Setting Goals With Self-Compassion



I think I’ve mentioned that my wife often listens to podcasts to help her fall asleep. I often hear more of those episodes than she does, some time several times as she listens to them for a few nights as if she’s going to hear more of them.

Anyway, recently, while reading my book or just not yet asleep, I’ve heard two episodes of the Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris that had me take action toward trying to make 2021 a better year for me. The first was about “intuitive eating” with guest Evelyn Tribole and the second was with Yale professor Laurie Santos, who teaches a very popular course on happiness (available as an open course as well) and has her own podcast, the Happiness Lab.

After hearing that second episode I registered for the free open course with Professor Santos, which I’m learning a lot in and enjoying it a great deal. You can expect me to share a lot about what I’m learning and doing from that, but today I actually want to talk about a blog post that Santos wrote for Ten Percent Happier called “How to Make a New Year’s Resolution That Sticks”.

It is that time of year again. People are setting goals for 2021. Some of you may be on track with them while others of have stumbled getting started, and a few of them have just chucked them out completely as this year started off even more stressful than the last one ended.  

For me, it’s a bit of a mix. I’m doing well on some things I want to accomplish / change, and others not so much, but I haven’t given up on anything, yet. It’s still early and anything can happen, but I was intrigued to read what her thoughts were on this. 

The entire post is well worth your time to read, but there were two key passages that caught my attention. Well really they kind of metaphorically smacked me.

“At the start of the new year, many of us turn into these awful personal drill sergeants. We yell at ourselves with phrases like you suck or you’re too fat and lazy or you’re procrastinating. We think that this kind of shaming is going to help, but in fact, the shaming is doing more harm than good. We’d be better off taking a completely different approach: the approach of self-compassion.”

And

“If you boost your self-compassion, you’ll naturally eat healthier and take care of your body, because that’s a way to be kind to yourself. You’re more likely to continue at a hard project even after setbacks, because you know you’ll be nice to yourself if you mess up. Whatever other things you want to achieve in the new year, focusing on self-compassion is actually going to help you get there.”

I’ve looked at self-compassion as protecting my boundaries (time, attention, etc.) and taking time for myself, but I’ve been beating myself up over the serious emotional eating I’ve done during the past 10 months and working out because it’s good for my mental and physical health, which allows me to show up in the other areas of my life. This is clearly the wrong approach.

Three years ago at this time I was eating healthy, but also enjoying some ice cream or other goodies. I was very active. I was in a really good place emotionally and feeling happy and confident with who I was. Then a serious bout of depression hit and my view of myself took a nose dive. Eating healthy and exercising became chores. I stuck with the exercise because I enjoy it, but changed from mostly healthy eating with some “ice cream and other goodies” to more goodies and not as much healthy eating. Then 2020 came and the scale tipped even more. Now I often feel sluggish and exercise isn’t as enjoyable. The more I move away from taking care of my physical health, the worse I feel about myself, creating a never ending cycle.

Reading Santos’s post made me realize just how much my opinion of myself effects the way I treat my physical well-being. In addition to the quotes from above, she also talks about, in the post and the course, the importance of setting goals for the right reasons. Much like Simon Sinek writes about, the “why” for your goal helps determine the work and persistence you’re likely to put in. If I want to increase my chance of achieving my goals, my “why” should include that “I care about myself, I have compassion for myself, I want what’s best for me.” That doesn’t mean the other “why” such as being a role model for my daughter or being able to show up for others aren’t important, but with self-compassion playing a central role in my goals I’ll shut the drill sergeant out when I stumble.

One final note on this. I was already starting to think about this before I heard the podcast episode with Professor Santos. After hearing the one with Evelyn Tribole I looked up “intuitive eating” and made an appointment with a registered dietician trained in it. I want to stop eating when I’m not really hungry AND I want to stop berating myself for having that hot chocolate with marshmallows. 

There is no sign that 2021 is going to be a whole lot better than 2020. Self-compassion, caring for what’s best for you because you deserve to be cared for is a good thing. Make it a priority this year.

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