It isn’t news that having a supportive, like-minded, wellness buddy increases your chances of long-term success when trying to make positive lifestyle changes. But connecting with just the right person can be like posting your profile on Match.com and hoping for the best.
You need someone who will get you out of bed before the kids get up, but won’t be too perky at six in the morning. They also need to enjoy similar activities, but can’t be better at them than you are.
Most of all, your ideal wellness buddy would offer support and compassion when you stumble along the way or get discouraged when results don’t come quickly enough.
What if I told you there IS a perfect match for you, and you don’t need to look any further than your bathroom mirror? Yep . . . that perfect wellness mate is YOU!
Okay . . . except for one small, teensy thing.
That last little part about being supportive when times get tough and offering gentle encouragement after you inhale a quart of ice-cream at 9:30 at night. That’s the part most of us can’t seem to get right.
One little slip off the wagon and we come out with guns blazing.
“What a failure!
“You’re such a fat, lazy, loser!”
“You’ll never reach your goals!”
Sounds a little harsh, huh? But we all know I’m not exaggerating.
That soft voice of support and reason you would use for a good friend in a similar situation, is nowhere to be found in a wellness crisis. Instead of being your best friend, you become your biggest foe.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, author of “Self Compassion, Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,” that better way is practicing self-compassion. It recognizes that life is imperfect and people are imperfect. Therefore, we need to accept struggle and challenge as inevitable, and be gentle with ourselves when we don’t measure up to some standard set by ourselves or society.
Nowhere is this more true than when traveling the path of positive lifestyle change. After all, the quest to lose weight or get our bodies in shape (whatever “in shape” looks like), is about as imperfect as the five-day weather forecast.
Weight-loss, in particular, is never linear and doesn’t equate to calories in vs. calories out like all the magazines report. And when you finally lose that last stubborn ten pounds through sheer will and great personal sacrifice, you look in the mirror only to discover it came off your chest and not your thighs like you planned.
Before you know it, that “mean girl” voice is berating you all over again.
Neff says, that practicing self-compassion means you respond versus react to adversity by talking to yourself with gentle, supportive language.
Her research found that people who used this approach suffered less from anxiety and depression, and showed increased motivation and desire to reach their full potential. Not surprising, this is precisely the inner landscape we need to cultivate in order to make better and more consistent lifestyle choices.
But is it possible to shut down your “mean girl” voice, and turn up the volume on your “best wellness friend?”
Dr. Neff outlines a three pronged approach to practicing self-compassion on her website, self-compassion.org :
Tune into the emotions you feel around a particular event such as a diet slip up. As Neff points out, “You can’t heal what you can’t feel.” Be open and receptive to your thoughts and feelings without judgement or criticism. See them just as they are, no more, or no less.
#2 Common Humanity
Recognize that you are not alone in your struggle. While it is not necessarily good news, over a third of our population is struggling with the same diet and exercise issues you are! This understanding of shared human experience, will help you feel less alone and more willing to support yourself.
#3 Self Kindness
Step up and be the fabulous wellness friend you’re seeking. Hold yourself accountable (no, Neff reassures, practicing self-compassion does not lead to being too easy on yourself), but be kind, caring, and supportive through every step and misstep of the process.
Self-compassion is such an important piece of the wellness puzzle, I wish I could say, “There’s an app for that!” If only we could tap the screen on our phone when a bag of M&M’s seems like the answer to all our problems, and hear the gentle voice of reason encouraging us to take a better path.
With a little practice, Dr. Neff says you CAN become that voice. And best of all, “The great thing about self compassion is that you are always there, 24/7, to give you help when you need it the most.”
Feel good. Be well.
Wellness Prompt: Take out a piece of paper or journal. On one side of the page, write down what your “mean girl” voice usually says when you’ve fallen short on one of your wellness goals. (To move forward, you need to recognize that voice when you hear it.) On the other side, write alternative responses in a voice you would use to support a friend in the same situation. Keep your list handy, and see what happens when you take a more supportive approach to your journey. What’s your take on the importance of being kinder to yourself—-any tips for the rest of us?