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Decision-making via Pride and Shame

I thought I’d written on this topic before because it’s something I talk about all the time with clients, but I couldn’t find a blog about making decisions by the pride-and-shame method. This is a very simple way to make choices. It totally bypasses internal conflicts and focuses only on how the decision will make you feel: proud or ashamed.

Sometimes, it’s quite clear cut how we’ll feel after we do something. If you were emotionally healthy, you’d return the wallet someone dropped and feel proud. And if you picked it up to keep it, you might feel enough shame to give it back. As an emotionally healthy person, when you engage in effective hygiene, you feel proud. Alternately, when you don’t brush your teeth or bathe, for example, you feel some shame. Likewise, when you’re emotionally healthy, you stop eating when you’re full or satisfied and feel proud. And, when you continue to eat way past full, you feel a ping of shame. I’m not talking about wallowing in shame and hating yourself—just that sense that you did something unhealthy for yourself. Remember, shame is only a reminder to do better.

The idea is to feel proud all or nearly all the time. Much of “self-esteem” involves self-pride from engaging in behaviors that underscore who we wish to be. When we live up to those ideals, we feel proud. When we fail to live up to them, we feel ashamed. Why wouldn’t you want to live up to them and feel proud as often as possible?

Of course, some decisions aren’t so clear cut, but are more nuanced. For example, you can’t say that always having a candy bar will make you ashamed or that whenever you take time for yourself you’ll feel proud. How you feel is based on the situation. Eating a candy bar when you’re angry to stuff down feelings would lead to shame if you want to be healthier. Eating a candy bar slowly, mindfully and joyfully when it’s exactly what you’re in the mood for would lead to feeling proud. Telling a friend that you can’t take her to the airport could make you either proud or ashamed, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes we’re not sure which way to go and need to consider how we’re going to feel in the long term. But, more often than not, the choice of pride versus shame is pretty straight forward. We know how we’re going to feel most of the time if we do or don’t do something, especially in the realm of eating.

What would life be like if you always or nearly always made decisions that made you proud? How would that compare to how you make decisions and feel now? Start a pride journal and write down the small, proud moments you feel every day, then feel proud that you’re doing something to move you toward emotional health. Pride journals help put attention on what choices to make with food and in other areas of life.

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