I felt so strong, and happy, and proud, and ready to take on new challenges after physical therapy.
During that session, I was able to fully appreciate how much progress I’ve made in the treatment of my lumbar/SI joint issues since I started treatment in December (2014).
I have progressed in difficulty in all of my exercises, I’ve developed an even greater level of body awareness and muscular control, and, best of all–I’ve been pain free for weeks.
My efforts are paying off, and that’s a source of great comfort, hope and pride for me. I walked around like I was ten feet tall the rest of the day.
Until I reviewed the proofs from my most recent photo shoot and turned into my own worst critic.
Nevermind that those photos showed my strength, nevermind that I was my most relaxed and the happiest I’ve ever been when getting my picture taken, nevermind that there are some gorgeous shots in that collection.
The thing my tired mind zoned in on: all the ways in which I wasn’t CUT or RIPPED or LEAN or….WORTHY.
I thought I was way past this kind of thinking, of getting my self-worth tied up in, and defined by, aesthetics.
I’ve spent the past two years in particular getting comfortable in my own skin, encouraging other women to adopt more positive body images–to love their bodies ‘as is.’
I’ve focused on practicing gratitude rather than criticism and comparison and I still fell into the trap of comparing myself, my body, to the images I see so often in social media.
Shoot, I even compared myself to my ‘old self,’ which I guess freaked me out even more. WTF.
I went to bed, struggling with myself, trying to ‘right the ship.’ And when I woke up the next morning, I had a moment of clarity:
These are the only times I feel dissatisfied with my body:
- When I look at fitness photos of other women and then compare them to my own (or compare my current self to my ‘old’ self)
- When my body doesn’t feel strong, capable of performing at the level I’m accustomed (and this is usually due to a lapse in training–which is easy to get over, because I’m always actively planning my ‘comeback’)
The times I don’t like my body the most are the times I focus purely on the superficial and/or COMPARE myself to images of others or to my past body. HOW FREAKING RIDICULOUS. It was another reminder that “comparison is the thief of joy.”
What the most recent pictures can’t show is how much better I feel in my body now than I did in the past. How much more capable an athlete, person, trainer and coach than I’ve ever been before. How much more kind, compassionate, understanding and supportive I’ve grown–to myself and others.
Understanding what triggers my feelings of dissatisfaction and lack of worth, I turned to the other side of the equation: when it is I feel most satisfied with my body.
These are the times I feel the most at peace with, and proud of, my body:
- When I run
- When I lift heavy things
- When I can do difficult tasks safely (moving heavy boxes, tires, carrying my 65-pound dog up and down the stairs, etc.)
And those times are pretty much everyday occurrences.
Here’s what I know for certain: Focusing on aesthetics (how you look) alone as a motivator and way to evaluate success (and worth) vs. failure (and lack of worth) is a surefire recipe for never, ever being satisfied. It’s like constantly aiming at a moving target–FOREVER, because aesthetics are transient.
I refer to it as chasing the ‘Aesthetics Unicorn,’ because it’s about as possible to ‘catch’ and keep a physique permanently as it is to catch and keep a unicorn.
Our bodies are always changing, adapting, and AGING. We just can’t look exactly the same as we did or exactly as we think we should all the time. It’s just not possible. It’s also permanently dissatisfying. What a way to live.
I might have gone there, to that joy-stealing-aesthetic-comparison-never-quite-good-enough place for an evening, but I sure as hell don’t want to live there. And I sure as hell don’t want YOU to live there either.
Here’s how I pulled myself back from ‘the ledge’:
- I identified my emotional trigger: comparison, focusing only on the superficial physique, judging myself in a one-dimensional manner
- I challenged the negative thoughts and examined their validity: Does my leanness really reflect my true fitness, my message, my skills and abilities? Is it a good measure of anything I stand for or hope to accomplish? Am I serving others by engaging in this kind of thinking?
- I redirected my thinking in a positive direction: I considered all the things I’m proud of and feel good about. None of them had to do with having or maintaining a super low body fat percentage. All of the things I am proud of are performance-based: pull ups, running, lifting progressively heavier weights, learning new and challenging movements and exercises as I age, setting a positive example for my kids, clients, community of what positive thinking and consistent hard work can accomplish.
- I expressed my gratitude for a healthy and mobile body. Not everyone gets or has one of those, I’m going to appreciate mine.
==>THIS is exactly why I started choosing to focus on performance-based goals rather than aesthetics-based goals about 2 years ago.
==>THIS is why I continue to focus on performance-based goals as my source of challenge, motivation and worth.
==>THIS is why I encourage my clients so strongly to focus on performance-based goals, too.
==>THIS is why I promote doing things like pull ups and push ups so much.
Turning the focus from the outside (appearances) to the inside (muscular strength and endurance) builds a healthier mindset, a more positive outlook, and a more satisfying life experience.
My new healthy thinking mantra, to combat any of those icky negative thoughts that will inevitably pop in from time to time:
“I work out to be more of myself, not less.”
When you have those moments when you feel ‘less than’ or allow yourself to go to that ugly place of comparison, try to:
identify what triggers that feeling,
stop the negative thought from running away with you,
redirect your thoughts into a positive direction–find something to praise,
practice gratitude for the body you have,
and work your mantra.