My sister stands at the door in her beautiful new clothes. She looks gorgeous. “I’m worried that I look too fat,” she says. She is barely size 12 and hardly carries any excess body fat at all. “Do you have a problem with body image?” I ask her. For so many of us carry an image in our minds that conditions how we think and feel about ourselves. I remember an early boyfriend telling me that my breasts were acceptable as long as they didn’t sag sufficiently that they would hold a pencil underneath them. For years, I’d slip a pencil in just to make sure that I was still ok! Another remark that held me in check for years was that my bottom had to be just one “handful” in size, and if it was any larger than that, then obviously I was getting too fat. The stomach had to be absolutely flat, or jokes were made about me looking pregnant.
How many of us are conditioned to think and feel that we are unacceptable? We diet, we work out, we try really hard, without realising that unless we approach the subject with a more comprehensive view, many of our efforts will go to waste. Herein lies the truth: we actually have a body/mind system which needs to work in unison, for if one is out of balance then the other may well be too. By using the power of the mind in conjunction with the body, it is possible to achieve even greater and longer-lasting results, which ultimately builds our self-esteem and confidence in what we are doing.
Our body image affects every part of our life. It underlies our attitudes and has a direct impact on our relationships, careers, our life purpose, our sporting activities, and how we present ourselves to the world. Our ideas and thoughts create our attitudes, which include our values and beliefs. This underlies our behaviours and how we act in any given situation, whether it is the thoughts in our minds, the food that we eat or the way that we approach our physical health.
One way of creating the body image that we desire is to approach it more holistically and to work with all aspects of ourselves. Of course our body image is influenced by many things including what we are conditioned to believe, what we have chosen to believe, what we are expected to believe and then the beliefs that we develop through life experience. By examining those responses, we can learn to choose for ourselves and let go of outdated thoughts that no longer serve us.
Believe in yourself
The first step here is to detect any limiting beliefs that might be holding us back, for such beliefs can prevent us from achieving the results that we desire, and influence our behaviour. Once the belief is isolated, we can change it to a more useful and helpful attitude that will encourage us to be successful. These are often things like “I’m not good enough”, or “not worth the effort”, or “life is hard work”, or “I’ll never really be successful”… and while we continue to hold on to such false beliefs, the body will respond to what the mind is telling it to do. It is those deep-seated beliefs, the “secret” ones that we don’t tell many people, that are usually our core beliefs, and these are the ones that sabotage many of our efforts.
A practical way to approach those outdated attitudes is to look at what values we hold, decide if they are still current, and then learn to act on those values. For example, if I want to be fit and healthy, radiant with energy and love, then what I am saying to myself about myself must be congruent with that same value, and at the same time, my actions must also be in alignment with that value. Obviously if I tell myself that I am fat, my breasts are sagging, my bottom is too big and my stomach represents a football, then it will be difficult to achieve any lasting success because deep down I won’t ever believe it. So next time I am tempted to eat something that doesn’t agree with me, to not do my yoga, or not take a walk, the core belief of not being worth the effort, time or energy will win out! However, by deciding that I value health, I can learn to make different decisions thereby changing the old rules and, with practice, the old behaviours will begin to slip away.
Learning to catch the “self talk” whereby we are critical of ourselves and generally don’t really believe in what we are doing is another great exercise for revealing the hidden beliefs. Try it for a day. Write down everything you say to yourself in your mind that is less than caring! It can often turn out to be quite a shock to catch yourself and hear what you are saying, and many people often tell me that they were deeply surprised with how many times a day they put themselves down. You might hear yourself telling yourself you’re silly, or no good, or stupid, or won’t succeed, or will never lose that weight or won’t achieve your goals, and of course every time we are doing this, we are actually sabotaging our good efforts.
Becoming aware of this “self talk” is crucial for any lasting growth because our feelings are actually created first by our thoughts. These are then processed in the brain and given a conscious meaning that in turn creates an emotional response. So, what we are saying to ourselves, about ourselves is very relevant to how we feel about ourselves. The idea is to learn to stop these types of thoughts as they happen, before they build up any momentum, because otherwise before too long they spiral out of control. We can all learn to choose our thoughts and to focus on that which is supportive rather than that which is destructive.
Coach yourself into better habits of thinking, and watch as your self-esteem begins to grow:
- Think more positively about yourself - write a list of 10 things that you appreciate about yourself including positive feedback you have received from close friends and colleagues.
- Learn to catch the negative thought - for one day write down all the negative things you say to yourself about yourself, and then change these into more empowering thoughts.
- Banish your limiting beliefs - make a decision to let go of beliefs that no longer serve you.
- Develop your current values - decide upon the three most important values by which you want to live and then develop these qualities within yourself.
- Offer yourself encouragement every day - create some wonderful affirmations about yourself and read them several times every morning and night.
- Acknowledge your gifts and strengths - identify the areas in your life in which you do really well, and develop them even further.
- Set reasonable time frames for your personal goals - what would you like to achieve in the next six, 12, and 18 months? Write your goals down and refer to them regularly to remind yourself of your successes.
- Hold the image in your mind of what you want to achieve - create a visual collage or story board of your desired goals and remember to put a photo of yourself in the middle of the collage. Put it up somewhere so that you will see it every day.
- Determine your internal state - make a decision every day to create the internal state that you desire. Try meditation as an act of self-love.
- Honour your body/mind system - pay attention to your thoughts and feelings and take the appropriate actions. This will go a long way towards achieving the results for which you yearn.