“You’re a problem child.”
“You’re not built like a dancer.”
“You’ll never succeed at that, choose something else.”
The negative programming wasn’t just about me, either. It was about the people who spoke the words to me:
“We’re just black sheep kind of people.”
“We’re not exactly ballerina types.”
“No one in our family has any rhythm.”
After being punched in the face again and again and again with these messages, I landed face-first in a pile of I CAN’T. And what a giant, stinking pile it was, holy crap.
I’ve touched a little on how those messages metastisized, especially in the area of body image, and I’ll talk about it more again another day.
Today, let’s talk about how I flipped the script.
So often lately, between friends, family, and the women I am privileged to lead in a fitness challenge, I hear “You just have so much willpower.”
Hahahahahha. Nope. Please keep in mind that for every time I have managed to lose significant amounts of weight, I have tried and failed at least three times. Sometimes a LOT more.
Willpower, as it pertains to weight management, does one of two things for me:
- It does not work at all, and I am off-track by 4pm on Day 1.
- It festers into something toxic and punitive, and I try to hate myself into becoming smaller. (0/10, would not recommend).
When you tell yourself that you require willpower, you are also telling yourself a lot of other things: Taking care of my body requires some kind of intangible mental prowess that others have, but I do not. I require superhuman strength to achieve my goals, because I myself am not capable. I am not yet the person I want to be.
Read that again.
In a related story, here’s an expression I would like to see thrown into the trash forever: “Fake it till you make it!”
I know it means well, but let’s call this what it is: negative self-talk—you’re literally telling yourself that you’re faking it! If you’re “faking it,” then by definition, you ARE NOT yet actually doing it. What kind of message is that sending to your psyche?
So, what do we say instead? What is written on the magic switch that I flip in the fuse box of my brain, the times that I have had success?
Be. As. If.
At 16, after being overweight for my whole damn youth, I decided I just…wasn’t going to do it anymore. I just wasn’t. I was going to stop thinking of myself as the fat girl, the ugly girl, the girl who didn’t have the willpower, and start seeing myself as something new. What kinds of choices would That girl make? How does she inhabit the world? I wasn’t just visualizing it, I was Being it. It felt like an actual, literal switch.
And aside from some fairly normal fluctuations, and one very gnarly battle with disordered eating, I kept it off. Simply because I was no longer the girl who struggled with her weight. I just wasn’t her anymore.
Act II of my body image struggle didn’t begin until I spent a decade cranking out a kid every other year. Oh man, did those willpower fits and starts keep happening in between babies. Why does it come in fits and starts? Because willpower’s best friend is a bad influence, and its name is excuses. If you’re relying on willpower to run things, excuses will crash the party every time.
Don’t let the name fool you. This is not your mama forging a doctor’s note for you so you can play hooky. Excuses are not your friend. Excuses will tell you that you shouldn’t prioritize yourself today because. You can eat that (dozen) donut(s) because. Skip that workout because. Drink that entire bottle of wine because. You can start again on Monday, whispers excuses. What excuses doesn’t tell you is that it has big plans to mess your shit up on Monday and have you throwing up your hands by lunchtime. Excuses does not care about your long-term goal. Excuses wants to see you stagnate.
Now, that doesn’t mean you never take a break, or you never indulge. It means you rest and indulge intentionally, with no shame, and you move on. You don’t have to do mental gymnastics to rationalize it, and you certainly don’t flagellate yourself afterwards. I don’t have to tell you what happens when you get into that headspace. You already know.
If you want to be a fit/healthy/strong person, you must *be as if* you are already that person. How does a healthy person treat their body? What does a fit person put into it? How does a strong person keep themselves that way? How do they plan their days, weeks, months, around their intention of being healthy? Inhabit the world that way, and watch it become your reality.
When you make the leap to being as if you’ve already done the thing, you change your reality. You stop seeing yourself as someone who tries and fails, and start existing in the headspace of having already done it. It’s a paradigm shift.
As with just about anything, fitness is not the only place where this principle applies. I’m doing it again right now with this blog. I stopped referring to myself as “a frustrated writer” or thinking about how I wished I could be writing. Those thoughts make great material for a self-indulgent Facebook status, but they don’t change my reality. But look, here I am writing, and there you are reading, and oh hey, look–I’m a writer now. BOOM.
And guess what else I’m doing?
Most professional dancers retire and begin teaching at about my age, so I’m basically right on schedule.
YEP. I’m dancing, witches. Every month, I get faster at picking up choreography. People pay me to demonstrate it for them (WHAT even??). I couldn’t care less about whether conventional wisdom says my body isn’t “right” for it. I have a body and I make it dance, so, heck yeah, I have a dancer’s body. Oh, and funny thing–you know what makes a “conventional” dancer’s body? Turns out, it’s DANCING. Who knew??
Let’s have a quick sidebar conversation about privilege and means. I’m not telling you to just pretend you don’t have obstacles, or you do have unlimited resources. If you just want it badly enough, all your dreams can come true! Nope, nope, nopity nope. That is toxic positivity and I am not here for it. What I am challenging you to do, is to simply shift your mindset. Start carrying your mind and body like the person you want to be. It’s the person you already are; it’s just been bogged down in a bunch of negative programming.
This is 100% the most life-changing principle I have come across in lo these near four decades of living. I’m done living in the wish-I-could, maybe-someday-I-can, if-only headspace. I’m just going to be it. What about you? Who and what are you going to be today?