Pushing to the brink. Striving for perfection. Running on empty. Sound familiar?
Daily exercise offers incredible benefits like greater focus, enhanced decision-making skills, and improved memory.
But what happens when we push ourselves too hard?
The struggle to balance everything (especially when kids and professional obligations take precedence) can lead to a feeling of failure and regret when it comes to health, and it is easy to get trapped in a negative mindset, convinced that more effort is the only path to success.
Being your best self however isn’t about constant exertion—it’s about balance, harmony, and understanding your own limits.
The only way we can grow and improve is by making mistakes, acknowledging them, and learning from them.
Rather than trying to be perfect, science shows it is better to focus on just being a better you – starting with self-compassion and kindness.
Dig in with us to find out more:
A wide body of research highlights the importance of self-compassion in health and wellness, but for some reason, we tend to overlook the value of treating ourselves with kindness while exercising or making healthy changes to our lifestyle.
In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Psychology, Health & Medicine, it was found that people who showed kindness and self compassion were more likely to engage in healthy activities. In contrast, those experiencing feelings of self-judgment, isolation, or overidentifying with negative emotions were less likely to partake in these behaviours.
Practicing self-compassion doesn’t mean ignoring your shortcomings or becoming vain and self-obsessed. It’s about acknowledging weaknesses, forgiving personal failures, and understanding that you’re not alone in your health struggles.
In the context of fitness and health, self-compassion can be turned around into something transformative!
Physical activity can also enhance your sense of self-compassion directly and indirectly.
Directly, because when you engage in regular exercise, you can improve your body image, leading to increased self-acceptance and self-compassion, and indirectly, because regular physical activity releases endorphins that reduce stress and improve your mood, helping you approach yourself with more kindness and patience.
Here are some other great ways to achieve a more meaningful connection to self:
Start Small: Don’t aim to run a marathon on your first day. Start with simple exercises and gradually increase the intensity and duration. Celebrate every step forward, no matter how small.
Be Patient: Remember, changes won’t happen overnight. Accept that it’s a gradual process. Be patient with your body and your progress.
Celebrate the stuff: Instead of obsessing over your future “perfect” body or comparing your body or performance to others, celebrate your own progress and what makes you special. Recognize each improvement, whether that is a little tone in your legs that wasn’t there two weeks ago, 5 minutes longer than yesterday before you feel tired, or just getting up and doing a workout without procrastinating. Then reward yourself.
Setbacks are a part of every journey: Instead of berating yourself for missing a day or eating that extra slice of cake, realize that setbacks are okay. Learn from them and grow from them.
Stay Consistent: Consistency is more critical than intensity. Regularity in exercising not only brings physical benefits but also cultivates self-discipline and enhances self-esteem.
Prioritize Self-Care: In addition to exercise, make sure you’re eating well, getting enough sleep, and taking time to relax and recharge. Self-compassion means taking care of your whole self.
Kindness Speeds Up Recovery
Contrary to some opinions, research suggests that at the core, humans and animals have what is known as a “compassionate instinct”. This instinct is a natural, automatic response that is vital for our survival as a species.
Applying this compassion instinct to your fitness routines can change your perspective, turning it from a series of punishing measures into a journey of self-discovery and self-care.
Compassion can be found in many places— talking to a coach or trainer, walking with a friend, listening to a great podcast or playing a game of fetch with your pet dog. All you have to do is find what resonates most with you and commit to engaging with it while exercising. Daily.
Some people find that apps on their phone inspire and motivate them. Others find working out with a group (real or virtual) helps keep them centered and grounded.
Research by Ed Diener and Martin Seligman in positive psychology and the pursuit of happiness, found there was a significant role of compassionate connections in overall well-being. These compassionate connections, encompassing empathy, kindness, and understanding can occur in interpersonal relationships or as self-compassion – and both have a profound impact on mental and physical health.
Exercise can induce stress, particularly when people push their physical limits or are recuperating from an injury. Diener and Seligman found that a compassionate approach can expedite injury recovery while negative emotions can intensify physical pain and delay recovery.
By practicing kindness, self-compassion during exercise and injury recovery, it is possible to alleviate the stress that slows a healthy recovery process and speed up recovery from muscle tears, fractures and diseases.
Resilience and Confidence
A study in the Journal of Health Psychology (2016) demonstrates that when people practice self-kindness, acknowledging each step towards their goal as an achievement, they experience lower stress levels and enhanced motivation.
Self-compassion calls for kindness and understanding towards oneself, especially in times of failure. Recognizing that setbacks are part of everyone’s fitness journey can instead be used to fuel motivation and resilience.
Setting goals is a common starting point for fitness routines, and they can indeed be a great motivator. However, it’s equally important to celebrate every workout, every step, and every bit of progress along the way. Never discount the power of small, deliberate steps taken consistently and the effect this can have in the long run.
The Role of Forgiveness in Self-Relationship
In the pursuit of health and happiness, our relationship with ourselves plays a defining role.
Its the journey that counts rather than the goal – and part of that journey will require you acknowledge your achievements, and forgive your setbacks.
By integrating these principles into your daily routines, you transform not only your physical well-being but also your mental resilience and satisfaction.
Every small victory and setback can be turned into a learning opportunity — and even one healthy behaviour done daily can be the basis for major change in your life. Just remember to be kind to yourself along the way!