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BEYOND LOCAL: Stop being so critical of yourself, says university expert

'Ongoing negative self-talk is destructive in the long term'
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The following news release was issued by Brock University on Jan. 5, 2023:

In this new year, Sean Locke is encouraging people to ditch the self-criticism.

The Assistant Professor of Kinesiology says developing self-compassion might be tough, but with practice and perseverance it can be done.

“Because many of us tend to be self-critical most of the time, being kind to ourselves requires a degree of mindfulness,” he says.

Locke is an expert in health behaviour change. His research focuses on developing programs that help people improve their health by changing their thinking and adopting actions such as diet and exercise.

A challenging mental health issue for many is self-criticism. While this can help people refocus their energies and behaviours in specific short-term situations, ongoing negative self-talk is destructive in the long term, says Locke.

“Self-compassion can help us reorient our efforts when we fail to meet our expectations and also protects our self-esteem,” he says. “It’s a psychological resource that allows us to bounce back when we face barriers, challenges and setbacks in our behaviour change efforts.”

Locke has just wrapped up a partnership with the Kelowna-based company Switch Research in which he evaluated the company’s Self-Love Journal containing tools and strategies “that will help you boost self-compassion and silence negativity,” says the company’s website.

The 90-day journaling program covers topics such as self-kindness, common humanity, mindfulness, self-acceptance, patience, and gratitude.

Locke’s research involved 66 participants of various ages divided into two groups. One group was given a copy of the 90-day journal to use while the other half were in a control group waiting to receive their journal after the 90 days.

Participants in both groups filled out surveys during and after the process asking them to rate their agreement with a range of statements such as, “I view that mistakes are made by everyone,” and “When I make a mistake, I’m kind to myself.”

They also answered open-ended questions about their experiences with self-compassion.

“Compared to people who were on the waitlist, those who went through the journal program had significantly greater improvements in self-kindness, mindfulness and their view of common humanity, which are the three key facets of self-compassion,” says Locke.

Locke says journaling may help improve self-compassion skills, over time by reinforcing pathways in the brain that enable us to be kinder to ourselves.

“Journals can help guide a person in purposeful reflection by keeping self-kindness on the forefront of their minds so that we don’t default to the criticism,” he explains. “The more often we can think about being self-compassionate, the more likely we are moving forward to be self-compassionate in the future.”