Whole New You

Self-Compassion: The New Secret to Being Slim, Fit, and Happy for Life

Surprise: It's going easy on yourself! Here's how being your own biggest fan can actually make you healthy.


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Ericka McConnell
You ate a cupcake at the office birthday party (even though you swore you wouldn't). You skipped the gym to go home and watch TV (can't resist those Real Housewives!). And now you're beating yourself up for it, right? We know, because we've all been there. It's become far too common for us to mentally punish ourselves this way, thinking we'll feel shamed into better behavior, observes Kristin Neff, PhD, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

But being our own worst Mean Girl is counterproductive. According to research in the burgeoning new field of self-compassion, a little TLC may go a lot further in motivating you to work out, lose weight, and get healthier overall. "Self-compassion means being kind to yourself, especially when you make a mistake," explains Neff, author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. "As it turns out, caring about yourself is one of the best possible motivators for doing what's healthy for you rather than what's harmful to you."

As you'd expect, quitting the trash talk makes you feel good. In fact, brain-imaging scans done on Buddhist monks by University of Wisconsin neuroscientists suggest that self-compassion lessens anxiety and depression. But surprisingly, being kind to yourself also has a concrete effect on your behavior and physical well-being. "Studies show that self-compassionate people are more proactive about looking after themselves," says Duke University professor of psychology and neuroscience Mark Leary, PhD, who's been involved with much of the research in this field. "They're more likely to take vitamins, practice safe sex, and go to the doctor when they're sick." Read on to see how you can score big health gains by giving yourself a break.

Boost motivation
Most people play drill sergeant with themselves: "I have to go to Spinning every day this week!" But using phrases like have to and setting too-strict goals are a recipe for falling short—and feeling lousy about it. In a study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, participants who forgave themselves for failing at a task were more likely to pick themselves up and try again. "They didn't let that one failure define them," Neff says. "When you criticize yourself, you undermine your self-confidence, which is a huge part of motivation."


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Aviva Patz
Last Updated: October 07, 2011

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