When we embark on a journey toward any challenging goal (e.g. a weight-loss journey), it’s easy to occasionally let shame and self-blame seep in.
We’ve all been there before – the first few days of a weight loss plan are easy as pie (pun intended!). You’re sticking to the program perfectly, following every instruction to a tee, getting lots of movement in, and feeling amazing. A few days later, your spouse surprises you with a romantic dinner date and you go a little off course while enjoying the evening. You find yourself obsessing the entire next day about having some wine, bread, and dessert. Shame and blame set in, and they hit you HARD.
If so, you’re not alone. This anxiety is so common to so many of us, no matter what goals we’re chasing after. Some of the most accomplished, well-educated, brilliant CEOs worry about their competence constantly, fearful of any tiny misstep they might make. Others simply have brutal inner voices, mercilessly nitpicking and judging themselves for being fundamentally flawed.
Shame and self-blame are ever-present for so many of us. Despite an intention to push us to be our best selves, these inner critics are actually incredibly derailing to our goals and dreams. In a weight loss journey, for example, shaming and self-blame for going off course can lead to obsessing about food, under-eating to “compensate,” subsequent compulsive eating because the body is under-fed, and further shame and mental distress. It’s a vicious cycle of shame and self-blame.
What, then, can we do about these inner critical voices, to stop this cycle of shame and self-blame in its tracks?
According to Tara Brach, PhD in Clinical Psychology and renowned author, approach your experience with curiosity, remembering the acronym RAIN:
Recognize what’s happening;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with interest and with care;
Nurture with self-compassion.
Dr. Brach goes further into each step:
“Recognizing means consciously acknowledging, in any given moment, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are affecting us... Recognizing can be a simple mental whisper, noting what has come up.”
Next, allow: “allowing means letting the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations we have recognized simply be there, without trying to fix or avoid anything… For instance, you might feel the grip of fear and mentally whisper, Yes, or It’s ok, in order to acknowledge and accept the reality of your experience in this moment.”
Third, investigate: “once we have recognized and allowed what is arising, we can deepen our attention through investigation. To investigate, call on your natural curiosity – the desire to know truth – and direct a more focused attention to your present experience. You might ask yourself: What most wants attention? How am I experiencing this in my body? What am I believing? What does this vulnerable place want from me? What does it most need? Whatever the inquiry, your investigation will be most transformational if you step away from conceptualizing and bring your primary attention to the felt-sense in the body. When investigating, it is essential to approach your experience in a non-judgmental and kind way. This attitude of care helps create a sufficient sense of safety, making it possible to honestly connect with our hurts, fears and shame.”
Finally, move to the final step, nurturing with self-compassion: “try to sense what the wounded, frightened or hurting place inside you most needs, and then offer some gesture of active care that might address this need. Does it need a message of reassurance? Of forgiveness? Of companionship? Of love? Experiment and see which intentional gesture of kindness most helps to comfort, soften or open your heart. It might be the mental whisper, I’m here with you… It’s not your fault. In addition to a whispered message of care, many people find healing by gently placing a hand on the heart or cheek; or by envisioning being bathed in or embraced by warm, radiant light. If it feels difficult to offer yourself love, bring to mind a loving being – spiritual figure, family member, friend or pet – and imagine that being’s love and wisdom flowing into you.”
Dr. Brach’s most recent book, Radical Compassion, describes these steps and goes even deeper into this RAIN practice. She also talks about it at length in an interview with Dan Harris on his podcast, 10% Happier.