I once was talking to a potential coaching client on the phone. As we talked about her fears and confidence around weight loss, she lowered her voice and said, “I just don’t trust myself with food, you know? I don’t trust that I’ll be able to stay away from it or make good choices for the rest of my life.”
Her tone was full of shame and embarrassment. Her feeling that she was so untrustworthy — that she couldn’t even be trusted around food, especially the delicious kind — and certainly not for the remainder of her life, was robbing her of any sense of value. Here was a talented, smart professional who graduated at the top of her law class. She was a mother, daughter, wife, and friend who provided for and cared for her people daily, and yet none of that mattered because she measured her value in her weight, not her worth.
“I am the worst self talker ever. I am always telling myself that I am messing something up.”
“You know how I know I didn’t trust myself? I controlled every morsel of food that went into my mouth. The more I controlled, the more I distrusted myself — it became a vicious cycle of micromanaging every single bite. I often think about those years. And just the sheer amount of energy and headspace I wasted on food.”
“For me, the voices in my head are usually telling me, why did I do that? Why did I eat that? That wasn’t worth the calories.”
“I joined a gym to start lifting and then couldn’t stand to see myself in the mirror — especially next to the all these fit women who had super defined bodies. So instead, I’d slink upstairs (away from the mirrors) and just spend a miserable hour on the elliptical. I eventually quit because it was the worst hour of my day.”
“The only time I’ve been consistent at working out was the years I did boot camp first thing in the morning. It was early and dark. But I also had these women cheering me on and telling me things that I personally didn’t believe I could do. I would have quit on me. But let down these women at boot camp and suggest I was anything less than they thought I was? No way.”
Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines trust as: assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed.
The fact that millions of women don’t believe they are trustworthy of the very choices they make for themselves is heartbreakingly sad.
In my own life, I watch my young daughters, ages 8 and 5, and am often amazed at how much trust and assuredness they have that the choices they are making are right. Trust me when I say, my 8 year old is always certain that she is right. Whether it’s knowing exactly how they want to play, what they want to eat for every snack and meal, or leaving a ½ plate of cheese covered nachos behind because their bellies are “full,” they turn to their inner voice to guide their every decision. If we are born with self-trust, what happens along the way?
While we may start out with a strong sense of self-trust, body image and self-esteem, media messaging and social comparison can quickly erode those beliefs. Research has shown that more than 50 percent of six to eight year old girls worry about their weight . In part, this preoccupation is due to the overabundance of social messaging young girls receive regarding the “ideal” female type.
It’s estimated that the average person is exposed to between 500 and 5000 ads each day. Female children and young adults may be particularly vulnerable. Research has shown that children and teens who are exposed to mainstream media are at greater risk for developing an unhealthy body image .
However, it’s not just media portrayal of societal ideals that influence our perceptions. We also rely on social comparisons to those we know to help shape our idea of who we are and how we measure up. These social comparisons allow for externalization of our values, desires and even our worth. Research has found that individuals who used Facebook most frequently had lower self esteem compared with those who used it less frequently or not at all .
A study that examined social comparisons with emotions and behavior found that the more frequently a person made social comparisons, the more likely they were to experience envy, guilt, regret, and defensiveness, as well as to lie, to blame others, and to have unmet cravings . In other words, they were miserable.
If comparing ourselves to others makes us so unhappy, why do we do it? As social creatures we are hardwired to want to belong and fit in with the pack. Historically, fitting in meant we sat around the campfire with others instead of being socially isolated and vulnerable to attack in the woods. The upside of social comparison is that it can lead to self-enhancement and the desire to maintain positive feelings of self.
And that’s where the trouble begins. We use comparison as a motivation to make changes so we can maintain a positive self-esteem, and the very act of comparison can lower our self-esteem. The more we look at perfect images of others and don’t find those same qualities in ourselves, the worse we feel. Two things typically happen:
We become hyper critical of our actions, choices and all of the ways we don’t measure up. We develop a “not good enough” story that fuels our desire to seek validation from outside sources and look to answers outside of ourselves. The critical voice is one that questions every decision and choice. It’s the voice that wakes you up at night questioning your every move and word. It’s the voice that tells you all the things you “should” do or “have to” do. It’s the voice that says you’re lazy, unmotivated, awkward, weak, fat, etc. It’s the harsh drill sergeant that no one wants to be around.
In fact, if the voice in our head was made into an actual person with whom we worked on a daily basis, not only would we avoid that person like the plague, but we’d likely lodge a complaint for emotional abuse as well. This inner critic aims to do well by helping us correct the things we’d like to change, but it’s rooted firmly in a story of “Not good enough.” How can we trust what is, if we don’t believe in its worth?
We scour the Internet, media and outside sources searching for the answers to our problems. We tell ourselves, “I’ll be happy when…,” and the when is simply a moving target that requires more but offers less and less in return. Certainly in many ways, the fitness industry doesn’t help. Scrolling through Instagram and social media, we’re met with promises of quick fixes and 30 day transformations, miracle diets and products and how best to fuel your body.
Should you count your macros? Do intermittent fasting? Perhaps the answer lies in that intense group workout program or following a keto diet? We follow shiny object after shiny object only to be disappointed and defeated. Instead of saying these programs failed us, we simply think, “We failed.”
The only thing we have failed at is listening to ourselves.
We’ve sought someone else’s answers to our questions and the answers we need just can’t be found there.
If you find yourself controlling your every move, feeling aimless without a clear sense of what you desire, it’s time to start rebuilding self-trust. Use these strategies to help you turn up the volume on your inner voice.
We can’t be all of the things and choose everything to be good at. Find out what makes you unique. What do you love? What lights you up? What makes you excited? Mad? Fired up? Step into that. If we only have so many days on this earth, why waste them on things you don’t feel fully passionate and excited about?
Try: Make a list of all of the things you are curious or feel strongly about. Consider how often you are engaging in or trying the things on your list. Pick one you are not actively pursuing and find a way to begin to incorporate it into your life.
Be aware of what you are feeling and experiencing. So often we ignore what our body is telling us. We’re hungry, but we tell ourselves we can’t eat. We’re tired, but we need to stay awake. We eat whatever food is served to us, because that’s the polite or expected thing to do. We eat food that we’re no longer hungry for, because it’s in front of us and tastes good. We constantly ignore what are body is telling us to do, to follow what our mind desires.
It’s time to stop. Spend some time listening to your body and yourself. Sleep when tired. Eat when hungry. Choose foods that make you feel your best. Cry when sad. Vent when angry. Be aware of your experience and allow it be enough.
Try: Set an alarm on your phone to go off periodically throughout the day. When it does, take a deep breath, check in and ask yourself how you’re feeling.
Honor your emotions, feelings and experiences, without trying to escape or fast forward through them. So often we choose to avoid feelings that make us uncomfortable. We feed loneliness and sadness with food. We are mentally exhausted and overworked, so we numb ourselves with food, drink, Netflix, or all of the above. Remind yourself that every feeling and emotion is temporary, even the negative ones.
The fastest way to get through an uncomfortable feeling is to lean fully into it, which gives us the opportunity to not only learn how to sit with it and handle it, but to recognize that we are strong enough to overcome it.
Try: Journal about your feelings when you’re feeling sad, lonely or overwhelmed. Simply set an alarm for 5 minutes, take out a pen and paper and free write until the alarm goes off. Allow yourself to write down whatever you’re thinking or feeling about the situation and then walk away from it. You can choose to go back to it later and ask “Is it true?” or you may simply decide to toss it in the trash. Either way, you allowed yourself to explore what you were feeling rather than escape.
If we are being bombarded with thousands of ads each day, it’s hard to find space and time that is ours alone. Create space in your life by carving out time each day to disconnect and be distraction free. You can do this by sitting in quiet meditating, enjoying a cup of coffee or tea, being in nature, or any way you like to cultivate quiet and stillness. Give yourself enough time and space to turn up the volume on your own internal voice. Unplug the technology, turn off the sounds and allow yourself the chance to check in and see how you feel.
Try: Carve out the first five minutes of each day to sit in silence. Avoid checking your phone or email, and simply greet the day in solitude.
So much of what we believe we desire is based on the expectations of others. Maybe your parents or family members always reinforced your looks, and so you hold expectations around that as your identity. Maybe you believed you needed to have a high powered professional job to be successful and that would lead to happiness. Whatever expectations you hold about yourself and your life, take some time to examine them.
Where did these expectations come from? Are they even yours? Consider how attached you are to that expectation and goal. Do you believe you will only be happy if you are in a relationship? Do you find yourself attached to and obsessing over weighing a certain amount? Do you feel as though there is always something between you and happiness? If so, you may be holding onto expectations that aren’t realistic or serving you.
Try: If you find yourself getting attached to a particular idea or outcome, get curious. Ask yourself, Why do I think I need this? What will it provide or create in my life that I don’t already have?
What are you great at? What is something that is uniquely yours? In what ways are you moving toward the things you value and desire for yourself? Take notice of all the things you are doing right and begin to see the ways in which you are guiding your life exactly where you want it to go.
Try: Keep a gratitude journal. Before you go to bed each night, simply record all the successes of the day and/or anything you are grateful for.
Maybe what we need to seek more than any comparison, any answer, or any fix is this: belief. Belief that we hold the answers. Belief in ourselves and what we desire. And belief that we can make choices that support our best selves — exactly as we intend.
Are you a coach working with women? Help them to cultivate self-trust by using these strategies:
So often clients look to coaches as the experts who hold all of the answers.
By teaching clients to look within and discover their own answers, you have the opportunity to empower your clients to live their best life, in exactly the way they desire.
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