Geneen Roth’s Top Secrets to Freeing Yourself from Daily Self-Criticism

We’ve all found ourselves going back for a third helping of lunch or dinner even though, on a scale of being full from one to 10, we feel like an 11.

We’ve all worried about saying “No” in fear of facing an uncomfortable situation. And we’ve all been guilty of letting the negative thoughts about our body affect our entire day.

After over thirty years of teaching groundbreaking workshops and retreats about how our eating reflects issues with weight, money, and other obsessions, Geneen Roth recognized the need for a book that dives deep into what lies behind our self-criticism.

Roth recently launched her eleventh book, “This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide to Mind, Body, and Soul,” where she offers advice on coping with self-criticism and how to move beyond our limitations to build better lives.

According to her, our “gotta get more” culture — more clothes, more food, more money — impairs our awareness of the present moment. In this “Messy Magnificent Life,” she reveals the underlying reasons behind self-deprecation and offers outside-the-box coping mechanisms.

We recently chatted with Roth and touched on the most important topics in the book. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

  • On how our “gotta get more” culture makes us overeat:

I think part of what we all experience is not feeling or sensing, or even paying attention to what we already have. When we don’t pay attention to what we already have… And when you zoom past what’s here now, what you already have, and/or the food that’s in your mouth, then you don’t ever give yourself a chance to have enough or to stop. You’re always eating out of a mind-hunger or you’re acquiring things out of an idea that you need them rather than actually being aware of what you do have. As I say in this book and all my other books, enough isn’t a quantity, it’s a relationship to what you already have. Unless you have some kind of awareness or pay attention to what you already have, you’re always going to want more.”

  • Where our focus needs to be if we want to stop self-hatred:

“We’re just paying attention to lack. If my thighs are not the size that I want them to be or I don’t weigh how much I want, the more attention I put on lack, the worse I feel There is a line between understanding that ‘Oh, I’m uncomfortable in my body. I’ve gained ten pounds’ and ‘My pants don’t fit me anymore. I wonder what’s been going on.’ Show some kind of curiosity about it. Show kindness about it towards yourself, rather than shame, depravation, guilt, punishment and fear, which is all about self-criticism. Nobody ever makes long-lasting change from self-criticism.”

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  • How our relationship with food reflects how much we value our lives:

“Our relationship with food is a fabulous doorway into our core beliefs about being alive because how we eat is how we live. How we do anything is how we do everything, and if you want to find out what’s driving your behavior, what drives the self-criticism, then look at how you use food in your life. As in- ‘I’m not allowed to have the kind of life I want,’ ‘I’m a failure,’ ‘I blew it ten years ago and now it’s too late,’ ‘I’ll never get there’, ‘I’m unlovable,’ ‘I’ll never get enough of what I do want, therefore I have to eat 10 helpings of mashed potatoes.”

  • A twist on gratitude — The power of “What’s not wrong right now?”:
 Writer Geneen Roth

“In order to change, you have to change what you do. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. What you pay attention to grows. If you constantly pay attention to what is wrong, you keep on finding things that are wrong. If you start even for just a few minutes a day, and neuroscientists say 12 seconds, five times a day — that’s one minute — focusing on WHAT’S NOT WRONG, then you begin rewiring your brain which is set to go into a default negativity mode.”

  • On teaching women how to reclaim body-ownership using a six-foot piece of red string:

“What I say in the Red String Project is that it’s good to learn that ‘I don’t want to’ is a complete sentence, that ‘No’ is a complete sentence and to start practicing that. To understand that we each have an energetic boundary. The truth is that you can tell if somebody tresspasses or violates that boundary: when they’ve come too close, when they’re speaking to you from a very short distance and you feel uncomfortable and something doesn’t feel right.

What the Red String does is help people become aware of it.

It’s a physical representation of what they’ve already been sent, but haven’t been given the permission to have. The essence of this is to get a piece of red string, probably a six-foot piece of red string, and to practice it with somebody. I have a Facebook video on this.

It’s good to practice it with somebody else who also has a piece of red string, and put it around yourself and have them put it around themself and see what it feels like to be sitting across from somebody who has a closed boundary.

Ask yourself: “What does it feel like?”

Then one person opens it, but the other person keeps it close. When I say open it, I mean the ends of the red string, so you get a visceral sense of what you feel about boundaries by having a physical representation of it in the red string. Once you know how you feel about it, you can start being curious about that. ‘Let me try saying no.’ ‘ Let me try carrying the red string around and reminding myself it’s okay to have boundaries.”


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