As a coach I am used to hearing self-critical language. Wait a second, let me restate that, as a human being, I am used to hearing self-critical language. Most of us are our own harshest critics. We critically judge ourselves for everything – from what we chose to eat for lunch to how we managed our emotions when dealing with a tough parenting challenge. So it’s really unsurprising that the voice of our inner critic often decides to gripe about what she perceives in the mirror. In fact, except in the most extreme cases of body dysmorphia, this self-critical voice around appearance is pretty normal. Still, because it serves little purpose other than to undermine self-esteem and sap creative energy, I like for my clients to have the tools to silence their inner critic, or at least to choose not to listen to her.
When a coaching client tells me: “I hate my nose,” or “I could be happy if only I had Taylor Swift’s legs,” my first curiosity is how does that thinking serve her? I know for me (and I’ll never have Taylor Swift’s legs), I can’t pull anything that will help me to be a better coach, spouse or person out of that kind of thinking.
So, I have three coaching questions (based in appreciation, perspective and acceptance) that I often ask clients to help them shrug the burden of critical body image in order to create space instead for energy, happiness and change. This is not to say we don’t work together to achieve healthy goals around body weight and activity, rather that we also work to develop and nurture a healthy mindset. The next time you find yourself hating what you see in the mirror, try asking yourself these questions to shift your mindset:
#1: What have those legs (that nose, those arms) done for me lately and have I thanked them for it?
The idea here is to shift thinking from form to function, and then intentionally to appreciate our parts for what they do(and it’s a lot) versus how (we think) they look. I know my own legs don’t look like Taylor Swift’s, but darned if they can’t run a 10K, chase the dog and motor me through the aisles of the grocery store. I really appreciate all that they do. That feels powerful! So, instead of hating your knobby elbows, how about appreciating them for enabling you to to lift your toddler or hug your baby?
Question #2: What would I say to a friend who is beating herself up about her appearance?
The truth is, most of us are more kind and sensitive to our friends than we are to ourselves. I see this in coaching groups of women who are more likely to grant grace to peers than to themselves. Those kind and sensitive exchanges are critical to loving discourse. Using your “What would I tell my best friend?” perspective can help you to change your self-talk from critical to loving. You’ll find that kindler, gentler you has some deep and loving insight. Let her speak, and really listen to what she has to say!
Question #3: How would my life be different if I accepted the woman in the mirror?
I often hear optimism and energy emerge in response to this question: “I’d be happier . . . less self-conscious . . . more likely to do things.” This simple question around acceptance can start us down the path to releasing at least some of our perfectionistic (self-critical) thoughts. By accepting ourselves as we are, we can begin to pump up our self-esteem and clearly see what’s in the realm of the possible (and truly important). Accepting reality (dismissing perfect) is central to setting achievable goals and coaching oneself to greatness.
M.S., Exercise Science and Sport Psychology
WellCoaches®, Fitness and Wellness Coach
ACE Personal Trainer