Why Self-Compassion Matters
By Dr. Dawn M. Sweet
While it is certainly important to make healthy food choices and engage in physical activity, it is also important to be non-judgmental and show ourselves compassion as we navigate our weight loss journey
Sometimes we feel like we’ve let ourselves down. Maybe we slept in and skipped the gym because it was cold and rainy. Or maybe we were just tired. Maybe we were out with friends and decided to order that piece of chocolate cake for dessert or have an extra glass of wine with dinner. What tends to be our default feeling during these moments? We beat ourselves up. We berate ourselves. We are not kind to ourselves. We forget that we are human and not perfect. We are self-critical. Rather than defaulting to these more negative intrapersonal and psychological spaces, perhaps we need to flip the script and show ourselves some kindness and understanding and be less judgmental and critical. We should respond with self-compassion.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is compassion directed inward; it is kindness and understanding directed at yourself. When we offer ourselves self-compassion, we are more likely to reap the benefits of better mental health and well-being. The three hallmarks of self-compassion are: (1) self-kindness, (2) common humanity, and (3) mindfulness.
When we are being kind to ourselves, we offer ourselves warmth and understanding, especially in those moments when we may have stumbled on the path to our goal. When we take on a challenge like losing weight and experience a setback, this does not mean we are a “failure” or inadequate. It means we are human and imperfect, and we had a moment where we did not live up to an idealized form of ourselves. And this is OK. Being kind to ourselves allows us to offer ourselves some sympathy and compassion, and this motivates us to try again.
We are part of the human experience, and our common humanity reminds us that we are not alone. Everyone experiences struggles and setbacks. We need to recognize that setbacks or feeling inadequate at times is part of the human experience, and as humans, we are going to have setbacks. We are not alone, and offering ourselves compassion reminds us that we are connected to a broader community of imperfect humans.
Being mindful of our emotions — whether they are positive or negative — and accepting them in a non-judgmental way allows us to recognize our own pain as part of our common humanity. The negative feelings we may experience when we stumble on our weight loss journey do not define us. When we experience negative emotions, we need to respond to ourselves with kindness and compassion.
Losing weight can be challenging, and it is certainly easy to feel like we failed in some way if have a day or two where we overate, didn’t exercise, or reached for that chocolate chip cookie instead of an apple. While it is certainly important to make healthy food choices and engage in physical activity, it is also important to be non-judgmental and show ourselves compassion as we navigate our weight loss journey.
About the Author: Dr. Dawn M. Sweet has over 20 years of experience in the field of communication. Dr. Sweet has given several invited talks to and workshops for academic and private sector audiences on the role of nonverbal and verbal communication in achieving positive outcomes and mitigating bias. Her research has been published in several top ranked peer-review journals, and it has been featured on NPR’s River to River / All Things Considered, Buzzfeed, and Science Daily. Her research has also been used to inform expert testimony.