A remark made by a college graduate that I happened to overhear in a restaurant recently brought to fore an important lesson in self-image psychology for me.
"No thanks, I love myself too much. I actually have a dream for my future that I believe in," she said. It took me a while to figure out that the girl said this while refusing a smoke. Here's the lesson in self-image psychology that the statement carried.
We treat our bodies better when we believe in two things:
1) We are loved
2) We have a future worth dreaming about
It is the beginning of the year and there is no fun in being pessimistic already. Anything new you start now, workout, diet plan, membership to the new gym appears to be the change that will finally stick. You're full of energy and new hope. Not to be the party pooper, I would agree that change is needed, but a more fundamental one.
See, forgoing the ice-cream or going for a run doesn't create fitness or health. Because not having ice-cream is a one-off decision. Temporary changes give temporary benefits, not lasting health. They are the bumps on the road that the body can easily overlook and continue as if nothing has changed.
To really change the state of your health, you must change who you think you are. This is the very essence of "self-image psychology". Self image psychology refers to all the outcomes you experience because of who you believe you are, and how you value yourself. In simplistic terms, there can be two possible ideas you have about yourself:
1) I am fat now because that is who I am.
2) I am fat now but I am really a fit and healthy person.
Now, say you joined a gym from the first of this month. You start losing weight and see an increase in your strength, energy and stamina. All good so far! But here is the thing: If your self-image corresponds roughly to point one above, the positive changes will be incongruent with your idea about yourself. Your truth is that you are a fat person. So within days or months you will block the changes, so that once again your reality starts to match your truth. You will make sure you go off your healthy routine. The body has many sly ways of doing this.
You may injure yourself through over-exercise. Your office workload may increase to a point that you can't find the time. You may catch a viral infection that knocks you out for a couple of weeks, or you may feel so sore that you drop off. You will find a reason that appears very "valid", for stopping the healthy change.
On the other hand, with a self image that corresponds roughly to point two above, as soon as you see the benefits of the routine, it will just reaffirm your faith that you are in fact a fit person. The more benefits you get, the more congruence you experience. Your truth and this new reality match. So you will continue the routine. Even if there are setbacks or a break in routine due to work or viral infection, you will quickly resume the workout.
So, if your self-image - what you believe about yourself - is so critical, you need a path to go from believing that you are a fat person to believing that you are a healthy person who is temporarily unfit. Here are the five stages you will need to pass:
Look deep within to uncover what your core belief is. Positivity or hope can be superficial. Listen to that small voice within that tells you to skip the gym, or eat the third samosa because "it is all pointless anyway". To make that self-critical voice go away you have to first hear it loud and clear. This is the awareness stage.
Once you have increased the volume of that voice in your head, it is time to accept that it exists. No point running away, suppressing or blocking it. Simply say that it is true that at present you have a voice that tells you it is all pointless because being fat is your final truth. This is the acceptance stage. Don't rush this.
It gets even crazier at this point. You must find within yourself a sense of deep gratitude for this voice. It exists because it wants what is best for you. This negative voice also exists in your service. Know that this voice came into being to keep you going through your tough times. Let a wave of gratitude sweep over you for this voice.
After you thank this voice that tells you not to get your hopes up high, with humility you give it permission to leave. You may say: I know you wanted what is best for me. And you probably protected me from heartache and disappointment at some time. But your presence is no longer helping. You are now preventing me from achieving my health goals. So you have my permission to leave. This is the farewell stage.
5) New belief
This is the time to establish the new, positive self-image. You can start tentatively if you find it hard to immediately believe you are a healthy and fit person at the core. Toy with the idea that it is possible that you are really a fit and healthy person. Every day, give yourself cues of how this may be true. Think back to the years when you were shapely, energetic and brimming with health. See unhealthy changes in you as temporary and see your days of health as your true or real nature. (This is a fundamental truth for everyone, actually. The natural state for the body is health. Just as the natural state of the mind is joy, even if we experience sorrow or pain temporarily).
When you go through these stages, it is important to watch your breath. Holding the breath is a sign of resistance. Release your breath and maintain a soft, steady breathing as you shift your self-image one stage at a time. Hope comes tentatively but it can be nurtured so it grows. This year, really be the change you want to see!