How to Stop Beating Yourself Up Over Poor Choices and Minor Mistakes

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

I have just eaten enough pizza to satisfy three people and I’m feeling awful for having done it. Awful because my stomach can only hold so much, awful because I know I’m going to pay for eating it (dairy and I have a difficult relationship), and awful because I know I shouldn’t have done it.

This is what my internal monologue looks like:

Me: I feel so sick.
Inner Me: You shouldn’t have eaten so much then!

Me: I know but I really fancied it and I hate wasting food.
Inner Me: You always do this, you know that?

Me: I thought I could do it differently this time.
Inner Me: What, you mean not gorge? We spoke about this, Sam. We spoke about how the last time really was the last time.

Me: I know… I kind of caved though.
Inner Me: You lack discipline; you need to be stricter with yourself.

I could go on for ages, but you get the idea.

Everyone has that voice inside of them that might berate them for less than wise choices: that unnecessary new sweater (to join all your others); the new phone (even though the one you have now works perfectly); staying up late to finish work (that could have been done earlier in the day if only you hadn’t spent the afternoon catching up with your favorite TV series).

A lot of people let this voice get the better of them. They let it get out of control to the point where, instead of being a good moral compass, it becomes a guilt-tripper of tyrannical proportions. It harms instead of helps. But why do we let this happen?

My yoga instructor explained to me, after I commented on her amazing ability to take sudden changes and annoyances in her stride and with a smile, that there are two levels on which we exist.

The first is the one where we are right now—you and me, as we read this; existence. I’m stuffed and ready to pass out; you might be avoiding emails and reading this on the sly at work. Things could be a little better—I could be not so stuffed, you could not have a heap of annoying emails—but we’re here and we’re okay.

The second level meanwhile, towers above us. This level is the lofty realm of expectation. It’s not a bad place; a lot of our goals and dreams are up here, and when we reach them with the help of ladders or loved ones lifting us, we can touch those aspirations, make them our own.

Unfortunately there’s a pile of rubbish stored up here too: suggestions, comments, recommendations, and lectures that we’ve collected throughout our lives.

Most, however, are subliminal standards spouted by people or groups who believe they know how best to live. And we sometimes compound our stress and remorse by dwelling on everything we think we should do.

Take for example my pizza dilemma.

I love pizza, I really do. But I feel so guilty every time I eat it (even if I don’t overeat) because:

  • I’ve spent money that could have been put to good use elsewhere.
  • It’s unhealthy. (Unless you eat home-grown, organic foods, a lot of the food we eat is unhealthy, being packed with sugars, salts, and preservatives)
  • It’s not helping with my weight. (Society generally promotes one uniform body shape, distinct for each sex, and any aberration is an abomination.)

The gap between level one, our present self, and level two, the domineering arena of social and cultural “standards” will never be closed.

Even if we make very few mistakes, we’ll still have some imperfections that we could address.

So what can we do? We can start reorienting our thinking.

Step #1: Be good to yourself.

It’s no good trying to fight against something you’ve just done when you’re feeling bad about it. Give yourself time to calm down and regain your composure. Basically, let go and chill out.

So I’ve binged and now I feel uncomfortable. I need to relax and let my body digest. Water is essential for digestion so I need to drink that, a few sips at a time. I also need to remove the last of the pizza from view, which means putting it in the bin.

Step #2: Acknowledge what caused you to do what you did.

I need to acknowledge why I binge. Pizza isn’t my only vice, after all. I comfort eat when I’m unhappy or stressed, and I have intense cravings that go beyond “I fancy a couple of biscuits with my tea.”

This step requires a hefty amount of honesty on your part. Pretending a problem isn’t there will not help you move past it. But in the process of admitting a problem, whether it’s with over-eating or over-spending, be nice to yourself.

Step #3: Start small to address the problem.

My yoga instructor explained that severe cravings are a form of perversion; when our bodies lack some form of goodness or nutrition, the opposite version of that lack becomes magnified, creating these enormous, unruly cravings.

I need to address my lack in order to balance myself, which means eating more in the way of leafy greens, full of protein, and nature’s goodness.

Immediate action can be applied to any circumstance where you feel out of control. If you over-spend, set a generous but reasonable budget and stick to it; if you suck at saying “no” to people, practice in front of the mirror, maybe do it over the phone to start and then branch out the more confident you become.

The point is to make a small change and grow into the space that change creates.

Step #4: Confront your expectations.

I’ve put in place new approaches that are helping me to feed and stretch my body, and settle my mind, so I’m in a good place to stand up to the nagging thoughts that bring me down.

Money-wise, yes I could have used that cash on something more useful, but you know what? I order a pizza once a month at the most. It’s my treat. I pay my bills and my debts, and I put a small amount away each month for a rainy day, so I’ll spend my ten pounds on what I want.

Health-wise, I’m a vegetarian. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I don’t eat much in the way of refined sugars or fatty foods. I eat plenty of fruits and root vegetables, and healthy portions of nuts and fiber-packed nibbles.

Weight-wise, I’m doing alright. I lost almost 30 pounds in just less than two years, slowly and healthily. I’ve put about 7 pounds back on courtesy of Christmas, but I’m now cutting back. So I don’t resemble a wafer; so I don’t fit a BMI graph. I look just fine.

The point of this step isn’t to rationalize unhealthy choices; it’s to think of all the good things you may not consider when you’re being hard on yourself over one arguably bad decision. It may not be that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Step #5: Love yourself.

This is probably the hardest step. I’m not quite there myself yet but I’m working on it, like a lot of people in the world. Maybe you’re working on it now but thinking it’ll never happen.

Standing in front of my mirror saying “I love you” makes me laugh because it feels so stupid. That nagging voice says it’s stupid but, really, it’s not. It’s very sensible.

How can I follow through on any of the other steps if I don’t respect and care for myself? How can I love others if I have no love for myself? Loving yourself is one of the best things you can do.

Before I go to bed, as I brush my teeth, I’m going to look right into my hazel eyes and mentally say to myself “I love you. The pizza was a bit of an indulgence but you’re over it now. You’re taking positive steps to change and that is quite awesome.”

Love yourself, even if you have some less-than-ideal habits. You can only overcome these if you stop kicking yourself when you’re down. Instead, give yourself a hug and get up. Keep moving.

Whatever you tend to punish yourself over, you can apply these steps. Perseverance is the trick, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s worth taking the ultimate risk and opening your heart to another, like a friend, a family member, a mentor, or even a professional.

The point is, you can turn this painful situation around and be free of it. You just have to start with you.

Photo by Lel4nd

About Sam Russell

Sam Russell is a young writer from the southeastern corner of the UK. He’s a cynic by nature trying to prove that cynics can be happy and positive, too. Visit his blog at http://cackhanded.wordpress.com/.

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