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?
When I had an eating disorder I had this fear that I would be too easy on myself one day and just balloon up all of a sudden. haha, looking back I laugh because that's completely realistic. Balance is key, as most dietitians always say. For me it's really hard to get my clients to workout. They can do the food changes (most of the time) but working out is like pulling teeth!! I like the idea of "60 minutes in two days", that doesn't sound so bad. It sounds better than "30 minutes for both days"!
Hi Gina, I do think RDs toss around balance and moderation. So important and so tough.
For someone like myself with a type A personality, I think it is hard to follow a "don't be so hard on yourself" approach. I think sometimes it's good to be hard on yourself if it helps you meet your goals, but there definitely needs to be a balance between being over critical and not challenging yourself enough. I love the idea of a victory list for those who tend to be over critical. It's important to acknowledge your successes.
i've been trying to be nicer to myself lately, to acknowledge my successes, no matter how small. thanks for this post, lauren!
I'm far to quick to cut myself some slack. And then weeks later…
I love the idea of writing down a victory list. We often always go for the negative. Instead focusing on the positives, that will help you not want to throw in the towel.
These are great suggestions and I will be sending this post on to a client of mine. I have to say I'm very critical of myself and sometimes TOO to hard on myself. I set unrealistic expectations sometimes and beat myself up for not achieving them. I need to find a balance, acknowledge the small successes, and be kinder to ME!@ Excellent post!
I've found that it is impossible for me to tell myself that I'm doing the best I can. Usually, I can think of a few things that I could be doing 'better,' but usually there are more things I could be doing much worse.
Loved this post. I really like the victory list idea. Starting out small with new changes is a great way to really adapt and succeed in the long run. I tend to be pretty hard on myself, but that's how I get things done.
I read a study about a year ago about ways of praising kids. There were two groups of kids given the same puzzle to complete. One group was told they did a good job, and the other group was told they did a good job trying hard. Both were praised for their efforts in slightly different ways. When they gave each group a more difficult puzzle, the first group didn't really try, and the second group excelled.
This definitely applies to me. If I encourage myself to continue doing better, then I will. If I decide I've already done a good job, then I start to slack off. There is a balance to strive for.
melissa/marie agree that slack cutting can be dangerous and may lead to clothes being tight and other unfortunate endpoints. Glad you guys like victory list, anyone want to share victories?
When I first went back to school (for nutrition, ha) I found myself reaching for “comfort foods” after long days in the library. It quickly became clear that long days in the library were going to be the norm rather than occasionally around exams, so I had to re-think my way of “comforting” myself. Now I look forward to crossing things off my to-do list, and getting enough done to have the time and momentum for the gym at the end of the day. It comforts me to be able to accommodate everything, so that is certainly at the top of my victory list.
Loved this post! It really hit home with me. I think a lot of the time I'm too easy on myself. Especially when it comes to what I eat and running. It's a lot easier to just say "It's ok, I'll be better tomorrow," then to feel like I failed.
At some point though, you need to start holding yourself accountable.
I am very proud to say that I ate lots of asparagus yesterday. Funny that I had them sauteed with sliced chicken breast, but I kept picking up the asparagus to eat. And at the end my cats got all the chicken breast. Not sure I could take this as the first step to become a vegetarian….I am just so excited that asparagus season is almost here in Germany. :-))
Such great advice! I have such a hard time finding balance between maintaining my personal standards and being nice to myself. I have to remind myself that maintaining my standards IS being nice to myself…
I absolutely think I can be too easy on myself at times…I actually realized this during one of your previous posts on dessert where you said that we tell ourselves we "deserve" to have something sweet at the end of the day. And I always had a habit of doing this! Now I am trying to be more realistic about the things I deserve or don't deserve…