Setting Goals with Self-Compassion

I believe it's an act of self-compassion to avoid the marketing for detoxes, "resets," and other diet culture messages that peak this time of year. These overly strict regimens often backfire because they can’t be maintained long term - leading to a cycle of shame and self-criticism. That's why many health professionals encourage lifestyle changes -- ones that you maintain for the foreseeable future. This approach to improving wellbeing is a self-compassionate way to set yourself up for successful changes.

Remember, health goals can be set any day of the year, and require an ongoing commitment to a permanent lifestyle change.

6 Tips for Self-Compassionate Goals:

  1. Determine your purpose: Connecting with the underlying purpose for your goal is the first step. This "why" or deeper purpose is what will keep you committed for the long term. Write down this purpose and keep it in a visible place. Note that most non-specific goals such as "lose weight" or "exercise more" are not the actual purpose you seek - but are rather a step in the process. Your purpose might be to feel strong to be able engage in your favorite activities, or to be energetic in order play with your kids or grandkids. This critical step is important not to skip over since it will be your North Star.

  2. Focus on one thing at a time: Pick only one thing you want to work on at a time as you work towards your end goal. Make these micro-goals very specific. Don't try to tackle, sleep, exercise, and healthy eating at once! Break it down into a series of doable steps (#3).

  3. Set yourself up for success: Set a goal that’s realistic and highly achievable. Many of us are too ambitious with our goals which can set ourselves up to fail and spiral into negative self-talk. After you achieve your first goal, slowly build upon that goal. While the stepwise approach seems like it will take longer, it's ultimately a more effective way to make long term change. After all, the goal is not to get to the end point first, it's to develop a lifestyle plan to do for life.

  4. Celebrate your successes: A key to making a new behaviors into a habit is to stimulate the brain’s reward pathway. How? Celebrate each small success. It can be as simple as telling yourself you did a great job. It sounds silly, but our self-talk is powerful and if you really believe the praise you’re conjuring up, it can help solidify your new behavior into a habit by stimulating the reward pathway in your brain. Make sure to celebrate each small success on your pathway to your long term goal.

  5. Be compassionate with your self-talk: In addition to taking this overall more gentle, compassionate approach to goals, prepare for when things don't go as you hope. Sliding back into old behavior patterns is to be expected as we seek to learn new habits. Try to use self-compassionate self-talk. A quick trick: think of how you might talk to a close friend and extend that same kindness to yourself. By treating ourselves with kindness when we fail, we’re more likely to get back to our new habits and ultimately achieve our goals.

  6. Set up your support system: We can all benefit from support during behavior changes -- whether from a loved one, friend, or a professional. Enlist support and share your goals. Not all behavior changes can be done on your own – seek out the help of a physician, dietitian, mental health professional, smoking cessation program, or wellness coach, if needed.