Texas research specialist Dr. Kristin Neff discussed in a recent radio interview how crucial self-compassion is to our well-being. Self-compassion is very strongly associated with mental health, and it is also strongly linked to less depression, less anxiety, more happiness, more optimism, and more motivation to learn and try out new things. It's a very powerful way of relating to yourself.
Dr. Neff explains in her new book about self-compassion that it is a way of feeling good about yourself that doesn't require judging yourself as good or bad or comparing yourself to others. It just involves relating to yourself kindly. Self-compassion is treating yourself like a friend or a loved one – with care and concern.
Self-compassion has also been shown to be pivotal in optimizing weight loss and correcting bad eating habits in self-critical individuals. Psycho-therapist Jean Fain, author of The Self-Compassion Diet, suggests that we've got it all backward: "The best way to lose weight and look your best is to stop dieting and start with loving who you are." Self-compassion is a kinder, gentler, more effective way to lose weight than deprivation followed by self-criticism when you fail to stick to your eating plan. The ‘kind diet’ approach works well for those people who have little or no compassion for themselves as self-compassion, rather than self-criticism, promotes self acceptance, sticking to a healthy diet and making lasting healthy lifestyle changes for healthier living.
Dieters are really hard on themselves. Being hard on yourself isn't the way to lose weight. In fact, it may do more harm than good to your self esteem and confidence. Dieters who self-criticize all day long, telling themselves nasty things such as: “I am fat. I am out of control” are setting themselves up for over-eating. Fain contends that there are actually four roots to sustainable weight managent. Self-compassion is one of them, and it ties all the roots together. The four roots are: self-compassion, mindful eating, hypnosis (visualisation), and social support.
Self-compassion starts with turning your inner critic around and bringing into your mind a compassionate response when you've made a less-than-stellar food choice or reverted back to disordered eating. It helps to remember that ‘getting a handle’on eating issues is a journey, not the jaunt many dieters are determined to make it. The number of times we feel compassion toward ourselves during the day is crucial, since studies have shown that even a modest dose of self-compassion can help prevent the destructive self-criticism and negative feelings that can fuel overeating.
Whenever you notice that you’re giving yourself a hard time about your size or shape, think self-kind thoughts. Instead of saying “I can’t lose weight” or calling yourself ‘fat,’ ‘disgusting’ and other mean names, tell yourself what you’d tell a good friend: ‘Nobody’s perfect. If you stop striving for perfection and start accepting yourself as you are, it’s only natural to lose weight with a sensible, sustainable eating plan.’
Think about what troubles you most, and ask your inner self for insight. Ask, and you shall not only receive - you'll soak up what's so hard to come by in everyday life: unconditional love.
Practice self-hypnosis or relaxing visualisation or mindfulness meditation: Learn to hypnotize yourself, which is essentially focusing your attention, deepening your breathing, and then opening your mind to new ideas and experiences. You can feed yourself positive suggestions that make sense to you, like, ‘More and more I am craving nutritious and delicious food.’ Or, ‘Every day and every way I am appreciating the natural sweetness of whole foods.’ Use whatever seems motivating and important to you. Give yourself a self-suggestion and repeat it to yourself in a relaxed and focused state.
Self-hypnosis is an effective way of turning around haphazard eating, and for changing the ways you relate to food if they're less than healthy. When we focus both consciously and subconsciously on goals of healthy eating and weight loss, this constant awareness becomes our ally in adopting healthy attitudes and behaviours that foster a healthy lifestyle.
Practice Mindful Eating. According to Jan Chozen Bays we've forgotten how to be present as we eat. She writes in "The Mindful Eating Blog" that we often eat mindlessly. Multitasking is rewarded in our society. We chomp away happily in front of the computer screen or while watching TV - without even really tasting what we eat – and without keeping track of how much or what we actually consume.
Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. Paying attention to the colours, smells, textures, flavours, temperatures, and even the sounds (crunch!) of our food. Paying attention to the experience of the body. Noting where in the body we feel hunger. Where do we feel satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?
When you've eaten the first portion, pause and ask your stomach, "How full are you? Do you need more? How much more?" Adjust your second portions according to the information your stomach gives you.
Also pay attention to your mind. While avoiding judgement or criticism, watch when your mind gets distracted, pulling away from full attention to what we are eating or drinking. Notice how eating affects your mood and how emotions like anxiety influence your eating.
The old habits of eating and not paying attention are not easy to change. Don't try to make drastic changes. Lasting change takes time, and is built on many small changes. To get to a healthy, sustainable weight, you have no choice but to start where you are.
Social Support. Don’t underestimate the importance of a supportive environment and positive interaction with a community of friends in achieving your weight loss goals. To up the odds of finding your healthy, sustainable weight, seek good, supportive company. Support can be positive or negative. Positive support is a conscious and generous act committed by caring individuals. Negative support is that thing some people do when they discourage healthy change, like when someone buys you the very snack you've sworn off.
Ten Other Effective Strategies to assist with weight loss:
· Keeping a food diary or journaling,
· weighing yourself only once per week,
· adopting healthy breathing practices,
· practicing daily positive affirmations such as: ‘May I learn
to accept myself as I am, at least in this moment’,
· praying, practicing daily meditation or visualisation,
· setting up a food log,
· becoming more aware of self-criticism,
· using writing for clarity on what the real issues are
concerning your weight or unhealthy eating habits,
· setting realistic and reasonable weight-related goals, and
· if you practice to generally accentuate the positive and
decrease, if not eliminate, the negative, you'll be in good
Mary Anne Wallace touches on another useful strategy in her book - "Mindful Eating, Mindful Life": don’t think in terms of weight loss. It is more about one’s relationship to food and eating. If you think of losing weight you trigger ‘freak out’ deprivation mode, which scrambles both one’s physiology and psychology into survival mode - exactly what needs to be avoided if one wishes to lose weight.
One of the things most people want to know is how soon one will see results with this new approach to weight loss. The benefits of treating oneself with more self-compassion are almost instantaneous. Whoever follows it, will start feeling calmer, wiser, and more hopeful. And in that state, weight loss is so much more possible. If your life is calm, and you have some time to devote to yourself, you will start reaping the benefits within days. Not every person who does this will lose X number of kilos in X number of weeks, but most people benefit by practicing self-compassion across a range of aspects of their lives, which is often what is needed to provide mental resilience to face life’s challenges head-on, without reverting to self-harming eating behaviours to cope with stress and other adversities life hands us. It is an effective way to braoden and build our inner resources.
The advantages of self-compassion over traditional diet regimens is that it is all about making changes on the inside that will support a permanent healthier lifestyle. A self-loathing person is not likely to make healthier choices from day-to-day. Learning new ways of thinking and feeling about one’s self are bound to create new and better habits. Many diets and other weight-loss plans revolve around deprivation and neglect which trigger negative emotions. You’re supposed to stick to the plan no matter what. If you’re starving, keep eating the tiny portions. If you’re exhausted, keep moving. ‘No pain, no gain’. If you go on holiday, keep counting calories, carbohydrates and feel bad when you mess up. And while you’re at it, pack all your diet food and put it in your luggage. This is not compassionate and it’s not fun. Try instead to treat yourself with some self-compassion, so that you are more likely to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, rest when you’re tired, and move when you feel energized. And when you do that, you will lose weight naturally.
1. Neff, K.D.(2011).Self-Compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York: William Morrow.
2. Fain, J. (2011). The Self-Compassion Diet: A Step-by-Step Program to Lose Weight with Loving-Kindness. Boulder Colorado: Sounds True.
3. Chozen Bays, J. (2009). Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.
4. Wallace, M. (2010). Mindful Eating, Mindful Life. Inkwater Press: Portland Oregon.
To find out more about Self-Compassion and Weight Loss, or if you are interested in motivational support for your weight loss programme and to improve your emotional resilience, visit http//:positivepsyc.com, call The Positive Psychology Foundation on 011 465 1255 or send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
This discussion series, inspired by Martin Seligman’s work, did not aim to simply duplicate content, but rather to explore a wider context for PERMA with more practical application. Today we look at the last component of PERMA – Accomplishment – and how it can aid to making our lives happier, more joyful.
Here are several ways that Accomplishment contributes to well-being:
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
What struck me most about Accomplishment is that it is quite literally the gift that you can give to yourself that keeps on giving. Often we find ourselves at the end of the day or the week and we know that time has passed, but we have little notion where most of it went, which is sad indeed, because this represents pieces of our precious life that went missing without record or recognition. If however we devoted our time to a specific task or goal, the time is easier to recall, to remember and to re-play in your mind. You can enjoy and savor the rewards of achieving a goal over and over again. The first time the gift of accomplishment makes you feel is good because you achieve a goal you set out to do, and thereafter, your recollection or memory of that happy moment can be replayed and enjoyed for the rest of your life. It is like having a cookie jar filled with good feelings next to you: just dip in, pull out a memory of an accomplishment, and hey presto! You will feel good without having done a thing, based purely on invoking a memory of past accomplishment.
This is because the words “accomplishment” and “achievement” are often retrospective, as people look back at their lives or the immediate past at something already completed.
One of the easiest ways to achieve your life goals is to look to the people who have already helped you. Thank each one personally and privately. Expand beyond the basic thank you by telling them why they are important to you and how their help in the past helped you to succeed at something. Keep these people in your corner by showing your gratitude and they will likely help you again. University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson wrote in his book, A Primer in Positive Psychology, “In our experience with many dozens of gratitude letters…they ‘work’ 100% of the time in the sense that the recipient is moved, often to tears, and the sender is gratified as well.”
In a sense gratitude is a gift too – also giving more than once. Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons recently reviewed the growing evidence that feelings of gratitude improve the quality of our lives. By being grateful, we feel good, possibly even happy, and the person we are thanking also experiences positive emotion. Double value! Emmons found that people who “wrote up to five things for which they were grateful or thankful” on a weekly basis “exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week.” Seligman and his colleagues also discovered that when people took a few minutes each evening to write down “three good things” that happened to them during the day, their happiness increased and their depressive symptoms decreased. So gratitude it seems, helps with positive rumination – this ‘how to’ hint for ditching depression is a keeper!
Emmons found in another study that people who feel gratitude are more likely to help others. He wrote, “Gratitude leads not only to feeling good, but also to doing good.” It seems therefore as if gratitude transcends depression and self focus and allows us to move beyond preoccupation with ourselves and our problems. It allows us to reach out to help others.
Savoring Accomplishments Leads to Strengths Identification
Positive Psychologist David Pollay observes that when you reflect on the most significant accomplishments in your life, it is easy to spot which of your top strengths helped you achieve those successes. This makes it possible for you to see a pattern in your life: you will discover that many of your greatest achievements were made possible by engaging your top strengths. Accomplishment helps you to spot the underlying patterns of your personal strengths and how they have contributed to your successes in life. This is dynamite insight about yourself and your abilities - yours to freely use for the next challenge and goal to be accomplished.
Appreciate Your Own Accomplishments so Others can Too
Strengths expert Kathryn Britton points out that we sometimes make our accomplishments look easy. This may be because for us they are easy - by virtue of leveraging our signature strengths. Or maybe we are just being modest. Point is, others - such as our partners, peers, bosses and spouses won’t readily recognize our accomplishments if we don’t. If the way we work makes it look easy it does not always lead to appreciation. If you appreciate your own contribution and recognize how it is different from those made by others you will develop a habit of appreciating and savoring your own accomplishments leading to some great joy-in-the-present equity. When someone else is acknowledged as a hero for solving a difficult problem, perhaps you can think of times when you prevented problems from occurring by planning ahead. Take notes. Keep track of satisfied customers. Write about it in your journal. Take photographs to savor later. Collect evidence of ways you have influenced important outcomes. It is always easier to illustrate your value with specific instances that show how you have made things work than to show how your actions prevented problems from occuring.
Projected Appreciation as a Tool for Goal Achievement
Projected Accomplishment is an excellent energy source for achieving future goals. Yeager writes that people who scrapbook their future goals with illustrations, photos, articles, give themselves a little bit of 'Achievement-savoring-in-advance'. This may help to energize the person to go ahead and better achieve their goals. Similarly, people who scrapbook about past accomplishments give themselves permission to explore and examine their remembered pleasures in their journey.
Accomplishment is also about keeping something in store for the times when in-the-moment positivity is difficult to find. One cannot help wondering how many times folks like Nelson Mandela or Viktor Frankl would have had to dip into either past or future savoring to help them get through difficult times or to keep their hopes alive for the future. It is indeed a broadening experience – to borrow the term form Barbara Frederickson – to be able to Accomplish and later to reflect on that Accomplishment again in order to be able to fuel goal achievement or to broaden one's resilience against adversity even more.
Accomplishment and reflecting on Accomplishmnet builds positivity, it strengthens resilience and it gives us an idea of what we are good at. If we reflect on past or future accomplishments we can easily experience gratitude which spins off a whole cycle of positivity for ourselves and others. Achievement lasts forever and it cannot be taken away – not even by death. It is worth celebrating daily, for our own wellbeing as well as for those around us.
1. Seligman, M. E. P. (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
2. Gratitude and Giving Will Lead to Your Success. David J. Pollay. Positive Psychology News.
3. Positive Core and Strengths at Work. Kathryn Britton. Positive Psychology News.
4. Make Your Goals Come Alive through Imagery. J M Yeager. Positive Psychology News.
5. Peterson, C., (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
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