Let’s assume for one moment this isn’t a blog post. It’s a conversation that you’re watching.
I’m not a writer. You’re not a reader. This is real life.
And this is the conversation that hurts to the core maybe more than any other conversation I have in fitness. Why? Because it’s a reflection of what so many think but do not say.
This transcript is pulled directly from a client, but it could have come from me, from you, from anyone.
These are the emails that hurt the most, only because they cut at an undeniable truth in the world of body transformation. It’s bigger than biceps or abs, but it’s all relevant.
The Internal Struggle of Fitness
I don’t know how to say it, but how am I more happy with where I am now?
I guess what I want to know is how do I accept my body as looks at the moment and how do I switch my towards more positive instead of negative self talk? Something along the lines of ‘How do I fake it until I make it?’
I’ve already started focusing on the process more and outworking myself everyday and it really helps, but I have that voice in the back of my head that obsesses over my body fat goal. And when I see that I’m not at my goal despite my work, I can’t help but not like myself as much. Dare I say, maybe even love myself a little less. I know it’s wrong, but the thoughts are still in my head. It hasn’t led to any behaviors that worry me, but I don’t want to feel this way. Thoughts?
Creating the Healthier Health Mindset
[Editor’s note: This was my unedited response to my client’s internal struggle.]
The frustration you feel? It’s normal, and unfortunately all too common. No need to feel bad about it or be embarrassed. But your awareness and acceptance means it’s time to do something about it. If you find it’s affecting your behavior or overall happiness, it might be worth seeing someone about it. The mind needs just as much TLC as any other physical ailment.
Your question about “self love” is where you’ll want to start. It’s not easy for a man to admit that, but we all need to feel good about who we are and what we do.
What’s important is that you separate physical appearance from your happiness. Oftentimes it’s one of the hardest things to do in fitness because the more effort you put into anything the more it means. This is dangerous if your self-worth becomes dependent on what you see in the mirror, maybe even what you don’t see. (Most people are more critical of their own appearance than another’s outside perspective.)
Somewhere between shirtless pictures of lean models and body dysmorphia lives the mental purgatory of most people’s experience of fitness and appearance:negative, but better than they think; hurtful, but not detrimental to everyday life; frustrating, and in ways that can be overwhelming or even cause you to stop exercising and eating well for all the wrong reasons.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. Far from it. Fitness should make you feel good, improve energy, and benefit your life. And none of that is to say that models or shirtless selfies are cause the issues you face.
Could they be? Possibly. But this is part of society, and for people who do it the right way (hard work + consistent diet), good for them for looking the way they do.
But focusing on others just places your attention on things you can’t control. Instead, emphasize what you can directly change.
Your life is a balance of many factors. You choose what components make up “you.” It’s a complicated process and one that honestly never ends.
But “you” should always be a collection of items. It should never just depend on one factor or even two. It’s a beautiful collage of interests, people, work, hobbies, charity, community, and anything else that offer purpose and value.
The Fitness Portfolio
View your life like a great stock portfolio.
Ideally, you don’t want income coming from one source. Because even with our best intentions, shit happens and that source of money could dry up.
So if you have other avenues or sources, you’re never screwed or left wondering, “What do I do?”
Your life is the same way. You don’t want to be tied to your body fat because–at times–it might not be where you want.
Maybe you’re “bulking” and focusing on more muscle, maybe you get sick, travel, have more important priorities that push off workouts, or eventually, you get older and it becomes harder to stay leaner.
Or maybe, just maybe, your progress will be measured in other ways. The activities you can do, the life you can life, the confidence you can exude. I know that every body can change and transform, but how that happens and what it looks like is different for everyone.
So setting a concrete expectation of what success physically looks like can be a journey to nowhere.
Fitness is a journey. It’s a process that should be fun and enjoyable. You tackle hard workouts, learn more about your body, understand nutrition and find freedom in what you eat while still seeing great changes in your body.
All along, you learn to love you and the process. The effort, the sweat, the grind, the cheat days, the off days.
Make it more about the process than just about the appearance.
Yes, you have goals. And yes, I want you to achieve those goals and pursue them relentlessly. That’s when incredible happens.
But your happiness should never be completed tied to those goals. It should just be another piece of the puzzle.
You’re learning and growing as a person. Tell yourself of that. Remind yourself. And understand that the journey of discovering you–as you learn to master your body–will be an enjoyable one if you put your energy into your habits instead of the mirror.
In good time, both will be exactly where you want.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.