What to Do About Not Doing What We Say We Want to Do

self compassion

Last week I wrote about the reasons why sometimes our very own habitual responses become the biggest obstacles to getting what we really want!

I can think of so many examples of this, but the easiest one that comes to mind is giving in to junk food when stressed, even though we committed to shedding unwanted weight. Our nervous systems have developed to try to ease discomfort by activating our reward system during challenging moments and past responses, such as eating junk food, have become automatic and occur without our permission.

If you identify with this challenge in your own life, I have some great science-based tips you can use to activate the superpowers that I know you have to actually get what you want in life.

Research is clearly showing an untapped area that is extremely effective in helping to align our internal states and external actions to get exactly what we want in life: It is called Self-Compassion.

Compassion is defined as “concern and desire to alleviate the suffering of another.” The part we are missing, which is clearly below the realm of our awareness, is that we cannot alleviate anyone’s suffering until we alleviate our own!

As a toxicologist who understands the toxic effect of chemicals on our body, like the stress hormone cortisol, and as a human sufferer who did not really understand how to love myself until I became ill, here are some practical ways to become better at cultivating self-compassion.

  1. Choose to let your distress become your motivation.

Many of the emotional states that drive our actions occur below the realm of our awareness. One common, unhealthy manifestation of underlying, wounded self- worth is playing the martyr and the rescuer of others. Although it is important to be kind and loving to others, pay close attention to any relationships that take up a big chunk of your energy without providing an equal reciprocity of love and support.

The reason we are wiling to give so much of ourselves in exchange for so little is personal and different for every one of us but, regardless of the reason, it is extremely toxic for our health and can make us very sick in the long run.

It pains me to remember the part of my life when I chose to play the martyr. In hindsight and after scrupulous inner work, I can tell you that the reason I made that choice was to alleviate my deep, hidden fears of abandonment. Each and every one of us is equally worthy of love and belonging and we should not be taking care of others at the expense of our own health to feel loved and to belong.

The world-renowned medical intuitive and best-selling author Carolyn Myss has taught me much about this common trap and how sick one can get by negotiating away parts of our self in exchange for safety and security.

We can use the distress of emotional or physical malaise that results from playing the martyr to challenge ourselves to nip in the bud this very unhealthy, unconscious tendency. Ask yourself: Am I creating a deficit of time, effort, love, or something else for myself by playing the rescuer or martyr for another? Answering and addressing that question in one of the most profound ways to cultivate and put to work your superpowers to get all that you want and deserve in this life.

  1. Practice the power of reframing. – Transform triggers to breakthroughs.

When we fail to stick to our New Year’s resolutions, we often get critical and intolerant of ourselves. What if instead of calling those situations a “failure,” we call the fact that we noticed our self criticism a breakthrough? Every time a person or life situation triggers a state of anxiety within, and you catch yourself reaching out for an unhealthy way to self-soothe it is indeed a fabulous breakthrough, because this moment of awareness is the magic moment when you have the opportunity to do something different. By identifying the subtle opportunities for change, we can use every stressor as an opportunity for transformation. We can create a whole new narrative to our story by “choosing the lyrics to the song our heart sings.” So instead of punishing yourself for any slipups during stressful times, reframe them as mini-breakthroughs and ask yourself: What does being caring, kind, and supportive to myself look like right in this moment? What is it that I need right now? I promise you it is not a chocolate muffin!

  1. Instead of self-judgment, learn to embrace and own how powerful you are!

 Are you sometimes shocked at how hard you can be on yourself? Why do we have so much empathy for our friends when they make mistakes, yet are so unkind and harsh to ourselves? The answer to that question is hidden inside our physiology. The truth is that our conditioned way of being self-critical when we mess up is a result of the activation of our stress response, which is activated just as it would be if we were being chased by someone dangerous. The key to breaking through this limitation is to understand it better. You see, self-criticism does not actually present a physical threat like being chased by a criminal does. The threat a mistake or a failure presents to us is a threat to our self-concept. When we fail in some way or we hear news that challenges our perception of self we attack ourselves because, unbeknownst to us, our thoughts threaten our self-concept!

When our friend fails, we have plenty of encouraging words of affirmation because our friend’s failure does not threaten our self-worth. Dr. Brene Brown has done some amazing work that links shame with our fight or flight response. She has spent the best part of the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of four #1 New York Times bestsellersThe Gifts of Imperfection, Daring GreatlyRising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. So, the next time you feel your harsh inner critic surfacing, place your hand on your heart and instead of being harsh think or say some encouraging words to yourself. For example, you can say: “I am just human; it’s okay if I make mistakes.” Then ask yourself: What is within my control about this situation that I can change to get a different result?

  1. Connect, touch, and be touched.

When we feel less than, get a bad diagnosis, or fail at a regimen of self-improvement, our fear circuitry in the brain’s amygdala gets triggered and we shift to an older, non-relational part of our brain, which leads to us operating from our fight, flight, or freeze state. However, we have another system available to us, our attachment system, which provides a different and very effective way of dealing with dangers in the environment—connection and human touch. Although our reptilian, conditioned, unrefined way of responding to stress is to withdraw and isolate to keep our feelings of “not being good enough” to ourselves, we can choose to do something different. We can choose to connect, share our stories and our stressors, hold someone’s hand, and enjoy the myriad benefits of the “feel good” hormone, oxytocin. Next time you feel threatened, ask yourself: How did I get so lucky that I have the love, kindness, and support of (name a person who loves you here) in my life? And instead of an unhealthy alternative, reach out to them instead!

  1. Embrace pain, and practice being comfortable with discomfort.

We are hard-wired to avoid pain and to look for anything that alleviates it, even if that something is killing us. We will even excuse and allow in our lives people who treat us unkindly, hurt, or betray us. This leads us to a tendency to numb our pain with a story we make up, like excuses for the reasons why we let people off the hook that hurt and betray us. Forgiveness is absolutely necessary and vital to our health and healing. But so is being able to set healthy boundaries and cut the cord from people that treat us unkindly and cause us continuous pain.

The truth is that the ultimate gift and act of love to ourselves is to train our brain to be okay with the undeniable part of life that involves a significant amount of suffering. What if instead of investing our energy in hurt people that hurt us, we choose to acknowledge and be with the pain of the situation without resistance? There is no need to cover up and perpetuate any source of pain in your life. We can instead befriend it and ask: What is this painful experience here to teach me? What can I choose to do differently because of the pearls of wisdom this painful experience has bestowed on me?

You are so incredibly complex, powerful, and beautiful!

It took me many years to see that one of the reasons we don’t do what we know will get us what we want is because we have not yet come to terms with just how amazing we are.

Science has come to the side of ancient, contemplative wisdom to form a beacon of light for our liberation.

And thankfully, we don’t have to study science to leverage its power to become the “master of our domain.”

We can accept not just the undeniable beauty but also the pain of human existence.

We can choose to cut the lifeline to excuses and live by the truth that we cannot love anyone any more than we love ourselves.

We can choose to see our human connectedness and how we all go through our fair share of ups and downs, often not so graciously.

You are powerful beyond comprehension, and you can cease playing small and let your light shine by learning how to truly love yourself.

After all, as our dear Dr. Brene Brown has uncovered through her research: “We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”


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