“Stop weighing yourself.”
Three little words that showed up in my Twitter feed last week. I have no idea whether they were a reaction or a challenge, a frustrated admonition or a supportive suggestion. Were they directed at a specific individual or open advice for all?
Whatever their original intent, these three words have continued turning over and around in my head since I read them. They have been speaking to me about the many ways we weigh ourselves and find ourselves wanting. And they suggest – no, demand – that we stop doing this. Self-reflection is an important tool for growth. But when self-recrimination replaces balanced self-assessment, we can find ourselves engaging in a vicious self-talk that is completely lacking in constructive energy. Suddenly, our internal dialogue has us contending with the biggest bully of our lives – our own inner critic. Below, I’ve compiled a partial list of ways we need to stop weighing ourselves because they almost inevitably lead to self-bullying. Feel free to add yours in the comments!
Stop comparing yourself to arbitrary measures
As a culture, we are obsessed with measuring things. We know how much we “should” weigh based on our height and age; we know how many servings of each type of food we ought to eat; we have credit scores which determine whether we are a good or bad financial risk; and now we even have Klout scores measuring how influential we are. One of the problems with these measures is that they are based on huge data sets, not on individual people. The data set incorporates individual difference but we forget that when we find the point that “represents” us – especially if we don’t land right on that point (if our weight or our education or how often we clean our bathroom doesn’t conform to the average).
Another difficulty with these arbitrary measures is that, as human beings, we tend to apply meaning to them beyond the use for which the measure was originally intended. We take internet quizzes and suddenly find ourselves judging our tendency toward introversion/extroversion or our similarity to certain characters from Downton Abbey. We look at our credit score or the scale and instead of thinking, “This is only one way of seeing my situation” we think, “I’m a loser” or “I’m a fat slob.” Isn’t it time to stop taking these impersonal measures and applying them to ourselves in deeply personal – and often hurtful – ways?
Stop comparing yourself to others
It is incredibly difficult to avoid finding yourself wanting by comparison to others. One reason is that we generally only see what others are choosing to let us see – and we all try to appear in the best light publicly. Another reason is that we are almost always more charitable toward others than we are toward ourselves. HER curves look sensuous, MINE look dumpy. HIS old clothes look “classic” or “vintage,” MINE are hopelessly out-of-date. We do this when the other person’s self or things are similar to us/ours. How much more so do we assign negative attributes to ourselves when there is disparity between us and another person? When I attend Bike School (the Thursday night twitter group found at #bikeschool) I am often jealous of the number and kind of bikes the other attendees own. As soon as I begin to feel sorry for myself as the owner of one measly old Trek hybrid, I begin a downward spiral that leaves me, by the end of the evening, feeling like an unemployed loser with little to offer the world – all because I can’t afford to own a road bike?!
Why is it so difficult to celebrate our own unique selves, living in our own unique circumstances? Because we assign value to the wrong things when we compare ourselves to others. I learned an important lesson about this by associating with distance runners when I worked with college student athletes. Runners race. Races, by definition, pit you against others in a comparison of skill determined by speed. But distance runners are often more focused on their personal record (PR) – comparing their own previous performance to their current performance. Imagine if we did this in daily life. I can’t help but think we’d all be a lot happier focusing on our progress rather than our shortfalls.
Stop thinking you are not enough
I recently bought The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. A few pages in, I came upon this, “…worthless feelings arise when we believe, however briefly, that who we are is not enough.” The passage goes on to ask that we sit and “quietly feel the fact that who you are is enough.” I couldn’t do it. In that moment, the first thought that occurred to me was, “Obviously, I’m not enough.” Because if I were enough, I’d have a better job. If I were enough, someone would be in love with me. If I were enough…well, let’s just say the list of ways I could immediately identify myself as ‘not enough’ was very long.
Even in the midst of that emotional moment of wallowing in my own inadequacy, I knew I was indulging in the worst form of self-pity. When I weigh myself and find that I am “not enough”, it absolves me of responsibility. Its not my fault that my life isn’t what I want it to be – I’m not enough. It is beyond my ability to change – I’m not enough. When I think of myself as not enough, I cannot be an agent of change, I can only be a bit of flotsam tossed about by the currents of life. Thinking I am not enough is an abdication of my personal power.
Stop participating in your own shaming
Samuel Johnson said, “Adversity is the state in which a man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free from admirers then.” To a certain extent, this is true – and adversity can be a great teacher. However, it also happens to be the state in which we are most susceptible to our own inner critics. In our good moments, this results in positive self-talk and an optimistic viewpoint. In our lesser moments, the result is that we allow our inner voices to say nasty things to us – things we would never put up with from someone else. Words have the power to hurt – whether they originate with others or within ourselves. Learn to speak kinder words in a more respectful tone inside your own head. You may never completely eradicate shame from your life, but you don’t need to participate in its proliferation.
Stop focusing on the “wrong” things and start focusing on the “right” things
Last time I weighed myself and put the number up on this blog, the scale read 176 pounds. Exactly half of my starting weight of 352. This is a wonderful thing. I’ve worked hard and taken a slow path to get here. I’m not sure what I said to a friend when we were discussing this, but his response was, “When you look at yourself do you seriously NOT see how much you’ve physically changed in just the time since you moved here?” My response was, “Not really.” Because recently I haven’t felt good about my life in general, so when I look in the mirror what I see is sagging skin, wrinkles, the weight I still have to lose.
The problem with focusing on the wrong things is that we tend to move toward what we are focused on. This is true when we’re driving a car and accidentally veer toward the field full of baby lambs we were looking at and it is true in our daily lives. If my focus is on the ways I fall short, I continue to move toward my weaknesses, instead of moving toward my strengths.
Stop letting your last decision or choice define you
We give the other people in our lives lots of chances and opportunities, often many more than they may objectively deserve. We understand that people are flawed, and that even good people make bad decisions or choices that we disagree with. We continue to love and support them anyway. In fact, that may be how many of us define love and/or friendship: offering ongoing love and support despite these things.
We rarely cut ourselves that same slack.
One thing I’ve learned from my efforts to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, including management of my relationship with food, is that every bite is an opportunity to make a new choice. It doesn’t matter that the last choice I made was to dump a pile of cheese crackers on my plate – wish I hadn’t, but its over and done. The next choice can be a better one. The point isn’t to make perfect choices every time – and berate yourself when you fall short of this ideal. The point is to make more good choices, in the aggregate, than bad ones. By “good” I mean “that lead toward what you want” and by bad I mean “that don’t lead toward what you want.” Removing the shame, guilt, and deficit-thinking that keep us mired in weighing ourselves and finding ourselves wanting, is the goal.
Stop. Weighing. Yourself. When my friend tweeted those three little words he likely had no idea who they would touch or how they would be taken! He tweeted them into the ethernet anyway, rather than being bogged down with self-doubt and self-criticism. I think there’s something important each of us can take from his admonition! What do you think?