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Health and lifestyle as a compassionate choice

How to change your psychology so that health becomes a happy and sustainable behaviour instead of a punishment.

As an exercise physiologist I see people in all states of health. From the generally well but wanting to be fitter/slimmer to people with complex disabilities wanting to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Using lifestyle change, especially exercise, is a wonderful tool in any circumstance however the motivations we apply are often askew to the outcome we desire.

 

Nod your head if the following themes sounds familiar;

  1. You know you should eat better and exercise more, feel guilty about not doing so and feel that it is a sign of personal weakness that you don’t.
  2. You can easily identify the people around you who you feel are “better” than you when it comes to being healthy
  3. When you do decide to start exercising or change your diet you take up something drastic like banning chocolate and alcohol or try to do bootcamps every morning for a month.
  4. I would be such a better person if I could only follow through with my intentions.

 

Now imagine the person you care most about in the world. It may be your mum, your partner, your best mate. Whoever it may be, close your eyes and picture their smiling face. How do you interact with them? When they experience a joyous moment do you revel in their joy? When they have a bad day do you support and encourage them that the future is bright? If they make a mistake do you remind them that humans are fallible?

 

Why do we show more compassion to those around us than we do to ourselves? The real question is why WOULD we be self-compassionate if we think so negatively about ourselves as in the examples above. Making mistakes is human, being stressed is a part of life, being sad or angry is normal and yet we expect none of these things to be a part of our own lives. When they inevitably show themselves we self-destruct with junk food, procrastination and damaging interactions.

 

This brief report https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1359105316643377  in the Journal of Health Psychology shows that people who have high levels of self compassion have better health as a direct result of more active health behaviours. So how do we practice self compassion?

  1. Treat yourself like you would your best friend
  2. Practice mindfulness. This is not distraction but rather an activity you can devote your entire attention to and be completely engrossed in.
  3. Remember that life is hard and you are not alone. Negative emotions are just as much a part of being human as positive ones.
  4. Don’t confuse a bad choice with being a bad person. Your worth is unconditional. Just because you decided ate four zinger burgers after a night out doesn’t mean your value as a person has lessened.

 

Healthful behaviours such as eating well and exercising should fall into this category too. Instead of punishment choose to do them because you want the best for yourself like you do for your loved ones.

 

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