Tell me if this sounds familiar. You had a hard day. More challenges than you expected that ruined your best laid plans. You decide to make life easy on yourself while also providing a well-deserved treat. You order take out from your favorite place. It’s not in line with your newly set health goals, but what the heck, nothing else went the way you planned it today. You’ll start fresh tomorrow.
On the way to get your salty, fatty deliciousness, you start this dialogue with yourself, “Ugh, God. Why did I do this? I know better. Why can’t I just make the right choices like I said I would? I hope no one notices I am totally derailing. Why do I suck at this so bad? I am going to be fat forever.”
As you pull into the parking spot especially labeled for patrons such as yourself who had a hard day yet the savvy to call in an order you think, “At least this restaurant gets it and makes this easy for me. I am here now. I might as well add dessert to the order since I already blew it.”
Most health coaches will give you some recommendations about how to hold yourself more accountable. Others might be more forgiving and tell you what you can choose on the menu that will be a smarter choice, which lets be honest, in a situation like the one above almost none of us make the “smarter” choice. Still, other coaches might give you a list of exercises you can do to burn off some of the extra calories you scarfed down.
I don’t want to do any of these things. I want to start with that dialogue you had with yourself. In my opinion, this is the Pandora’s box of your behaviors. Let me explain. When I hear someone tell me that they talk to themselves this way, it tells me we are dealing with a worthiness problem, not a lack of knowledge or solutions type of problem. Certainly those things might be valuable, but in my opinion, until we work on that thought process, new information or solutions will end up in the same camp of failed intentions.
So first things first. Health is fluid. No one makes healthy choices 100% of the time. When people obsess like this over their health choices, we start to wonder if they need more psychological help. When you don’t choose healthy, there is no reason to berate yourself or label yourself a failure. In the words of the Shirelles, Mamma said there’d be days like this. The goal is not to avoid the take-out specialty parking spot 100% of the time. The goal is to live there less often. I find that when people get to exist in this reality, they feel much better about their ability to achieve it.
The next thing to tackle is this; please stop berating yourself in a way you hopefully would NEVER talk to another human being. This shaming is one of THE WORST things we can do to ourselves. But, this is a very hard habit to break. You see, we become really good at this particular rhetoric. It happens in the confines of our own heads and we don’t usually share it with people because we believe it is the worst of ourselves. So it goes on and on. When I ask people to stop this behavior they look at me like I just asked them to perform open heart surgery – ain’t gonna happen.
It occurred to me the other day that the times that I was most critical of other people were also the times when I was most critical of myself. I think many people, if they are really honest, would agree. Likewise, the times when I had the most grace for other people, I also had a lot of grace for myself. Here is my hypothesis: if we practice grace and kindness for others, perhaps we can get more comfortable with giving it to ourselves.
I once reminded a client to talk to herself the way she would talk to a good friend. In a moment of hard honesty, she admitted to me that if she had the opportunity to talk to her friend about her health, it would not be gracious. She admitted her dialogue would be quite critical. So the marry-goes-round.
If being nice to yourself feels like being thrown into an open heart surgery as the brain surgeon, perhaps start with being less critical of others. I think most of us might find it easier to start thinking more kindly about others and let that kindness come back to us.
When you see someone really large pull into the fancy take-out parking spot, don’t think about how they could be doing better. Imagine they had a really hard day. Imagine that their mom was just diagnosed with cancer and they have been sitting by her side during day in and day out cancer treatments. Think about how her day might have been so tough that she really needed this service today. Think about how she might be dialoging with herself the way you do with yourself. Then send a little positive energy her way. Think, “I don’t know you, but I know you are hard at life work like the rest of us and I wish you a better day tomorrow.” and perhaps give her a little smile. My hypothesis is that if you can start doing this for complete strangers or good friends, you will get a little better at doing for yourself.
We get the energy we create. Make yours a little kinder today.