Written by therapist Pete Marlow
Let’s say you have a goal of establishing a healthier lifestyle, incorporating a healthier relationship with food and regular exercise. You know exactly what your plan is to meet this goal. Monday comes along and this is the day you’re planning on starting this new lifestyle. Monday is great. You feel motivated and meet all of the benchmarks you have set for yourself. Tuesday, you feel a little tired, but are able to resist the temptation to skip your workout. Wednesday hits and you just aren’t able to keep things up with this new routine you’ve set and Thursday is only slightly better. Thursday night, you’re feeling defeated and hopeless and the negative self-talk starts.
“Why did you even bother? You always fail when it comes to your health.”
“It was stupid of you to even try in the first place.”
Your negative self-talk convinces you to give up on your goals and you resign to thinking, “I’ll never be able to achieve this goal, so why even try?” Not living up to our expectations is part of being human. This is just one example among many. People are also prone to being harder on themselves than others, which shows a lack of self-compassion. Injecting some self-compassion into this example would have produced healthier long-term mental and physical effects.
Fixing The Uncompassionate Brain
A lack of self-compassion and wanting to be perfect often go hand-in-hand. A person falls short of a goal, like the one in the opening example, and they berate themselves mentally and, in this case, give up. Let’s focus on how to be more self-compassionate. There are a few exercises that can be helpful.
Treat yourself like a friend
Imagine your close friend is confiding in you about the same situation. They went through the same scenario as you did and are feeling terrible. Consider what you would say to them and what your tone would be like. Take a moment to think over how you responded, or want to respond, to yourself, including what you say and your tone. Analyze both of those responses and see what differences exist and ask yourself why that may be.
Shift your mindset
If you struggle with thinking doing a, “good job,” is not, “good enough”, then you probably don’t even notice your inner self-critic ruining enjoying a job well done by you. You may not even realize your standard is perfection, which we all know is impossible and will only lead to more emotional pain. Try reframing your thought of, “only perfection will do,” by telling yourself that while there is room for improvement! You can enjoy that you did a good job.
Find a better motivator
Some think that being hard on themselves is the best motivator. This may have been ingrained in them by a parent or a coach/teacher. Or it could be good ol’ toxic masculinity rearing its ugly head. Whatever the case, a person will always find it healthier and more effective long-term if they shift away from the negative “motivation” and towards encouragement. That can be done by first realizing the pain their fear-based motivation causes them, and validating that pain. The person can then think about what a kind person in their life might gently point out how their behavior (e.g. watching TV instead of going for a walk) was unproductive and encourage them back to their original plan.
If you take the time to analyze the things you tell yourself, it may shock you at how hurtful those things are and how you would never say those to someone else. Don’t think this is an okay thing or that, “this is just the way you feel motivated.” It can help to talk with a counselor at Optimum Joy to let them in on those hurtful things you say to yourself, process the damage, and establish a plan for becoming more self-compassionate. Give us a call today!