Self-Compassion as a Stepping Stone to Health Behavior Change

Self-compassion, as it turns out, demands that we go beyond our comfort zones. While compassion may seem like the complete opposite of courage, I soon learned that courage and self-compassion actually came hand-in-hand.  Research shows that self-awareness plays a huge part in developing health behavior change, but if the awareness of ourselves is generally unpleasant, then we may look to food or other concrete aspects (like cigarettes, alcohol, etc) of life instead of long-term health goals (Adams & Leary, 2007).  Through better understanding of the self, however, my research has shown that self-compassion can help us acknowledge visible flaws that we might be willing to act upon. 

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Underneath Every Health Goal

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In 2011, I was introduced to the world of women who were determined to do something about their weight through proper nutrition and professional guidance. Unfortunately, I had never experienced the struggle and the challenge given to me was the ability to empathize and relate to these women whose ages ranged from 18 to 60+. What did I know about losing weight? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. And yet, here I was, tasked to let them all know that I understood absolutely EVERYTHING they were feeling. 

And boy was it challenging. 

In counseling you learn all kinds of ways to empathize, listen, and get to the core of the situation, but it’s never as easy as they think….because we’re constantly thinking! The greatest part about it though, is having the honor of listening to so many stories. In fact, it is because of these stories that I have been motivated and driven to look beneath the surface of each health goal. Here’s what I learned:

1. Your state of health is only the tip of the iceberg (Travis, 2004).  While health goals can be as concrete as possible, they present the state of health that one must achieve. There are numbers to reach, there is a symptom to remove or reduce, and a pain to alleviate. It is clear. 

2. There is always a bigger story. Beneath the surface is an emotion driven by a particular fear or dream. It is your personal “why”. The bigger story is what helps you determine the value of your goal and how much you believe you deserve it. When there is a bigger story to tell, a higher goal to reach, a more concrete dream, then it is this that carries anybody through the process. What matters is how you define it. 

 You may want to eliminate a certain symptom, and improve your state of health, but you may also want to physically feel better in order to enjoy life, be able to play with young children, enjoy the company of friends and the luxury of your own time, be able to retain your independence, and so much more! 

3. You’re never the only person involved. People might think that reaching their goals is a personal endeavor, but it really doesn’t have to be. Studies show that external resources are essential to achieving success when trying to go for any health goal.