Are you beating yourself up this morning for digging into the Halloween candy stash during the snowstorm? Or maybe you’re feeling guilty for skipping the gym?
We all lapse on health habits from time to time. (Last night I ate too much of my daughter’s birthday cake.) But mentally punishing yourself for all the slip-ups won’t actually shame you into better behavior. In fact, researchers have found it’s counter-productive and could become a self-fulfilling prophecy making us more prone to bad habits.
One study found that those who forgave themselves for failing at a task were more likely to brush themselves off and try again. In other research, dieters were instructed to eat a doughnut after which some got a pep talk telling them not to be too hard on themselves since everyone needs a treat once in a while. Compared to those who didn’t get the pep talk, the ones who did wound up eating fewer bonbons during the second part of the study.
The trick here is to not let yourself off the hook entirely. Self compassion is about putting things in perspective. A doughnut is just a doughnut. It has empty calories but one doughnut won’t destroy all the efforts you’ve made to lose weight. A doughnut a day, however, might.
Practicing self-compassion also appears to help improve relationships. Self-compassionate couples report being happier in their relationships than those who score low on the compassion scale. Psychologists recommend taking a self-compassion break during arguments by going to a separate room to console yourself. Validating your own emotions and how you’re feeling, paradoxically, can help you compromise in conflicts with your partner.