Every Monday features a tip, activity, inspiring quote or some other tidbit that helps boost your body image, whether directly or indirectly — and hopefully kick-starts the week on a positive note!
Got a tip for improving body image? Email me at mtartakovsky at gmail dot com, and I’ll be happy to feature it.
A negative body image is made up of negative thoughts.
Wow, I look horrible today. Like every day. My pants are tight. What a surprise.
Why can’t I just be thinner? This cellulite has got to go! If I could just get rid of this flab, I’d be so much happier.
Often, we don’t even realize we’re playing a demoralizing dialogue in our minds all day long. Which, of course, only perpetuates and spikes the negativity and bashing.
Or maybe our thoughts aren’t overly cruel. Maybe there’s a hint of negativity or self-doubt that’s still deflating.
Either way, our thoughts can influence how we feel about ourselves, how we treat ourselves, and how we let others treat us. They can influence the boundaries we set, and the lives we lead.
And this is something we might be completely unaware of. Or only half aware of.
That’s why it’s key to pay attention to the words we use to talk about ourselves.
Here’s an activity that can help you better understand what’s happening in your brain and how it influences your body image and beyond.
- This week keep track of your thoughts — negative, positive, neutral. Any time you have a thought about your body or yourself, write it down.
- Keep a small notebook with you, or type the thoughts into your phone.
- Write down the day and date: Monday, March 31, 2014. Underneath include — as often as possible — the thoughts you have about yourself throughout the day.
- Also, if possible, write down the time (it doesn’t have to be exact), and what you’re doing. Here’s an example: Noon, eating lunch; 2 p.m., work meeting; 5 p.m., leaving work; 8 p.m., watching TV.
- Try not to judge yourself for any thought. Simply observe the thoughts you’re thinking, as if you’re a scientist collecting data.
- Then, at the end of the week, review your list.
- What do your thoughts look like? Are they mostly negative or positive? If you want to get specific, separate a page in your journal (or computer) into three columns: positive thoughts; negative thoughts; neutral thoughts. And put all the thoughts from the week into their proper categories.
Sometimes, negative thoughts can be tough to spot. They may be subtle.
Or they may seem like realistic assessments or facts — especially since our culture has a distorted view of health and hyperfocuses on weight, dieting and punitive workouts.
Negative thoughts may have big words attached to them, such as “never,” or “always”: I always look disgusting. I’m never eating dessert, again. I’ll never feel good about myself, and I don’t deserve to.
They’re critical and cruel. I’m such a slob. I’m hideous. Who would appreciate this body?
They may be catastrophic. I made another mistake. I’m such a failure. I can’t do that exercise, which means I’ll never get healthy.
They’re laced with shoulds. I’m exhausted, but I should work out, since I’m getting so big. I should start dieting, again, since it’s almost bikini season.
- What do the positive thoughts focus on? What do the negative thoughts focus on?
- Consider the connection between your thoughts and what’s happening during the day: Do you tend to have more negative or positive thoughts at a certain time? Maybe your thoughts get more negative before lunchtime, because you’re starving, and your mood sinks. Do your thoughts turn negative before, during or after a certain situation, activity or event? Maybe your thoughts become more negative before a work meeting, because you’re nervous you’ll mess up. Maybe your thoughts became negative after getting into a fight with your sister.
- What’s surprised you about your thoughts or the act of keeping track of them?
- How was this experience for you in general?
Because we’re so busy or because we simply don’t pay attention, we might be unaware of the dialogue running through our minds. Every day.
When you take just a bit of time to notice the content of your thoughts, you gain a better grasp of what’s happening internally, and how your thoughts may be influencing your actions.
And once you have that knowledge, then you can work through any problematic patterns and re-evaluate how you treat yourself and how you let others treat you.
This week, I’ll share some facts about negative thoughts and how to deal with them.