How kind self-talk can set you up for success

When you examine your weaknesses, is your internal dialogue encouraging or shaming? According to Connie Kerrigan, RN, BSN, MBA, Director of Outreach, Parkview Behavioral Health, you stand to gain far more benefit from addressing your shortcomings in a soothing, supportive tone. Not sure how to make the shift? Connie has some great suggestions for where to start.

We’ve all heard the expression that if “you put good in, you get good out,” but what about the opposite? What happens when we put good out, spreading kindness to ourselves and others? Do we see benefits to your health and well-being? More and more research is saying yes.

Compassion, as defined as an affective state and subjective feeling, distinct from empathy or sympathy, can be said to encompass three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (Neff, 2003; Schzntz, 2007; Goetz, Keltner, and Simon-Thomas, 2010). Moreover, pioneering compassion researcher, Kristin Neff (2003) supplements that compassion involves being understanding of oneself and one’s struggles, viewing one’s suffering in the context of the shared human condition, and being aware and nonjudgmental without over-identification, with a desire to alleviate suffering. Recent compassion research demonstrates the positive benefits of compassion on one’s health and well-being, including less self-judgment, less isolation, lower levels of pain, anger and psychological distress (Pinto-Gouveia and Costa, 2011; Carson et al., 2005). Other studies show the implications of compassion on the neuroendocrine, innate immune, and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress (Pace et al, 2009). With the case for compassion growing, perhaps it is time for you to look into the concept.

Consider your New Year’s resolutions for a moment. Did you look in the mirror and think, “Listen, I know you want to lose a few pounds because it’s important to you to stay healthy for your family. Can you commit to working on this in the New Year?” Or, was the tone more, “What’s wrong with you? How could you let yourself go like this? This is so typical of you. You’re such a lazy bum. You need to get off your butt and exercise. This year’s resolution will be to lose that ugly gut!”?

For many of us, the latter judgmental tone is much more familiar than the kind and encouraging approach. And we actually know from the research on self-compassion, done by Dr. Neff and others, that we are significantly more effective at motivating ourselves to change if that motivation involves a self-compassionate, rather than punitive and critical, approach.

In the Mindful Self-Compassion program created by Christopher Germer, Ph.D., and Dr. Neff, there is a key exercise called Finding Your Core Values (drawn from Steven Hayes’ Acceptance and Commitment) where people are asked to consider what is most deeply important in their lives, and where they are not living in accord with those values. Perhaps you value ease and equanimity in your personal life, and you find that meditation supports you in that, but lately you haven’t been meditating as much as you would like. This is a place where you are out of alignment with your core values. How helpful have you found it to berate yourself for not meditating enough? Typically, it’s not effective at all.

What if you could connect more deeply with what really moves you and let it guide you in difficult or stressful times so that you make better choices that are more in alignment with what is profoundly important to you? Research suggests that one way to do this s to let go of the self-critical voice that is desperately trying to take care of you and keep you from harm, but doing it in dysfunctional and counter-productive ways.

When you ponder something you would like to change about yourself or your behavior (things that you can actually change) as part of a New Year’s resolution, consider how you normally talk to yourself about that behavior and how successful that approach has been in the past. Then consider the possibility of speaking to yourself in a more loving and supportive way, the way you would want to be motivated by a mentor or coach or supportive friend. Could the more self-compassionate approach actually touch the part of you that wants very much for this change to happen? What would it be like to motivate yourself out of love and positive regard for yourself rather than criticism, judgment and shaming?

All evidence points to this self-compassion approach being far more effective and sustainable than the self-critical approach and it actually feels better, too! If you find yourself struggling with being kind to yourself, or want to be able to meet your suffering with tolerance, warmth and acceptance, consider taking the Mindful Self-Compassion program through Parkview Health.

Parkview Behavioral Health (PBH) is sponsoring an eight-week community program, Mindful Self-Compassion, led by Lorraine M. Hobbs, M.A., director, Youth and Family Programs, U.C. San Diego Center for Mindfulness. Weekly classes begin Tuesday, January 10 at 6 p.m. and includes a full day retreat scheduled for February 19. The program will provide participants with the knowledge and skills of self-compassion to combat self-criticism, self-denial and self-absorption, and to gain emotional strength and resilience. Program activities, including meditation, short talks, experiential exercises, group discussion and home practices, are meant to provide a safe and supportive environment for exploring typical responses to difficult emotions and to enhance emotional resources and personal capacities. For questions, pricing information and to register, please email Cynthia Shaleen, receptionist, Parkview Behavioral Health at cynthia.shaleen@parkview.com. A sliding fee schedule is available.

This could be the new beginning that reaches far beyond a New Year’s resolution.

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