How Self-compassion Generates Motivation
The biggest misperception I hear about giving up being hard on yourself and, instead, practicing self-compassion is that self-criticism pushes us to achieve our goals. Really? In that case, wouldn’t you and your harsh inner critic be off doing something else right now, other than reading this blog? The truth is that troubled eaters do a bang up job of engaging in self-flagellation and, if it worked to sustain motivation, you’d have overcome your eating problems ages ago. Face it, guilt, shame, self-disgust, and self-contempt are lousy motivators, while being self-compassionate is actually the winning strategy.
When you show no mercy in tearing yourself apart for food failures, slip ups, mistakes, and relapses, how do you end up feeling? Worse, I’d wager, than you did after doing whatever you perceive was your error. By piling on disgust, contempt, and disappointment atop the shame or guilt, you end up feeling hopeless, helpless, despairing, worthless, totally defective, and possibly even depressed. Are these feelings that motivate people to do better? Seriously? People don’t pull themselves together and strive to improve their lot when they’re feeling awful about themselves. They just don’t.
On the other hand, when you feel compassion for your failures, slip ups, mistakes, and relapses, when you have kind words for yourself which acknowledge that you didn’t live up to your expectations yet appreciate your goodness and worth, how do you feel? Eminently human, as if you’re just another ordinary flawed mortal on the planet and not the worst person in the universe. And what does that do to your spirits? It raises them up because you feel relieved, self-forgiving, not so terrible after all, and even proud because you tried—all emotions that are likely to lift you up and keep you keeping on.
About now, you might be thinking like a client of mine who, during a discussion about compassion, exclaimed, “I’ve had it all backwards!” Yes, indeed, totally upside down. No wonder you lose motivation when you lash out at yourself for stepping on the scale after you promised yourself you wouldn’t or for swiping that last cookie in the break room when you were still stuffed from lunch. Being hard on yourself is a total motivation killer. It stops all progress, all forward movement, dead in its tracks because, to put it simply, it bums you out and brings you down. Alternately, being self-compassionate cheers you up, makes you feel lighter and brighter, and spurs you on. If your default setting is self-accusation and blame, you will need to learn to lead with self-compassion if you want to clear up your eating problems once and for all. When you get used to feeling self-kindness over and over and over again, you’ll find it’s the only game in town.