I’m a walker. That’s my preferred method of movement, although I do love me a little Yoga with Adrienne a couple times a week. In my younger days, I spent hours each week at the gym, but for me, that wasn’t something I could sustain over my lifetime.
So I walk, and add in a little bit of muscle strengthening activity because I know that’s important as I age, as well as yoga to help keep me flexible. And this simple routine is something that I can continue to do for as long as I’m standing.
But I digress. This article isn’t really about walking, it’s about being kind to yourself. So, how did I get from walking to being kind to yourself? Okay, stay with me.
I’ve been in a bit of a struggle with myself lately, mostly over my relationship with food. I consider myself a very healthy eater, sometimes to the extreme, and that can be a problem: too much focus on food. But lately, I’ve gone the other way, I’m an extreme snacker. A little bit of many things, like snack crackers, or chocolate chips, or sweet little clusters of butter toffee almonds, oh my. Then my inner critic shows up, you know, the one we all hide from the rest of the world, and my internal dialogue goes something like this: “You have no self-control. Why can’t you just stop. You’re a fraud. You might as well just keep stuffing yourself.” And then the next day, I start out great, and devolve into snacking in the afternoon. It’s a vicious cycle.
Okay, back to walking. Twice a week, I meet my friend, Carrie, early in the morning for an hour long walk in a nearby park. Well, you can call it walking, I call it therapy. Anyway, while we’re getting our steps in, we’re also getting our feelings out. That always helps clarify things for me and we can offer each other support and reminders. This week, I was reminded that negative self-talk is NEVER helpful.
To drive the message home, Ten Percent Happier is doing a “Ted Lasso Challenge,” which includes lessons from the Apple TV series of the same name (if you haven’t watched it, you must find a way) and a related guided meditation. Of particular interest, was an email with the subject line, “Inner Critic, Meet Radical Kindness.” The article and accompanying guided meditation helped me to become more aware what happens when you believe that inner critic. Okay, okay, I’m listening already!
Negative self-talk can have far reaching effects, and studies show that it can lead to health problems such as stress and depression. After a while, you just start believing that inner critic. The trick is to catch it before it gets to that point, and talking to a trusted friend helped me to do that.
So, how do you stop that negative self-talk? I find it helpful to talk to myself as I would talk to a friend. So instead of “You have no self-control,” I could have said, “You’re doing great, you had a little taste of chocolate chips, but that’s not the end of the world. You’ll get right back on it,” or “You spend a lot of time taking care of others, and it’s important to take care of yourself too.”
Here are some other ideas for kicking negative self-talk to the curb:
Pay attention to triggers.
Spend some time figuring out what is triggering this negative internal dialogue in the first place. In my case it’s eating stuff that I know is unhealthy.
Explore the belief behind the trigger.
Say you just got turned down for a promotion at work, and that is your triggering event. Your negative thoughts might include, “My boss hates me,” or “My boss treats me unfairly.” These can be extremely personal to you and can go pretty deep. If it becomes too much of a problem, be sure to seek professional help.
Put things into perspective.
What’s the worst that could happen if I eat those butter toffee almonds? Does it make me a bad person? It’s just nuts for goodness sake! So ask yourself some questions to challenge your negative thoughts. What is really the truth in the situation and are your beliefs accurate based on that truth?
Be kind to your inner critic.
This is what meditation teacher La Sarmiento, who is leading Ten Percent Happier’s Ted Lasso Challenge, calls Radical Kindness. They suggest using lovingkindness as a antidote to negative self-talk: May I be kind and gentle with myself. May I trust that I’m doing my best. May I cultivate patience with myself. If you find that difficult, imagine hearing these phrases from someone who cares about you instead, and in the second person.
Change does not happen overnight, and as you practice it over and over, creating new neural pathways, it will become your default way of thinking. How is it going for me? Well, the past few days have been quite encouraging. As I remember to be kind to myself, I find my behavior is changing. Am I perfect? Of course not! Perfection is a whole other beast. Why just today, I sat down and savored a square of my favorite Alter Eco 70% salted dark chocolate, mindfully enjoying every last bite. Fully satisfied and a feeling good about myself, that’s where I stopped. I consider that a win!