How We Treat Ourselves

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Coaching is about asking questions and listening. You help people bring out their own wisdom to move forward in their life. Often, the coach learns a lot by being exposed to others’ knowledge.

During a recent session, a client made a values statement that really struck me. They said “Whenever I hear someone say ‘I don’t have time’ I always tell them to tack on the words ‘for you’ because that’s what you really mean when you say ‘I don’t have time’….’I don’t have time for you.’ ” I had never really thought of it that way before but it rings true. That was completely accurate for this person. They always make time for others. What’s interesting is that this may also be at the root of personal care issues because the statement “I don’t have time for myself” seems to be acceptable to this individual.

We often treat ourselves differently from how we treat others. I’ve worked with some of the most kind, generous and caring people that were harsh and ruthless towards themselves. In theory, we’re not supposed to be able to love and care for others more than we do ourselves. I don’t think these individuals dislike who are what they are. Instead they have a misplaced sense of guilt. They feel like they shouldn’t like themselves or feel worthy because false perceptions tell them that others don’t.

To get out of this trap, do away with the external judgements. Others likely don’t know what a great person you are and their opinion really doesn’t matter anyway. Acknowledge your strengths and gifts and celebrate successes publicly. You may be surprised by how many are celebrating with you. Also, take time to care for yourself. If you have the attitude of “I don’t care about myself” then you’re showing the people that love and depend on you that “I don’t care about myself…or you.”

Are there inconsistencies between how you treat yourself and others? How might you bring those more in line?

Photo credit: Stephen Poff / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Self Acceptance

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I recently had a talk with a woman about an emotional experience she had at a gym. It was her first visit. She’s overweight and she felt really self-conscious being at the gym. She felt everyone was watching her, thinking why was she there and that she wasn’t good enough to be there. She worked herself into such a negative mental state that she stopped her workout after only a few minutes and left the gym in tears.

A similar incident was mentioned in my post about fear. The same false evidence was coming into play for this woman but the issue went deeper. As we talked, she uncovered that she felt unaccepted. She also couldn’t accept herself.

Acceptance is the basis of compassion. To truly empathize with another, you have to accept them for who they are instead of trying to change them to what you want; that’s simply manipulation. When people think about self-acceptance, however, the thoughts are less charitable. For some reason, we equate acceptance with “settling” and they are completely different.

Look at the incident at the gym. She obviously wasn’t settling for her current physical state. She was in the gym doing something about it to better herself. At the same time, this desire for change also interfered with her accepting who she is right now. She saw herself as less than others. A little coaching got her to realizing she is equal and simply a person in a state of transition. It was a very subtle change in perception, but the discovery allowed her to return to the gym and start working towards her new level of fitness.

Accepting yourself for who you are in the moment does not mean you’re giving up any vision of a better you for your future. It means you’re acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses and allowing yourself to grow and progress without any false, negative self-judgement. You’re showing yourself the same compassion you would have towards anyone else.

How might accepting yourself for who you are allow you to make progress towards what you’d like to become?

Photo credit: Jon Newman / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

How to Manage Perceptions of Limited Scope

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You get what you look for…..

We tend to cloud our thoughts with perceptions of limited scope. Have you ever used one of those puzzles where something is printed in red and blue ink and, to see something hidden in the printing, you look through a red plastic film? Our perceptions are just like that. If we look at life through a single colored lens, we’re going to miss the whole picture.

If you think the world is full of people out to get you, that’s all you’ll see because that’s all you’re looking for. You’ll miss the fact that someone offered to help you with an assignment or complimented your choice in music. If you’re unhappy with your looks and are always finding flaws in the mirror, you’ll miss those striking eyes or beautiful skin. You belittle yourself because you’re not making progress at work and lose sight of the fact that you’re an incredible father and husband. We all have these lenses but the more we can learn to drop them, the more fulfilled lives we’ll lead.

We trap ourselves into these limited perceptions simply through habit. We can expand our perceptions by learning to question ourselves and testing whether we’re operating from true knowledge. Once simple technique is “relabeling.” When you find yourself using a limiting viewpoint, mentally label it as such and give yourself a new label. For example, if you’re looking in the mirror and noticing all of the wrinkles and thinking how old they make you look, stop and think “I’ve just labeled myself as ‘old.’ From now on, these wrinkles are called ‘wisdom.’ ” In a while, you’ll notice that the way you see the world will start to expand and your perceptions will become less negative and constrictive.

What labels do you incorrectly use for yourself and how can you create some new ones?

What if you had to lose a few inches to keep your job?

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Getting in shape, improving your diet and regaining your health can be tough. Like any other change, you have to want it for it to happen.

Everyone goes through the same cycle: you first realize you need to make a change, you decide to make the change, you create a plan of action and then you get working on that plan. All too often, people simply never make it to that last step. The main culprit, often cloaked in “it’s too hard,” is really “I’m too scared.” People are afraid of failure not realizing that failure is a natural part of the process. It just takes some determination and grit to pick yourself back up and keep going. I often use the analogy of learning to ride a bike as a child. You fall a few times but you’re so excited to be learning to ride and you have such strong visions of riding off with your friends and having fun that you just keep getting back up; skinned legs and all. The process of weight-loss really isn’t any different but it often makes people shut down and give up hope.

Yesterday, I read an article about an Airforce Colonel that threw away his military career instead of losing two inches. Now, there may be more to the story, but this really struck me. To meet the minimum requirement, he had to drop his waist size by two inches. It varies by individual but, for me, that would have been about 12 pounds. I’m assuming the colonel knew the requirements and was likely aware of his upcoming fitness test. He couldn’t find it within himself to prepare and shed a few pounds? Was the choice to do so that threatening that he preferred to simply step down?

It’s scary but if you really want to take control of your life and create a healthy lifestyle then know that you can do it. Like learning to ride a bike, you just need to have a clear picture of your goal. Break it down to smaller goals if you have a long way to go. One technique I use with my coaching clients is called dialoguing. I walk them through the process of clearly visualizing their new, healthy self then we have a conversation that takes place six months in the future. We talk about how they got to their goal, how their life has changed and where they’re going next. I’ve seen this exercise completely change the mindset of people that just couldn’t quite get into full action mode. It gives them that vision they need to get back on the bike.

If you look in the mirror and feel like you need to make a change then move forward with the confidence knowing it’s completely within your power. If you really want it, it’s yours!

Photo credit: bark / Foter.com / CC BY

Ignore Your Itty Bitty Sh*tty Committee

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We each have our own inner critic or gremlin. I’ve even heard it called the “Itty Bitty Sh*tty Committee.” This is that voice (or the voices) you hear in your head telling you that you’re not good enough, smart enough, trim enough, rich enough, strong enough….to have the life you deserve to live. Some of its favorite words are “can’t,” “shouldn’t” or “should have” and “never.”

Most of us can probably name or point out our gremlin. It’s been with us so long that we’re very familiar with how it behaves. For example, I’ve named mine “Killjoy.” My gremlin loves to taunt me with an overly burdensome sense of responsibility…for everyone and everything. There’s no time for fun and play when there’s so much that needs to be done! My gremlin has a particularly good time needling me because it knows it is completely contradictory to a core value I hold and that’s the importance of being playful.

So, I wage war with my gremlin and “smite” it on a regular basis, right? Hardly! Our gremlins are very strong and they thrive on our energy. The more attention we give them, the stronger they fight back. Instead of fighting, the key is first acknowledgement then dismissal. You really hurt your gremlin when it knows it has been seen yet you’re strong enough to do your own thing. In his book, Taming Your Gremlin, Rick Carson tells us that

To be at choice from situation to situation and from moment to moment is vitally important in taming your gremlin.

One of the most common gremlins for anyone that used to be overweight is self doubt or fear; lacking confidence and always worrying about gaining weight back. The voice tells you, “You might have success now but you can’t sustain this.” or “You’ll never be able to relax in your new skin. You’ll always have to worry about every little thing you put in your mouth because you know you’ll mess up eventually.” When these really negative thoughts pop up, first recognize them for what they are; untruths being sustained by runaway perceptions. Next, remember, you always have choices. In whatever situation you find yourself, will you choose to listen to your inner critic or will you use information you know to be true? How did you lose that last pound, or ten or hundred pounds, in the first place? You know what your body needs to be healthy now. No gremlin can suddenly take the power of your knowing away from you. Ignore it and choose what’s right for you.

Be aware that your gremlin is pretty smart. As you get better at ignoring its voice, it will change and turn into something new trying to get your attention again. Stay wary and never let the bugger get the better of you.

Photo credit: practicalowl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Don’t Let Your New Year’s Resolution Wreck Your Image

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With the start of the new year, there are going to be a number of resolutions made to “get in shape.” For some, this means losing a few pounds. For others, they might want to build muscle. One area of concern for guys is the tendency to over-compensate for a “skinny” body image by deciding to do some “body building.” This often creates eating issues of its own. To add muscle fast, you attempt to take in more calories than you burn. (To make this sound cool, we call it “bulking.”) That might be the exact same behavior you just worked so hard to change!

I’m a strong advocate of adding resistance training to any weight loss program but particularly for men. If you have anxiety about the gym, now’s as good a time as any to work through it. Lean mass helps you burn fat. It also has a huge impact on a man’s body image. When a guy loses a lot of weight but hasn’t built much muscle, there’s a chance that they still won’t be satisfied with their appearance. They’ll want to “bulk up” and they end up putting on a lot of unhealthy weight again. When weight training is added to weight loss, the final result is a trim, fit and athletic build.

What’s a bit ironic is that being bulky isn’t even the preferred look any longer. According to a CNN article on the new ideal physique for men, cultural preferences are trending towards lean and athletic. Looking naturally fit and healthy without having spent your life in the gym or wasted money on countless supplements is what’s favored in the media and fitness magazines. It’s also being popularized by fitness trends like MoveNat. It’s a look that many men can actually achieve and maintain.

If you think you’re too skinny now, pick up some weights before you pick up that extra meal. A man with moderate muscle mass but low body fat can look a lot more “buff” than a bulky guy with no definition. You’ll be healthier and you’ll prevent yourself from entering a cycle of yo-yo dieting that can do more harm than good.

Photo credit: alphadesigner / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Overcoming Shame and a Negative Body Image

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One of the most often voiced issues by men after losing weight is that they “still feel fat.” Often, they still have a hard time looking in the mirror or taking their shirt off in public without applying a lot of self-criticism. Sometimes they still see someone that’s heavy but, just as often, they now see someone that is TOO skinny and “out of shape.” There’s a general awkward feeling in their new skin and a poor body image remains.

To make a full and healthy transition from being an overweight individual, it’s important to develop an acceptance and even appreciation of your new body. Some of the awkwardness comes from the fact that it is a new body. It’s lighter and moves more easily than before. Your muscles simply need to get used to the lighter load. The physical aspect resolves quickly but the mental picture often needs some repainting.

Losing weight doesn’t magically boost your confidence. You might be getting a lot of positive feedback and compliments but those often seem superficial. Your body image is far more than just skin deep. It comes from your self perception and, worse, is clouded by often false beliefs regarding others’ perceptions of you.

So what’s it going to take to get over this speed bump? Well, the most honest answer is simply “time.” You can do something to accelerate your mental shift, however. Start noting what situations make you feel less than awesome. Are they mainly in social gatherings or at times when you’re alone? Are they self induced from negative thoughts or do other’s comments bother you? Look it over and see if a pattern develops. If you start boiling it down, I’m guessing you’ll have words like “self conscious,” “embarrassed,” “insecure” and “unworthy.” Together, these simply result from the insidious human perception called shame.

Brené Brown is a renowned researcher on the topic of shame. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, she says

Shame works like the zoom lens on a camera. When we are feeling shame, the camera is zoomed in tight and all we see is our flawed selves, alone and struggling.

Feelings of shame negatively impact confidence, self-esteem and well-being. What’s the cure for shame? According to Brown, it’s compassion, belonging and authenticity.

To be wrapped in compassion, fill your life with people that make you feel accepted as you are. Conversely, care for others. Create a sense of belonging by taking risks and joining in with your fellow human beings. Volunteer, expand your social circle, and make yourself open. Finally, strive to be the authentic you. Are you living to your full potential and within your values? Do you truly own every aspect of what it means to be you? Are you letting external forces or your inner critic prevent you from creating the life you deserve?

Let go of what others think; you have no control over their thoughts anyway. Stop giving outsiders the power to impact your life. They haven’t earned it.

Work at changing your perceptions to realize how truly wonderful and unique you are when you’re being the authentic you. Stomp shame. Regain your confidence and self-esteem and leave that fat-suit in the dust.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Clothes Make the Man: I Hated the Husky Section!

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For some it’s a pleasure while others see it as just a chore. It can also be terrifying. I’m talking about clothes shopping.

I don’t know if they still have them in department stores but I had to buy all of my clothes in the “husky” section when I was young. This was essentially a men’s section they put in the children’s clothing department for the fat boys. I was wearing a 42″ waist in eighth grade so there was no way I could fit into traditional kids’ clothes. Accordingly, most of my clothes weren’t in line with what other kids my age were wearing. [Great, just one more thing to set me apart from my peers.] I hated shopping for clothes at the start of each school year. My mom would just cart me off and we’d get it all done in one morning so that the trauma was minimized. For some, this negative experience continues into adulthood. I recently heard from one guy that simply lost it and broke into tears in the middle of the men’s department because he couldn’t find anything that fit.

For most men, buying clothes is a pop-in-and-just-get-what-I-need event or they buy online. However, this doesn’t stop retailers from marketing to men or those that buy their clothes for them. You can pick up any health magazine and see the most current trend being worn by a fitness model with a sub-30″ waist and 44″+ chest. While women have dealt with this for most of their lives, I think men are just now starting to feel similar pressure to look good. When you’re fit, buying new clothes might not be an issue (other than coughing up the dough) but when you’ve been buying your clothes in the big-and-tall section until recently, how do you make that transition?

As I started losing weight, shopping for clothes still wasn’t all that enjoyable because I had some vision of where I should be at any point in time. I’d pick up a large shirt and find I still needed an XL or my pant size hadn’t dropped. Though sometimes frustrated, I pushed ahead and eventually started seeing some progress. I started using clothes shopping as a motivator. I would regularly get a few new things in the smaller size so I knew I always had something that fit well and looked good. These first few new items were always a better brand (relatively expensive) too so there was a financial incentive to not go backwards. I donated my larger clothes as soon as I replaced them with smaller sizes. I felt I had “made it” when I took some shorts into the Abercrombie and Fitch dressing room and had to actually buy two sizes lower than I had expected.

So I share this with you as another example of some of the mental trash that can be taken to the curb once you have lost weight. I know guys that still buy clothes too large either because they simply haven’t thought to go to a smaller size or they’re still trying to hide their body. As you reach your goal weight and figure out what your new size is going to be, treat yourself to some new clothes that fit well. Take a friend or spouse/partner that knows something about style with you and have them give their opinion. You worked hard for the new body and you deserve to look and feel your best. Don’t let prior discomfort or lack of knowledge stop you from enjoying a simple pleasure of life.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ditch Your Fat-suit!

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When you’re overweight, your mind can be full of guilt, longing and self-loathing. Once you start the weight loss process, you’re singularly focused on your diet, exercise and the results on the scale. Now that you’ve finally reach your goal weight, what happens? The activities that have been taking up a good portion of your brain space are no longer needed, creating a vacuum. That vacuum has the potential to suck back in all of the insecurity, doubt and fear from which you worked so hard to free yourself. This creates a healthy, fit person that still feels overweight. You’ve basically put on a fat-suit!

We view ourselves from two different vantage points—how we feel about ourself (internal) and how we think others see us (external.) Our perceptions skew these views rooted in our self esteem and confidence. Our actions and feelings are directly driven by our thoughts or perceptions. If that vacuum pulls back in all of the negativity you’ve longed to be rid of, it will cause you to act and feel accordingly. This will have an impact on your confidence and self esteem and may actually cause others to treat you as if you’ve made no change. You get depressed, fearful, apathetic and wonder what you worked so hard for and BINGO, you slide back. Can you see how we get stuck in this vicious cycle?  To succeed, you need to ditch that fat-suit mentality once-and-for-all and leave the “old you” behind.

Plugging that vacuum is one option. This takes an awful lot of energy though as you constantly try to remind yourself of what you’ve achieved, that you know how to eat, that there’s no rational reason for you to be be afraid, etc. But I think there’s a better way. Instead of patching, how about replacing the space in your brain with new thoughts so that the old ones simply can’t come back?

Think of it this way. What do your naturally fit and healthy friends think about all day? Are they worrying about what every next meal will bring? Do they panic or have a meltdown if they miss a gym day? Probably not. Food and exercise may be important to them but they also have so much more going on in their life. That’s the key; create a full, rich, well-rounded life experience for yourself. By focusing on your overall wellbeing and developing new talents and interests you’ll naturally begin to change your perceptions of the world. You’ll increase your self-esteem and confidence in all aspects of your life. You’ll create a new, vibrant, completely whole you with a fit, healthy body at its core.

So, what to do next? Create new goals and explore new interests. Try something you wouldn’t have done when you were overweight. Do things that purposefully increase your self-esteem and confidence. Take risks; maybe go after that promotion you’ve wanted. Focus on your overall wellbeing. Live as if you’ve always been fit and knowing you have the ability to shape your own future. Yes, losing weight is tough but peeling off that heavy, ugly mental fat-suit can be harder—but you can do it!

Image from Flickr user dsb nola Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

8 Ways to Be More Confident at the Gym

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I recently heard one guy explain that his greatest issue after having lost weight was that he “felt like a fraud in the gym.” The only way you can be a fraud is if you’re trying to be something that you’re not. Here are a few tips on how to exercise your confidence at the gym.

Go with a Plan

 If you get to the gym and just wander around trying out different machines or picking through free weights, you’re going to look like a newbie. Have a workout plan in mind (or better yet, in hand) and complete each set with purpose and conviction. Record your workout in a paper journal or on your phone. Keeping track of your workouts will allow you to continually progress and prevent you from doing the same thing week after week. It also makes you look serious and dedicated; which you are.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Look, everyone’s body is different. There are guys that live in the gym, put a lot of money and effort into building their physique and, maybe, just have the right genes. Can you aspire to be as disciplined and hard working? Sure. But never feel less than them or unworthy of being in the same gym. There’s always going to be guys that are in better shape. Constantly focusing on keeping up with everyone you see at the gym will cause you to miss the opportunity to develop other aspects of yourself that make you unique.

Know Your Limits

When you work out, don’t try to impress anyone other than yourself. If you try to move more weight than you can handle, you run the risk of hurting yourself. If you’re using terrible form, you’re likely to call negative attention as opposed to wowing anyone. When you plan your workout, make sure you start out with weights you can handle and increase them over time. When a weight gets too easy for me, I’ll usually go up by about 10% but drop the number of repetitions in a set. Each workout, I’ll increase the repetitions until I can easily handle that weight, then go up. Not before! And for gosh sake, don’t drop or throw the weight—that just makes you look like dork. It also shows that you didn’t have proper control of the weight to start.

Take a Friend; There’s Strength in Numbers

If you can, get a workout buddy. Having someone to spot you, check your form and suggest new lifts is helpful. Plus, you’ll automatically feel more comfortable being with someone you know.

Dress to Impress

I don’t mean this in a shallow, show yourself off way. However, you can increase your confidence by feeling good about how you look. Don’t wear ratty, torn and stained gym clothes that are now 6 sizes too big. Find clothes that fit correctly, are designed for working out and make you feel good. Save up for better brands; my favorites are Lululemon or Under Armour. Better brands last longer, are designed to make you look good and you’ll feel like you belong in a gym. Also, the added investment is another incentive to use them.

Be Friendly, not Flirty

Smile and don’t be afraid to talk to people but don’t make the gym a pick-up joint. Most people are there to workout and the advances will be unwelcomed.

Don’t Create Your Own Discomfort; No One is Looking Anyway

While you’re going to act like you belong there, in reality, no one is going to notice you. People go to the gym to workout. They might catch you in a passing glance but there really isn’t any reason to feel self-conscious. Be a good gym citizen and you’ll be welcomed.

Corrolary to the Last Two

OK, some gyms ARE pickup places and everyone MAY be checking everyone else out. If that’s what you’re into then you probably don’t have any confidence issues. It’s important to scope a gym out to see if it’s right for you. Most gyms will offer a free or discounted week pass. Check out the place during the times you’d typically workout. If everyone is into their workout, people are friendly and you feel comfortable then you’re good. Family oriented gyms seem to be the least intimidating. If you’re really new and the idea of going to a gym freaks you out, try starting at the YMCA or the gym at a community college. They’re used to people just getting started and will be most helpful.

Some use a gym to lose their weight while others simply don’t feel comfortable until they’ve gotten close to their goal. Don’t let anxiety, or the feeling of being a fraud, keep you from having a fun and productive gym experience. You’re doing this for yourself and only you can give yourself the permission you need to succeed.

Image courtesy of stockimages FreeDigitalPhotos.net