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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On The Reading List: Books to develop your inner power

Psychologist, Julian Rotter, in his theory of Locus of Control posits that every single human being has the power to influence the outcome of situations when their locus of control is internal. When the locus of control is external, however, the individual turns to external events in explaining their own circumstances. While it's always good to have a mix of both, it also pays to discover and develop our inner power. This is why I've put together a list of four books that range from evidence-based psychological studies to spiritually driven content to help you discover your inner power to influence the outcome of all situations in your life (and sometimes vice versa). 

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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. 

3 Weight Management Secrets

Since the 2008 figures from the National Statistics Coordination Board Survey, I have learned that 27 out of 100 Filipinos are obese. My research has taught me that obesity,which may be caused by heredity and / or environmental and behavioral factors, can create high risks for several morbidities such as coronary heart disease,diabetes, and cancer (Ogden, 2007). Those who may be experiencing obesity may also face liver and kidney failure and have trouble moving and breathing due to the regional distribution of adipose tissue which may collect in areas that restrict blood flow (Wing and Phelan, 2012).

In my years of experience, I have learned to pay attention to the smaller things that have affected weight management. I noticed that clients who are struggling to keep their weight down tend to neglect these three very important things. 

Here are 3 secrets that can help facilitate your process: 

1. Keep record of your WINS. There is an exercise in positive psychology on gratitude that has you write down the things you are grateful for each day. This is kind of like it, only you’re recording your daily WINS (no matter how big or small). There is research that tells us that feelings of pride born out of accomplishment produce the urge to achieve more. By keeping track of our daily wins, we cultivate the positive feelings of pride and pay tribute to our self-esteem. 

2. Acknowledge every craving and surf it. There is research that shows that when you can “surf the urge”, you are better able to enhance your own will power. Therefore, surfing the urge begins with acknowledging the craving and riding the wave of feelings that accompany it. Scientists have proven that when you can hold out a little longer, then it eventually just goes away. 

3. Get 8 hours of sleep. This is no mental exercise but it takes discipline to even get 8 hours of sleep. But why is sleep so important? 

When you get the right amount of sleep, your body is able to better reconstruct itself. Your growth hormones are activated when you sleep and your body rebuilds itself. When you lack sleep, your body releases more cortisol (a stress hormone) that signals your body to conserve energy; it does this by storing fat when it goes into survival mode. 

Next time you even consider staying up late, ask yourself if you will be able to get 8 hours of sleep. And if you know you won’t be, go home and make sure that you do. 

These tips are simple, but the discipline in cultivating positive emotions, getting enough rest, and learning how to surf the urge, build the appropriate resources you will need to achieve your goal. At the end of the day, health management is all about your decisions and what you do to make it right. ;)

EMOTIONS: An embodied experience

Think about a recent positive experience and try to recall everything about it. Who were there, what did it feel like, and what were you thinking? How did your body feel? What did you look like? And what did it make you want to do?

Did this positive feeling make you want to tell somebody? Did it make you want to dream and consider endless possibility? How did you want to spend the rest of your day? And who did you want to share this feeling with?

Emotions, according to Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, are an embodied feeling state. How we feel about something has a direct effect on our facial expressions, our heart rate, posture, voice, and action urges. And whether we express it or not, all our emotions are broadcast in our subtle body language. Therefore, Fredrickson says, the way we feel is never completely personal; the way we feel projects itself and is shared with the community around us. 

Do you ever notice how powerful a smile can be? That when a stranger greets you on the street, you tend to smile with them? It becomes a shared and embodied experience wherein two people now share this positive feeling, also known as positivity resonance. 

Positive emotions have such a subtle impact that we hardly notice how these tiny engines change us. Did you notice that when you imagined your last positive experience it may have made you want to explore, share, and create? I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling good, I can feel the little arms in my heart stretch out ready to give out a few random hugs. It’s such a good feeling that you wish everyone else could feel it with you. 

It is these little emotional connections that are our nutrients for LIFE. 

Emotions are so powerful that we often neglect how it projects itself through us. Next time you have an experience - be it positive or negative - learn to pay attention to the way your body feels when you are filled with this emotion. How does your heart feel? How does your head feel? What is your facial expression? And what does it make you want to do?