The old saying goes, “you are your own worst enemy.” And the reason that saying has survived the test of time is because it’s true. Especially for people who are struggling to lose weight. Standing in front of the mirror and picking yourself apart is no way to make a positive change. Especially since our day-to-day lives are already routinely difficult. By becoming too exasperated through self-criticism we take two steps back before we can even take one step forward.
When I say self-criticism I don’t mean the kind that strives to better yourself. That’s an entirely different mode of thinking: one that’s in stark contrast to self-criticism and is better named “self-improvement.” While seeking to improve yourself is about the best ‘you’ that you can be, by pushing yourself to develop the skillset that accentuates who you are, self-criticism is like whipping your back until its gnarly and scarred. Not exactly productive.
And we’ve all been there. Being self-critical is an all-too-human part of being what we are. Maybe we’re not where we expected to be at this point in our lives, or we’ve failed at some task at work, or we made a small mistake by introducing ourselves to someone we’ve already met. Regardless of what we’re beating ourselves up for, what matters is that we’re stuck in a whirlpool of anger directed at ourselves and there’s no dry land in sight.
But you can change.
Criticizing yourself is a habit. Not a mentality you’re stuck with. You can transform self-criticism into self-compassion, and you know what? Self-compassion is much more productive than criticism and lives on the same road as self-improvement. It’s hard to say that anyone has accomplished anything, weight loss or otherwise, by being self-critical. Change begins with loving yourself.
Adopting a compassionate mindset for yourself has been scientifically proven to be beneficial. Not only does it help manage anxiety and keep depression at bay, but having compassion for yourself also fosters a more optimistic outlook of your life—one that motivates you to try new things. Maybe you’ll finally pick up the pen and start writing that memoir you’ve been debating for years but put off because you said, “I’m not good enough.” The truth is, you are good enough.
Too many people approach weight loss from a negative place. They look at the mirror and immediately start outlining self-perceived flaws. What they’re doing is chopping themselves into pieces. How can you expect to go out and create positive change for yourself starting from, what’s often, angry self-criticism? Hence, why so many people fail to achieve their weight loss goals.
Rather, with a self-compassionate attitude, you learn to love yourself first, then start exercising and adopting a new diet. The point is you can’t start with the body until you’ve started with the mind and heart.
Of course, it’s not as if you flick a switch and are instantly more sympathetic towards yourself. Self-compassion requires practice. Think of it as a skill. You don’t just instantly acquire any skill, no matter what it is. No. Self-compassion requires work, and that means daily practice.
The key word to become self-compassionate is “mindfulness.” While the word is used in a variety of contexts it really has one simple meaning: pay attention to your thoughts. When you start to criticize yourself, see your thoughts for what they are: negative, positive, worthy, unworthy. The point is you’ve taken a step back; mindfulness means you don’t get sucked up into your thoughts, but see them from a distance, and try to understand where those thoughts are coming from, why they’re there, and how they’re affecting you.
It may be helpful to use some tools when you’re first starting out to cultivate mindfulness. That might mean self-hypnosis audio tapes, joining a meditation class, a podcast, or visiting a therapist. Whatever helps you hone your mentality to bring attention to those nagging thoughts and trade them in for more positive suggestions.
Because it’s when you cultivate mindfulness that you’ll begin to tinker your mind towards a more positive outlook. And that ultimately will bring you to self-compassion. It’s all connected: your self-awareness, your mental state, and your attitude. And mindfulness is the key that opens to the door to changing these facets of our mentality towards a more healthy outlook. A more healthy, rewarding you.