Can We Talk?
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
The quote above is from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D., a Swiss-born psychiatrist and pioneer in near-death studies and author of the groundbreaking book 'On Death and Dying'(1969), where she first discussed what is now known as the Kübler-Ross model. In this work she introduced the famous Five Stages of Grief as a pattern of adjustment. These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Generally, individuals experience most of these stages, though in no specific sequence, after being faced with the reality of their impending death, and can apply to the survivors of a loved one’s death, as well.
Why would I use this as an introduction to my blog where I usually discuss topics designed to provide insight, motivation and support on the journey to health and fitness? And what does the above photo have to do with this? It all started with a brief encounter I had with my friend Jann while she was training a new client in the gym. I walked up just as the client was expressing insecurities she felt due to comparing herself to someone she knew. Jann was explaining that this is not a helpful approach to reaching goals-Jann obviously knows what she's talking about, as evidenced by her photo below.
She is also a several-times-over first place figure competitor winner, a sport based on comparing physiques to those of others. Seems contradictory, yes? It's just the nature of the game and while it's difficult not to compare yourself to others in this arena, you can only become a champion by challenging yourself and improving on past performances. In sport, comparison can be beneficial-particularly in terms of peak performance. For example, an athlete hoping to set a record compares past personal best times to keep improving upon that. If the personal best existed in a void without a source for greater potential (i.e., a world record), the athlete may be satisfied with staying at current levels or progressing in extremely small increments. At an elite level, this may be how records are set but for the rest of us, comparing ourselves to others may only hinder the process of putting our best foot forward. Particularly for women, when we look in the mirror, too often we scrutinize the flaws instead of embracing the beauty and uniqueness that we each possess. If we are not blessed with an ideal image that has become popularized through the media, our sense of value and self-worth erodes and we fail to recognize that these 'ideals' are shallow and meaningless.
If you have become a victim of internal dialogue that is self-defeating, creating additional roadblocks to changing already undesirable behavior, it may feel like a monumental task to break out of this vicious cycle. Keep in mind that regardless of a person's accomplishments, status or position in life and outer appearance, everyone has moments of doubt and insecurity. It's how we respond to self-talk that makes the difference. Cognitive Restructuring is a technique that targets altering distorted thoughts. Think of it like a tune-up for your mind. Just as your car's engine gets clogged up over time from environmental debri-like the air filter, for example, which then affects performance, your thoughts can turn junky from external input like putting too much value on magazines such as Cosmo. Somehow, I got a free subscription to this magazine and I deliver it unopened to someone else. I don't even want to go there! I've learned that I am going to feel like I need to go out and get a complete make-over, change my entire wardrobe, and compare my sex life to some ideal set by someone else; in other words, I will feel that my life falls short on far too many levels. That is just what those magazines want to accomplish-to create desire, envy, greed and insecurity so you will go out and spend money with the goal to increase the GDP.
We all constantly talk to ourselves, internally or aloud, but it is the way we talk that is addressed through cognitive restructuring. If your thoughts tend to fall along the self-defeating, negative or even irrational spectrum, this will definitely affect your performance and can even cause emotional anguish. Why do this to yourself? I look at my thoughts as though they were my child. If I were a mom, would I tell my child negative things about looks, ability to accomplish, or value as a person? Hell NO! I would tell my child that anything is possible and that there has never been a person alive that is more capable of accomplishing whatever his or her heart desires! Even if you have failed time and time again at something you feel is within your power to achieve, it may just be that you need to adjust your internal repartee. It will take practice and the ability to constantly self-monitor your attitude and logic, but you're going to be conversing with yourself anyway-might as well work on becoming your best audience. There are many coping strategies you can utilize to help manage where your mind starts to wander and while some do include surrounding yourself with positive images, this isn't usually practical once you leave the house though it's an awesome place to start!
When we encounter conflicts that seem beyond our ability to deal with, we search for coping mechanisms. This IS NOT the time to binge eat, skip out on the gym or engage in some other destructive behavior. If there is a situation causing you undue stress that then leads to feelings of hopelessness, you may also experience something similar to the Five Stages of Grief mentioned above: anger, depression, denial, bargaining, and acceptance. It may be helpful to recognize that this is just part of the human condition, that you are not alone and that there are ways to modify or preside over the problem causing the stress. A simple example of a problem favorable to change could be knowing there is a holiday work party coming up where there will be lots of trigger foods you don't want to eat. In the past, you may have overindulged but now you have armed yourself with appropriate alternatives by gathering information from several sources on how to stay on track. You may decide to host the party yourself, offering healthy yet delicious substitutions to the regular fair, along with providing activities designed to get people moving and interacting more with each other, like a themed mystery party (Who stole Rudolph's red nose?). However, if the problem stressing you out is not subject to change, and your emotions run amuck due to this, work on changing the emotional response. This could be typical of someone on a nutrition plan, going to that holiday party with all the trigger foods and veering way off course, and then feeling depressed and frustrated due to this. Instead of singing The Morning After Blues about something that is done and can't be undone, focus on activities that calm the mind such as meditation and relaxation. This will help to re-focus on advancing with the nutrition plan, getting your mind back into a positive place rather than resuming internal dialogue that says "I can never follow a meal plan..."
Goal-setting is an important part of changing internal dialogue from negative to favorable and has also been proven to increase performance and achievement, modify behavior and advance personal improvement and success.
The most persistent conclusion is that specific goals bring about the highest levels of activity achievement than having no goals or no definitive written plan. Goal specificity succeeds by presenting specific feedback to individuals chronicling their progression in the realization of personal goals and as such, there is a methodical system to the process:
Set specific and measurable goals
Set realistic yet challenging goals
Set both short- and long-term goals
Focus on performance and process goals
Develop goal commitment
Develop goal achievement strategies
Get goal feedback and evaluation
Set timelines to achieve goals
I used this list when I decided to create fiftyfierce.com. My specific and measurable goal was to stop buying binge food for a period of one year. I figured that the approach I had used in the past (read as 40 year's worth of failed New Year's resolutions...) to just say "I will lose 10 lbs. this year and keep it off" was not going to work and I had to come up with a different goal, a different approach. Not buying binge food seemed realistic though extremely challenging as I mean it when I say this has been a big 'Go-to' for me when coping in life and had become an extremely detrimental habit.
The short term goal was to take it a day at a time and try to make it one month with all the months becoming additional short-term goals, culminating in the long-term goal of one year. By the way, October 10, 2016 marks my one year anniversary and while I didn't officially launch fiftyfierce.com or do my Before photos until January 1, 2016, I have reached my long-term goal! I had a few slips along the way, I think maybe 7 or 8, but I did keep my focus on the performance (monthly accomplishments) and the process (internal dialogue changes, alternative eating behavior, etc.). Barriers to goal achievement in the past ALWAYS started with my internal dialoging and working on this made issues that had been problematic disappear. Example: my work doing trade shows not allowing me to have any kind of break during an 11-hour day. Made eating difficult. Let me re-phrase: made eating the right things difficult. In reality, it was only as difficult as I allowed it to be. I did lots of food prep ahead of time, like making larger portions of healthy foods that I could freeze into single-serving sizes for use during show. I got plenty of goal feedback from friends and family by blogging about the process as well as going the extra step of sharing progress photos along the way. I stuck to my timeline and now I have arrived. I doubt I would have been as successful without the use of goal setting.
If you are a woman that daily fills your head with negative self-talk, you can just as easily turn the tide. It may be a bit challenging initially but hey:
Become the best woman you are meant to be. You are worth it, you deserve it and no one compares to you!
Jann Silbermann is a CPT and also holds the Silver Sneakers credentials. Located in Davie, Florida, she can be reached at (954) 288-7729 for training consultations, sessions and information.