Self compassion

by | Apr 21, 2023 | Blog, Mind & Soul

Scrolling mindlessly is a time sucker that clients often say they aim to do less of. Not only do precious hours of time pass, but new research tells us that scrolling specifically through Instagram “fitspiration” reels, videos, and photos is impacting how we think and talk about ourselves on a much deeper level. 

We think we are getting motivated, but actually, we could be setting ourselves up for failure.

The Self compassion science

The American Psychological Association recently compared the effects of viewing randomly assigned Instagram posts to participants featuring body-positive, “appearance-ideal”, or appearance-neutral content.

Study one

In Study One, participants viewed body-positive body photos, body-positive quotes, “fitspiration” body photos, or simply plain landscapes.

Study two

In Study Two, participants viewed photos of the same individuals’ faces without makeup, or just landscapes.

The results

Ultimately, what researchers found is that viewing online content portraying unattainable appearance ideals reduced women’s state of self-compassion, and this was especially true among participants with already low self-compassion or high disordered eating symptoms. In contrast, viewing body-positive social media content increased women’s state of self-compassion, by evoking more accepting thoughts about themselves.

This might seem like an obvious correlation but don’t you think it’s time to knock it off?

When self-indulgence is confused with self compassion

Kristin D. Neff of the University of Texas defined self-compassion as,

“Being supportive toward oneself when experiencing suffering or pain—be it caused by personal mistakes and inadequacies or external life challenges.”

She went on to say that people may assume that self-compassion means going easy on oneself and leads to self-indulgence. There’s a stark difference between self-indulgence and self-compassion though, and it lies between “giving yourself grace” to enjoy an extra slice of pizza or skipping your workout and showing up for yourself and your long-term health goals.

Indulging or binging

Self-indulgence refers to behaviors that satisfy us in the short term but are harmful in the long term. Que binge eating. Research also shows us that when we have self-compassion we are more likely to engage in behaviors such as reduced smoking, healthy diet, and exercise, leading to less medical care, better sleep, enhanced immune function, greater heart rate variability, and reduced cortisol levels.

Neff says, “when people care about themselves, they will care for themselves, and this leads to greater health.”

Change your thoughts towards self compassion

So how do we get this so-called superpower that is self-compassion? Here are three ways you can start growing in greater self-compassion …

Write your trigger list

Make a list of the words, foods, environments, people, or situations that almost always disrupt your equilibrium. When you evaluate the risk of each situation you create awareness, you learn your patterns and you can work backward to break the chain. For example, the stress of your in-laws during family dinner at a local Italian restaurant might cause you to dive into a bottle of wine and spaghetti with all the bread. That’s a trigger that starts the slippery slope of self-indulgence.

Build an action plan

Choose to tackle one trigger at a time. For instance, getting rid of junk food in the house might eliminate late-night binges completely. Or coming home through the front door instead of through the kitchen door might eliminate a few mindless swipes at the snack cupboard as you go past. You could also incorporate triggers that inspire positive routines, such as building a “power song” playlist that triggers epic gym mojo, or starting the day with a veggie-packed shake that triggers a mental high-five for healthy eating.

Rephrase & Reframe

There are ways to turn your self talk around and here are things you can jot down in your journal, on a note right in front of you, on a mirror, or at your desk. Use language like, “This is a tough week. Maybe I should have seen it coming… But I didn’t, and now I’ve got to deal with it,” or, “I’m not a screw up. I can make this right, and next time I’ll handle it better,” and “I’m not the first person to trip myself up on something like this, and I won’t be the last.”