I keep a notebook on my desk during client sessions. Here and there I jot down tidbits that strike a chord with me and I feel others can relate to. Today I was in session with a client we’ll call C because C was confused. C had a history of beating herself up when it comes to food. Recently I wrote about the importance of self-compassion something C didn’t have a whole lot of in the past. Prior to coming to see me though, C decided not to be so hard on herself and she was succeeding. The problem is she wasn’t feeling very well. In her words (the words I wrote in my notebook) “I decided not to be hard on myself and now I’m not accomplishing anything.” C’s clothes weren’t fitting well and the problem wasn’t isolated to food. She was having a hard time organizing her day in general. It’s as though “don’t be so hard on yourself” in some ways wasn’t working or was working too well. For the record, C looks great, unlike the stock photo above, but she doesn’t feel great.
I think many of us can relate to this. Whether it’s the runner who goes from marathon training to rarely running or the person who goes and vacation and decides they will eat whatever then want while away and continues to do so once home. It’s very hard to find the correct balance when it comes to guilt and goals. This isn’t just about being on or off or black and white. This is about finding a way to be productive without punitive measures we all know end up backfiring.
So how does one do this? I have a couple of ideas:
The first I call negative splits a term runners will recognize. In a long training run or race the goal is to be conservative in the first half of the race so that the second half can be run faster than the first and a better overall time is achieved. I apply this to food behaviors. In my first session with clients I find many are surprised. If a client isn’t already exercising I may suggest 60 minutes of exercise over 2 days. Or, if a client never cooks I may recommend cooking (or “assembling”) one dinner a week. This is generally met with a “this is supposed to be harder, I want to lose weight” look. I assure clients we will ratchet things up but encourage them to trust me, lowering the bar initially will lead to confidence and feelings of success. It will also eventually lead to better long-term results.
The second tool is called a victory list. A victory list is the direct opposite of beating yourself up. At the end of the day, think of one thing you did well and record it. My professional world is food-centric and so examples would be “hydrated well” or “skipped bagels at the meeting” or “ate lots of vegetables.” If you think this sounds hokey, chances are you would really benefit from trying it.
I will let you know how it goes for C. I really hope C soon stands for “confident” instead of “confused”.
Do you think it’s possible to be too easy on yourself? How do you strike the balance between self-critical and self-control?

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