Kelly McGonigal on the Neuroscience of Change
Some of this blows my mind. Like the idea that compassion for yourself actually changes your brain chemistry, whereas self-criticism provokes addictive behaviors.
...There was a recent set of studies that tracked people over time who had set specific goals. Some were trying to lose weight, some were trying to become better musicians, some were trying to finish an academic degree. So they followed these people over time, and they also tracked how self-critical they were. And there was a direct relationship between self-criticism and success over time. The people who were harder on themselves succeeded less—and not just by self-report. It’s not like they were saying, “Oh, I’m so hard on myself. I don’t feel like I did a good job.” It was objective outcomes, like pounds lost.
...There is abundant evidence from every type of challenge you can think about in the addiction literature with dealing with anxiety and depression that the harder you are on yourself for having the problem in the first place and for being unable to fix it immediately, the more likely you are to spiral back deeper into the problem. To turn back to a drink to kind of soothe your feelings for how guilty and ashamed you are about having to drink or to food when you’re feeling ashamed about overeating or being overweight.
...There are a lot of people who are swayed by evidence, sometimes just showing a picture of the brain—say, “This is what it looks like when you’re being self-critical and why it’s not helpful”—it’s not like we didn’t know it wasn’t helpful, but just to see it somehow can help us recognize that there isn’t something fundamentally broken with us, that all human beings have these experiences. I feel like that’s what the science adds for most people.Maybe these are things that everyone else knows--Olympic athletes, for instance, who must have a firm belief in their own powers to accomplish what they do. But not us depressives, who hulk in the Maine wilderness and chastise themselves for eating insufficient quantities of homegrown lettuce. Maybe it's just the protestant work ethic that gets us all down, an inefficient ethic, as it turns out. It's turned us into a nation of over-medicated over-fed addicts, always full of hatred for ourselves for our multiple failings.
I just keep thinking that this Buddhist, or perhaps scientific, understanding of self-compassion is what Jesus was talking about when he talked about grace. It's grace He gives us. Grace to forgive ourselves for our mistakes, grace that washes us as white as snow. If only I could believe it.