Do you sometimes feel that you are pulled between two choices: one that satisfies an immediate impulse and one that you know in your heart of hearts will bring you greater benefits, even if you don’t feel the effects immediately? To varying degrees, we humans are hardwired to think in terms of short term gain. In fact, research suggests that some of us are genetically predisposed to be more impulsive, generally. Self-kindness can help guide you to the best choices.
How do you start practicing self-kindness? When you feel that internal tug-of-war and find yourself pulled to make a choice that seems satisfying in the moment, but you know goes against your larger intentions for what you want for your health and how you want to live, ask yourself “What would be the kindest choice?”
Examples of when the impulsive choice is probably not the kindest choice
- Skipping your morning workout because you would rather lay in bed a little longer (impulse) even though you feel stronger and more energetic when you exercise regularly (greater benefit).
- Eating not because your hungry, but because you want food to soothe an emotion, ease boredom or serve as a distraction (impulse) instead of diving deep and finding non-food ways of coping that would ease your temporary discomfort in a more meaningful way (greater benefit).
- Giving in to the unexpected temptation of cookies in the break room (impulse), even though you are trying to break that habit + you’ve noticed you feel better physically and/or mentally when you don’t eat a lot of sugar (greater benefit).
- Saying “yes” to that second beer or glass of wine or cocktail because it tastes good and you want to be social (impulse), even though you’re fully aware of the potential health risks of drinking above moderate levels, and that second drink will leave you loopy and interfere with a quality night’s sleep (greater benefit).
- Skipping going to the grocery store because you’d rather watch Netflix (impulse), even though getting your main shopping done on the weekend makes it much easier to put together nutritious, tasty meals that keep you properly fueled during the week (greater benefit).
Now let’s turn things upside down. Sometimes, the kindest choice is not the one that has longer-term benefits, or it’s really a toss-up?
Examples of when the kindest choice is not-so-obvious
- Eating the not-terribly-nutritious and not-terribly-tasty airport food because your connecting flight got delayed and you are hungry verging on hangry? That’s an act of self-kindness.
- Eating when you’re not hungry because you know you won’t have an opportunity to eat later, when you would usually be hungry, even though you’ve been practicing intuitive eating, which includes trying to start and stop eating based on hunger and fullness cues? That’s kind.
- Skipping your morning workout because you have a wicked cold, even though you had made a commitment to regular exercise? That’s self-kindness, too.
- Taking a salsa dance or yoga class that you love instead of going to a spin class you hate, even though the spin class might “burn more calories? That’s kind.
- Taking time to eat your lunch in peace at work instead of skipping lunch or eating while working in the name of productivity? Self-kindness!
- Saying no to a social “obligation” because you deeply need some time alone with yourself or your family? That is kind!
- Refusing food you don’t want or need, even if you risk hurting someone’s feelings? That is absolutely self-kindness (it can help to practice ways of gently but firmly saying “No, thank you” if you have a lot of food pushers in your life).
FYI, I recently wrote a column for The Seattle Times that’s somewhat related to this topic, “When treat yourself goes too far: 6 self-care mistakes you might be making.”