The first time I heard Kristin Neff talk about using self-compassion versus self-criticism for motivation, it seemed like the most radical idea I had ever heard. Kristin asked “How would you try to help a friend if she wanted to lose weight? Would you berate her for over eating, call her names; chastise her for being lazy and having no self-discipline? No”, she said, “you would likely be kind, encourage her not to give up when she fails, point out the areas where she has made progress; you’d be her cheerleader. Now contrast this with how you try to motivate yourself to make changes”.
Kristin’s words really challenged me. My motivational approach to exercise was based on guilt trips for failing to work out, followed by shaming myself for the inability to meet my standards! Gee, I wonder why this was ineffective?? It’s not surprising that establishing an exercise routine was such a chore when I had to endure all of this self-degradation. So how does one motivate oneself to exercise with self-compassion? The first thing I noticed when I really started to analyze it was all the negative critical messages associated exercising – feel the burn, no pain no gain –words that actually encourage suffering for the glory of physical fitness. Even “Just do it" appears to have an underlying negative judgement to it; (Just do it you lazy bum – is what I always imagine is the intended end of that sentence).
So I’m trying something new. I’m going to try to use self-compassion to motivate myself. Like all efforts to be more self-compassionate, it will likely take a lot of practice to change my habitual way of thinking. One small change is that I’m going to drop the illusive “self-discipline” out of my internal vocabulary. I think “discipline” evokes feelings of being bad and needing to be punished and controlled – definitely not motivating. Secondly, when I feel like I don’t want to exercise I’m going to ask myself – What would be the easiest most enjoyable type of physical activity that I could do today? I’ll try to use walking in nature and yoga (things I love) as my primary exercises; if I do other things like weights or tread mill that will just be a bonus!
Oh and the most important thing - when I fail to exercise or gain a little weight, I’m going to try to be kind to myself, encourage myself to not to give up, focus on the areas where I’ve made progress and be my own cheerleader.
With Kindness, Patricia