Healthy living doesn’t begin and end with your decision to join a gym or follow a meal plan. Long-term physical change doesn’t just start by focusing on your body, but by paying attention to your mind.
Learn how to adopt a mindset of well-being, and how self-compassion, and not self-criticism, brings you closer to your wellness goals.
The Science of Habit Change
Many people assume that self-criticism, while unpleasant, is a useful motivator for developing healthy habits. The logic is that being kind to ourselves will lead to self-indulgence and laziness. However, science shows us that the opposite is true: self-compassion increases our desire to succeed, while self-criticism depletes us on a physical and mental level. (1)
Self-criticism—which includes derogatory comments about your weight, how you look and your lifestyle habits—increases the stress hormone cortisol. Constant self-critique signals to your body that it is under attack, and as a result, cortisol starts to flood your body on a regular basis. While this hormone is useful in dangerous situations where a surge of adrenaline is needed for safety, when cortisol levels are raised for a prolonged period of time, it can do more harm than good.
Over time, excess cortisol causes the human body to shut down in an attempt to protect itself. (2) This increases blood pressure and elevates insulin, ultimately progressing to health conditions such as insomnia, adrenal fatigue, and weight gain. It wreaks psychological havoc, leading to depression and anxiety.
If you’ve ever experienced any of these symptoms, you’ll know that they’re self-defeating.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, heightens your motivation and increases your desire to succeed. (3) We’re wired to do our best work when we feel safe and comforted, which means that kindness and compassion are key.
How to Modify Your Mindset
Health is not limited to what you’re eating, but also includes what you’re thinking and saying. A healthy mindset shift also means that you’ll have sustainable health goals.
There are three steps to changing your healthy living mindset:
- The first is to love and accept who you are unconditionally.
- The second is to pinpoint the core change that you desire to make.
- The third is to commit to taking daily action, from a positive mental state.
1. Love and Accept Yourself
The paradox of becoming who you want to be is that you first must accept who you already are.
While in the short term, self-doubt may motivate some lifestyle changes, these same feelings will eventually cause you to retreat into old patterns of self-sabotage. This may include emotional eating, avoiding exercise, and distancing yourself from those who are a positive influence.
Positive personal growth happens when your motivation for a healthy life coincides with your love and acceptance of who you already are. Appreciate and admire the body and life that you have been living in, and make future changes based on self-enhancement, not self-punishment.
2. Know What to Change
Don’t turn to fitness trends and fads for motivation; motivation is only built and sustained by knowing what YOU want to feel and achieve.
For example, while you may want to lose weight, weight loss is probably not the underlying factor. Most likely, there’s a desire to achieve more energy, confidence and overall happiness.
So instead of focusing on weight loss as a primary motivator, shift your attention to your core goals and what you truly want—not what media trends are telling you to.
When you do this, you are acknowledging that what you want to change is how you feel in your body, not merely its size.
3. Commit to Daily Action
By this point, you have acknowledged the beauty of who you already are, and you’ve pinpointed the healthy goals that are most relevant to you. The final step in changing how you think and feel is by taking daily action.
As you do so, remember that lasting change never happens overnight.
For example, while you may desire to lose weight, it is important to recognize that weight loss is a result of healthy habits over time. Doing a seven-day juice cleanse only focuses on the short term and won’t have lasting effects.
So, instead of aiming to lose “X number of pounds in Y days,” focus on following habits that nourish your body and mind daily. Think of it this way: losing weight is an accumulation of healthy habits over time while gaining unwanted weight is an accumulation of unhealthy habits over time. Focus on making daily healthy choices like choosing water over soda, cooking with real food instead of grabbing take-out, or going to sleep earlier so you have more energy the next day.
Make a list of the tasks that you need to complete, or the habits that you need to adapt, to create the lifestyle that you want to live. Then, dedicate time each day to follow through on those tasks and habits.
Stay committed to meaningful goals, and do so with a positive mindset. The rest—weight loss, healthier skin, and more energy—will naturally follow.
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