing with  your suffering.
  2. Self-Indulgence: Self-indulgence means ignoring your weaknesses and the consequences of an action by partaking in what is harmful. With self-compassion, for example, you are aware that you lack self-control when it comes to ice cream so you don’t buy a quart of it at the grocery store after a bad day. You may buy a single scoop while out and about as a small treat knowing that you are focused on the big picture of your health. And because you love yourself, you want to prevent the horrible feeling of eating a whole quart alone at home.
  3. Self-Esteem: Maintaining a high self-esteem often means comparing yourself to others and constantly having to feel “special” or above average. While self-esteem is important, placing too great an importance on feeling exceptional can inflate the ego in harmful ways. Self-compassion means loving yourself no matter what, with all faults and shortcomings, and feeling a connection to others based on our shared human condition rather than who is the best or worst.

Developing a self-compassion practice is easy and simple. Journaling is a great way to identify areas where you are being critical of yourself, but you can just start to pay attention to the way you talk to yourself when you are struggling. Then ask yourself how you would respond to a loved one struggling with the same issues. Take a look around you and see how others are struggling too. Most importantly, make your goals realistic and try to make them in the spirit of self-compassion rather than pure self-improvement. Here are some examples of goals rooted in self-compassion:

Wellness Goals & Self-Compassion:

  • “I will do my best to exercise three times a week this year to be more fit and healthy.”
  • “I’ll stop rewarding myself with sweets because I deserve to treat myself better this year, and I’ll find a reward that makes me feel good, instead of shameful.”
  • I will stop mindlessly surfing the internet when I’m bored, because there are more productive things I can do with my time.”

Try to incorporate self-compassion into your goal setting and your daily routines wherever you can. It can only make you stronger and happier, even if you don’t lose all the weight you wanted to or if other obstacles get in the way of your goals. Being able to accept yourself in all your humanness everyday, is the ultimate achievement anyway. For more and Dr. Neff and self-compassion, visit her website.

The above information offers a glimpse at Nicole Griffis’ approach to helping patients achieve their wellness goals. To schedule an evaluation with Nicole, call (512) 442-2727.

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