Everyone has the capacity to appreciate the simple joy of being alive. It is the delight you feel from the view of a spectacular sunset, the sound of a beautiful piece of music or the smile of a loved one. It is an experience of natural richness.
One of the core principles of the Buddhist tradition is that human beings by nature are basically good. Believing in your basic goodness is the confidence that nothing is faulty in your make-up; nothing is lacking.
As my venerable meditation teacher taught, “This is not a matter of talking yourself into believing that everything is okay. You are genuine and good just as you are.”
This perspective of richness is not all that common. Many people relate to their goals with a kind of “poverty mentality.” Why does it feel sometimes like the harder we try, the less we succeed?
That comes from the mistaken belief that in order to be who you want to be, you need to be different than who you are.
The tradition therefore talks about having an attitude of maitri, or metta, both translated as “loving-kindness.” The original meaning is the wish for everyone to be happy. But maitri also means making friends with yourself. It is the recognition of basic goodness as your true nature.
Within that, you can acknowledge both your confusion and your sanity without harsh judgment. This is complete and radical acceptance of yourself, just as you are. A simple, direct relationship with how you feel and what you do is the expression of unconditional friendliness.
My good friend Pema Chödrön wrote in her book, Start Where You Are, “Loving-kindness isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become someone better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”
One of the toughest arenas for self-acceptance is relating to our body image and the effort of trying to lose weight. It’s very easy to feel that dieting is a form of self-punishment. One reason is a message we’ve grown up with: we need to give ourselves a hard time if we make a mistake.
However, research shows that negative feedback, from others or ourselves, only reinforces and strengthens the habits that we want to erase. The more we mentally beat ourselves up, the more the thought of failure will be in our minds, and the easier it will be to give up and fall back into old patterns.
Thoughts and Actions Become Habits
Feelings and attitudes give rise to thoughts and actions that become habits. To change your eating habits, you have to change how you feel about yourself, including your attitudes toward eating and exercise.
Instead of giving yourself a hard time when you have a setback, make the positive choice to be kind to yourself. That is the expression of self-acceptance.
It’s easy to confuse indulging yourself and truly being kind. Soothing your pain with a big helping of comfort food every time you are stressed isn’t really kind. It’s like giving a child candy every time they pester you for it – they are happy for a little while, then they get a stomach ache.
When you really need nourishment for your spirit, filling your stomach isn’t the answer. You’ll feel good for a little while and then feel bad later when you get on the scale.
If your goal is to stay with your weight-loss program, make the choices that will help you do so. Being kind to yourself means being your own best friend. Take the supportive attitude toward yourself that a good friend would:
- Encourage yourself to stick with your program.
- Remind yourself of your intention when you waver.
- Forgive yourself when you slip.
As Tara Parker-Pope, senior editor and writer of the New York Times’ “Well” section, told Jean Fain in the Huffington Post, “I really think the key to any kind of improvement, including weight loss, is you have to accept yourself as you are.”
I present more about the importance of self-acceptance for losing weight and keeping it off in my latest book, The Best Diet Book Ever: The Zen of Losing Weight. It also includes instruction in mindfulness and other practices.
How often do you give yourself a hard time after messing up? How long does it last? Can you think of times you were kind and accepting of yourself? Do you have negative or positive feelings about your body and your weight? How could you change your self-talk to reflect more acceptance and loving-kindness?