First thing in the morning, I like to spend a little time reading blogs – I have a huge list of favorites, and I enjoy the variety of voices telling me about their lives, offering business advice, talking about running, and reminding me of the power of the mind.
As so often happens, a couple of things I read recently have really stuck with me, rattling around in my brain and needing to be digested. The first was a blog from a fellow runner and exercise enthusiast talking about her negative body image; another was a marketing blogger explaining how to stop working for clients who undervalue your services, and the third was a copywriting tip (yes, I really do read a lot of blogging/marketing/copywriting blogs – I’m in business for myself, I gotta learn how to do it all!), showing how asking your audience questions helps them to agree more with what you’re saying/selling.
I imagine you’re thinking, “Hey, Pahla, how are those three things related in any way at all?” Well, technically speaking, they weren’t! But reading them one after another really drew some parallels in my mind about how we speak to ourselves, how we treat ourselves and how we conduct ourselves in life and in business.
The thing is, I think a lot of us face this problem in business, with fitness, and just, you know… in the world: we undervalue our strengths and we overemphasize our shortcomings.
Believe me, I do it, too. Just yesterday, I found myself caught up in the Comparison Game with other fitness trainers on YouTube. Listen, I work in an industry where the majority of other people who do my job look like super buff supermodels. Pretty girls with six pack abs and shiny hair who are much younger than me. It shakes my confidence sometimes!
You know what I see when I look in the mirror? Gravity.
I keep fighting the battles, with daily exercise and doing my best to eat right, but let me tell you, gravity is winning the war. I can still prop the girls up with a good support (ahem..padded) bra, but my stomach is never going to see the light of a flashbulb again. I’m honestly not so concerned about the stretch marks or the little pooch that used to lay flat – I can still flex my way into a four pack, thank you – but what really bothers me is my bellybutton. Where used to be a perky little ‘o’ that sported a sassy navel ring now sags an upside-down U with weird stretch mark scars that look like rabbit ears. It’s as though my poor bellybutton is actually frowning at its own fate.
Oh, I’ve definitely thought about sprucing things up. In my early thirties, I strongly considered plastic surgery “enhancement.” I had done the research, and I was thisclose to making an appointment for consultation, but there was this one nagging thought in the back of my mind:
Where would I stop?
Because once I opened myself and my body up to criticism, lemme tell you, I could find a crap-ton of areas to “fix.” And the more I thought about tweaking this or adding that, the more I realized that the thing that would make me happiest in the world was simply being the girl who is comfortable in her own skin.
So I worked on that instead.
I’m not going to sit here being all, “Oh, I never have negative thoughts about my body,” because of course I do. But I have learned how to turn those thoughts around, or flat out ignore them. Here’s how I do it and how you can, too:
BE NICER TO YOURSELF
You’re standing in the dressing room, getting ready to try on a cute shirt, which means that you’ve just taken yours off. You look in the mirror and there’s that voice in your head, pointing out the fat rolls, sneering at the saggy skin and comparing your sad little breasts to Kim Kardashian’s. (And let me just save you a little time in the dressing room here. You and I are never going to come up on the good side of that comparison. Let it go.)
I know you hear the voice and the mean things it says about your body, but have you ever truly listened to what it’s saying? Like, thought about the words? Imagine those words coming out of your mouth, and you were saying them to your mother. Or your best friend. Or your daughter.
You just got a little sick to your stomach, didn’t you?
Me, too! You would never talk like that to somebody you love! Even in your snarkiest moments, you’ve never judged another woman like that!
Now imagine if an actual person in your life said those words to you. I guarantee, no matter how low your self-esteem might feel some days, if a person walked up to you and was all, “Wow, fat ass much?” your immediate response would be, “Omg, no I am NOT!”
And then of course you would stew about that conversation for hours, maybe days or weeks, because how dare somebody call you fat! Yes, you would probably question the validity of the statement and more than likely ask your significant other if it was true, but my point here is that that first reaction, that gut defense of yourself and your body? That’s the voice you need to be paying more attention to.
There are two different tricks I use to silence that mean voice, and I use different tactics in different situations. Give these a try and you can decide which one works best for you.
- Call it out into the open. Actually give voice to the mean thoughts in your head. Out loud. (Though maybe not in a dressing room, okay?) The words that make so much sense when you hear them in your head are going to sound completely ridiculous out in the world. Much like the scenario you imagined above, you will be equal parts horrified and laughing at how silly those terrible words sound out in the world. When you expose the words to reality and find the absurdity in them, you’ll begin to take away their power.
- Shut it down entirely. Over the years, I’ve taught myself to actively listen to my thoughts so that when I hear something negative crop up, I can silence it immediately. Do you remember that scene in Austin Powers, where Dr. Evil is arguing with his son Scott and he keeps telling him, “Shh”? It’s like that. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Shh! And if the thoughts come creeping back? I’ve got a whole bag of “Shh!” with its name on it. 🙂 I promise that this is not as difficult as it seems, but you are definitely going to have to practice it. You do have the power to stop yourself from thinking mean and unpleasant things about yourself.
AND BE A LITTLE HARDER ON YOURSELF, TOO
The article I mentioned above, about asking a reader questions in your marketing materials, spoke about the principle of consistency, a psychological term which means simply that we like to agree with ourselves. For the purposes of the article, it meant that once a reader responds “yes” to one of your questions, they would be more likely to respond “yes” to the rest of them, because they basically already decided that you’re correct and they want to agree with themselves about their judgment of you.
But in terms of how we view our bodies and ourselves, that psychological principle of consistency may actually be the reason we hear the mean voices in our heads to begin with.
Here’s what I’m talking about: I know, because you’re here on my health and fitness blog, that you think about your health. You want to eat properly, you want to exercise regularly and you want to feel good about yourself. These are your intentions, your goals and your thoughts. You think of yourself as a healthy person who wants to do your best.
Maybe you’re not super disciplined about it. Sometimes your cheat meals turn into cheat weeks. You meant to get out for a run, but it never happened. You worked out, but you didn’t really push yourself. Your goals have been sliding to the back burner.
You haven’t been consistent. And that is something that your mind really doesn’t like. When your actions aren’t consistent with your thoughts and intentions, it creates a dissonance and a discontent in you. It’s not enough to want to do your best. You have to actually DO your best. All the time.
I know this isn’t easy to hear. It’s not easy for me to say, either. I wanted to write this super positive article and be all, “Rah! Rah! Let’s not listen to the mean voices in our heads! We’re awesome and happy!” and just leave it at that, but here I am at the end telling you that we need to get out of our comfort zones and dig deeper.
You have more. And you need to make it happen.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO NOW?
Start today. Start right this very minute. Be consistent with your thoughts and your actions. Eat well, move vigorously, and tell that mean voice in your head to shut the hell up, because you have totally got this!
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