22 Jul 2024 HCM Handbook
 

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Behaviour change is an issue which the fitness industry has long been battling. Kath Hudson reports on the approach of using self-love to reprogramme the subconscious mind

New habits start with new neural pathways and new neural pathways start by changing thought patterns Photo: shutterstock/MariiaKorneeva
Practicing self-compassion helps people cope with self-defeating thoughts and feelings in response to setbacks Photo: shutterstock/Jacob Lund

Making a new year’s resolution, working out with a friend or signing up to a marathon are all methods commonly used by people who want to get more healthy. Occasionally they work, but sometimes they don’t because the conscious mind is no match for the subconscious.

As Vince Poscente writes in The Ant and the Elephant, the conscious mind fires off an insignificant 1,000 neurons per second, compared to four billion from the subconscious. So in order to bring about real health changes, we have to train our subconscious mind to be our friend and work in our favour.

The desire to change needs to come from deep inside and it starts with loving yourself. This ethos is at the core of The Class concept, a yoga spin-off created by Taryn Toomey: participants are reminded by instructors that you can’t hate or shame yourself into being something different, but you can love yourself into evolving.

Wellness expert, Mia Kyricos, founder of Kyricos & Associates promotes love as a business strategy (see HCM issue 1 2024, page 48 at www.HCMmag.com/archive) and believes it can also be positive for behaviour change: “Approaching behaviour change from a negative point of view negatively impacts potential success. The best way to make forward progress is by accepting where one is at and then focusing on what’s going right, rather than what has historically gone wrong,” she says.

Self-care is health care
There’s science around self-compassion. A clinical study published in Health Psychology Journal found that women who treated themselves kindly had thinner-walled carotid arteries, which put them at a lower risk for developing cardiovascular disease, even when adjusting for other risk factors.

A further study by Drexel University found self-compassion can help when dieting. When participants who were trying to lose weight showed themselves self-compassion after lapses they reported better mood and self-control over their eating and exercise behaviour.

Charlotte Hagerman, assistant research professor and lead author said: “This study is a great example of how self-compassion can help people be more successful in meeting their goals. The road to achieving goals, especially with weight loss, is paved with setbacks. Practicing self-compassion helps people cope with self-defeating thoughts and feelings in response to setbacks, so they’re less debilitated by them. In turn, they can more quickly resume pursuing their goals.”

Hagerman says practicing self-compassion is a key strategy for fostering resilience when dieting. So instead of saying: “you have no willpower,” say “you’re trying your best in a world that makes it difficult to lose weight,” this keeps accountability, while giving grace.

New habits start with new neural pathways and new neural pathways start by changing thought patterns. Kyricos says there are several ways to do this, but one of the most successful is by approaching training, or any attempts to develop new health and wellness behaviour, from a place of motivation. “Starting by taking steps to understand the intrinsic motivators of clients will help them to stay on a path to success,” she says.

“For example, most people do not wish to lose weight for the scale itself, or because a doctor told them to. Instead, there’s something deeper going on, such as wanting to have the energy to play with their kids after a long work day, or living long enough to spend quality time with grandkids, or to see the world. These are the motivations that need to be identified and celebrated to motivate clients to make long-lasting behaviour change.”

How to help clients cultivate a self-compassion practice

• Live with a sense of gratitude – science proves that keeping a gratitude diary helps to form new neural pathways leading to a more positive mindset

• Talk to yourself and treat yourself as you would your best friend

• Train yourself to notice when you talk negatively to yourself , such as “You idiot!” and switch it out

• Let go of guilt, if you don’t make the right choice, start again later

• Learn to rest and switch off: a survey by David Lloyd Clubs revealed that 60 per cent of respondents no longer know how to switch off)

• Forgive your mistakes

• Stop people pleasing at the expense of yourself – it creates deep-seated resentment

• Have a growth mindset, viewing challenges as opportunities to grow

Emma Hartley
Founder: ELM Yoga Studio
Photo: Neil Hartley

If you can’t commit to yourself then no-one will, so it’s important to invest in yourself and that starts with self-love. It is hard to love ourselves, because we’re conditioned out of it from a young age and taught to put other people’s needs first. We need to re-learn how to love ourselves and make self-love a habit. Encourage your clients to look at themselves in the mirror each day and smile.

During my yoga classes I invite people to set a sankalpa – an intention for the practice – such as “I love and accept myself as I am right now,” or “I am happy, healthy and strong.” Throughout the class I’ll keep reminding everyone to listen to how they are talking to themselves and if they are judging themselves, or being harsh, to switch it out and be kind.

Becoming self-loving is an everyday practice of noticing when you’re being mean to yourself. Don’t set goals which are too high, start with small steps, maybe just five minutes a day of practising good habits and start to switch out toxic addictions for good habits.

I tell my class to be mindful of their thoughts because that’s what your life will become. In the words of Lao Tzu: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.”

We need to re-learn how to love ourselves and make self-love a habit

Originally published in hcm Handbook 2024 edition

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