“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” ~ Carl Rodgers
I used to believe I could whip myself into healthy change. That through iron discipline and willpower, I could mold myself into the person I wanted to be.
It worked, of course…for about a week. I went through a few days of model eating, cutting out gluten one week, sugar the next. But then I would crash and go through a phase of eating anything and everything before I found the ‘motivation’ to start all over again.
It was never ending. And quite useless, really. I was missing the point. The point that fear and guilt do not lead to lasting change. And that self-compassion is the missing ingredient for healthy change.
Sounds strange? I thought so, too. Like most people, I thought showing myself compassion would lead to laziness and complacency. Yet research shows that self-compassion is actually more conducive to change than being critical of ourselves.After all, if you reject your body and convince yourself you can only embrace it when it changes, how do you expect to take care of it right now to give it what it the love it needs to actually change?
To illustrate this notion, which of the following voices are you most likely to listen to if you were trying to find the motivation to go to the gym?
Voice 1: “Look at you, you disgust me – you’re so fat, I hardly recognize you anymore. Get up NOW and go to the gym to get that lazy ass into shape.”
Voice 2: “ Poor you, this has been a really difficult period and you really deserve to watch TV instead of going to the gym. It won’t make much difference anyway, you can always go tomorrow!”
Voice 3: “I understand this is a really difficult period and that you don’t feel like exercising right now. I care for you and I want you to look and feel your best – and I know you’ll feel better after going to the gym.”
I am sure you’ll agree that the Voice 3 is a lot nicer to carry around in your head – and the one most likely to get you to the gym! But be honest – which one are you more likely to use? Most people talk to themselves with the voice of a harsh critic, much like Voice 1, and believe showing themselves compassion to be like Voice 2. Yet Voice 2 is not the voice of someone who will push you out of your comfort zone because they care for you. Similarly, Voice 1 makes most of us just want to rebel and say no because we don’t like to be forced into doing something, even by ourselves.
So next time you want to make a healthy change, why not give it a try? Become aware of your inner dialogue and speak to yourself in the same way a wise friend would. Because in the end, the only person any of us is 100% sure will always be there, every minute of our life, is our self.
Source: Research on self-compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff.