“Its odd,” Samantha said, “but whenever I am nervous about an upcoming event where I know I have to be on and present, my focus goes straight to the size of my belly. Is my shirt too tight? Do I look fat? You would think instead I would be thinking, did I prepare enough on my presentation or will I have something interesting to say and talk about.” I nodded and listened.
I hear this type of comment from clients and students a lot (male and female). Usually when I ask a client if she/he loves their body, they’ll start telling me what they don’t like about it first. We want to be five pounds thinner, have bigger biceps, smaller hips, or be a few inches taller. We want to firm up, eat less, and we all wanted this yesterday. By not appreciating what we have and who we are, these changes are impossible.
Most of our habits and the way we think about the world and ourselves is done automatically and without a lot of awareness. Did you know that out of the 82,000 thoughts we have in a day, 70-80% are geared towards the negative? Yes, it is true. I teach a ten-week class at Stanford University titled “Becoming a Better You,” and in the class I share and encourage my students to practice mindfulness and compassion. I believe they are the foundations of real and lasting change.
Mindfulness is being present to our moment-to-moment experience.
Compassion is the ability to be with the suffering of others or ourselves, without a need to change or fix.
Research in the topic of compassion has found that when we start to focus on negative or critical thoughts, our nervous system responds. We move from a calm and open place, to a fearful and contracted place where we don’t feel safe. Furthermore, when we are critical towards ourselves, a stress hormone called cortisol is released. This has been shown to increase the amount of belly fat stored by the body, particularly in women. The good news is compassion is a greater motivator to change than criticism. Also our brains are considered to be quite malleable so we can change our habits if we change how we think about things.
Try the tips below and you will be on your way to compassionate change:
- Breathe and learn to identify your negative thinking loops. When we can just be with ourselves, we get to learn what thoughts are coming and going Ex: “I will never get promoted” “I am not enough.” “ No one loves and supports me.”
- Talk back to the negative and create new compassionate mantras. Focus on love and acceptance of who you are and where you are. Try this one: “ I love and accept myself as I am.” Or “I am doing enough today.” Or “I am enough”.
- Set attainable goals around your health and well-being. Often times we get excited to make changes, but then set ourselves up to fail with our lofty expectations. Be realistic. You might ask, “What can I reasonably do this week?” Then keep doing that over and over, until you feel ready to reach a little higher. Consistency is the key to any real change.
- Bring appreciation to the parts of your body that help you to be and do what you love. Thank your body. Ex: “I hate how my belly pokes out sometimes. Please forgive me for telling you over and over again that you need to be different than what you are. I appreciate you and how you support me to digest, to lead from my power center, and relax.” (We relax most by deep belly breathing).
- Surround yourself with people who support you to be who you are and lift you higher.Compassion is infectious.
The most important thing we can accomplish in this lifetime is true self appreciation and self acceptance of ourselves and others. This has nothing to do with whether or not we see the number we want to on the scale.
How do you stay positive and compassionate? Tell me in the comments below.
Want to learn more mindful practices? Sign up for Carley’s FREE Mindful Training workbook.