Improving Our Health, Compassionately


One of the exciting things about life is that we don’t have to stay the same as we are right now; we can re-invent ourselves at any time. For example, we can decide to become healthier, whether that’s through eating better, getting fitter, breaking unhealthy habits or addictions, or by cultivating greater peace of mind and emotional resiliency.

However, we all too often make these types of self-improvement plans when we’re in a low mood. Maybe we’ve been eating too much junk food lately, and so we think to ourselves, ‘Oh god, I’m so fat. I must go on a diet!’ rather than having a kinder thought such as, ‘I want to start eating more mindfully.’

When we make health plans from a place of self-loathing we often set unrealistic and unkind goals for ourselves. This means we are unlikely to achieve them, and even less likely to have a nice time along the way!

A Check-List for Mindful Goal-Setting

Whatever our health goals may be, it’s important to ask ourselves these questions before we set out on achieving them.

Is my goal realistic?

Say we want to stop eating unhealthily, and so we come up with the goal of giving up chocolate and sweets completely. It might work; we might indeed have the will power to never touch the sweet stuff again. But alternatively it might be really difficult! So difficult in fact, that we fail terribly, end up binging on them, and then feel even worse about ourselves than before.

Instead of banishing sweets from our lives altogether, why not just get more mindful about eating them? We can treat ourselves now and again to a small portion, and practice really savouring it while we eat. We’re still moving towards our health goals, but in a more realistic way.

Is my goal kind?

We want to lose weight quickly, and so we decide to live on smoothies alone for a month, or we sign up for the toughest, most physically gruelling boot camp we can find. Yet these kinds of goals seem more like punishments than ways to help ourselves enjoy life more.

When we don’t like how we look or behave, it can feel impossible to treat ourselves kindly. We may feel that we don’t deserve kindness; that because we’re overweight, depressed, addicted to something, that means we’re bad. But imagine that your friend wanted to lose weight, or that your child was suffering with depression, or that your beloved was struggling with an addiction. It’s unlikely that we would say to them the things we say to ourselves. Would we really say to a friend, ‘My god, you’re disgusting! You should starve yourself for a week!’

When setting goals, it’s useful to imagine that we are helping a friend set those goals instead. Imagine the kindness and gentle encouragement you would feel for your loved ones, and incorporate that level of care and compassion into your own goal-making. Make those goals self-nurturing: for example, instead of ‘I don’t want to be fat any more’ try changing it to ‘I want to nurture my body with healthy food and exercise.’

How will I treat myself when I stumble?

We might be doing really well with our plans, but then one major upset has us reaching for the junk food or cigarettes again. In these moments it feels like all our hard work has been for nothing! This is where self-compassion can really shine and make all the difference, because it’s at these times of perceived failure that we’re most likely to give up on our goals completely.

Mindfulness helps us see that life is a series of moments. Rather than mentally remaining stuck in a previous moment where we mindlessly scoffed a whole pizza, we can ‘refresh’ ourselves and become new again in the here and now. This can help us forgive ourselves for slipping up, because what’s done is done, and now this is a new moment. It helps us see that we can begin again, and again, and again if needed, because each new moment is a fresh opportunity to get back on track.

Do I really need to achieve this goal?

Do we actually need to lose weight, or is it just that our thoughts about our body are very negative at the moment? When our minds are clouded, it can be hard to judge what is true. Yet through practicing mindfulness, we are more able to take a step back from our thoughts and see them more clearly. If we’re already at a healthy weight, perhaps it’s not our body that we need to change, but our thoughts about it, and how we treat it.

An effective way of exploring the truth behind our desired goals is to place your hand on your heart, to close your eyes, and really tap into how your goals make you feel. Are they coming from self-compassion, or self-hatred? Are they moving you forward into health, or holding you in a cycle of guilt and shame? By exploring our self-beliefs and inner dialogue, we can find out where our goals are really coming from, and whether we should put them into practice.


Self-Compassion Workshop

8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course


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