In the first article, Are You Ready to Get Naked, I outlined my signature five-step process to help you break free from Negative Body Obsession and live a life filled with peace, love, beauty, abundance, and joy. As promised, I am going to go through each step in detail in the coming weeks.
If you struggle with some form of Negative Body Obsession, you are all too familiar with the thoughts that create your suffering. What you may not realize is that these thoughts are not you – they are simply thoughts, but we give them the power to control our health, our happiness, and our life by listening to them unequivocally and without question. Most of us travel through life never realizing that our thoughts are separate from us. We have accepted Descartes claim, “I think therefore I am” and often believe that our thoughts are who we are.
We think of our thoughts as ours and mistakenly claim ownership over them. When this happens, we take our thoughts very seriously. We either identify completely with our thoughts, or at the very least we take responsibility for having the thoughts. We are caught constantly reacting to our thoughts, responding compulsively, obeying the commands of a schizophrenic drill sergeant with no direction. Our actions, our feelings, our well-being, and indeed our entire lives are tossed to-and-fro like a ship at sea because of the thoughts that our minds constantly churn.
When we discover that we are not our thoughts, nor do we have to listen to our thoughts, that the path to freedom begins. The best thought you can ever think is the thought that you are not your thoughts. Whoever you are, and we will address that question specifically in Step 3, you are not your thoughts.
So if you are not your thoughts, where do our thoughts come from? The majority of your thoughts have most likely come from the people who have influenced you the most. This usually includes our parents. Our thought life is established when we were very young, and our parents played an instrumental role in it. Our parents gave us ideas about who were are, what we are capable of, what we are entitled to, and what we are worth. Our thoughts have also been influenced by teachers, siblings, friends, and society at large.
Very few of our thoughts, if any, are original. They have been passed down from the important people to us. Our parents, teachers, siblings, and friends’ thoughts were also not their own, but rather were passed down from people who played a profound role in their lives. In a very real way, we are not responsible for our thoughts; but we can, however, take responsibility over our thoughts. Once you realize that your thoughts are not yours, you can truly assume responsibility. You can choose either to listen or not to listen, depending on whether the thought is useful, edifying, enriching, and evolutionary. If the thought does not meet the above criteria, then it is better dismissed and sent back from whence it came.
As you will discover, thoughts are energy and have the profound ability to influence our psychology and biology in profound ways, either for wellness or for ill. Thoughts play an integral role in the development of our lives and in the development of our health and wellbeing, or the lack thereof. When we listen to the thoughts we have been give, by parents, friends, teachers, and society at large, without being aware of them and their influence on us, we most likely will suffer. When, however, we become aware of our thoughts, we can begin to make conscious choices about what thoughts we are going to let grow within our psyche. Once we identify and detach from the negative thoughts, we can begin to cultivate and nurture positive thoughts and beliefs within us that have the power to utterly transform our lives.
It is through the process of learning to identify the voices that are keeping us trapped, understanding where they came from, and then systematically destroying their hold over us, that we can find freedom, peace, and unshakeable well-being. With practice, you can choose which thoughts you will pay attention to and which thoughts you will disregard. You can learn to ignore and disregard the thoughts that create pain and suffering, while augmenting those thoughts that move you toward health and well-being.
Fortunately, there are specific actions you can take to move yourself from being identified and controlled by your negative thoughts. You can take back the reins of your life so that you are in the driver’s seat determining your well-being and your future.
Here is an exercise designed to help you separate yourself from your thoughts and thus begin to find freedom from them.
Identification: Create a daily log of your negative thoughts and track the emotions or behaviors that they result in. Recommended Materials: Pen and a small notebook to fit in your purse or pocket.
Change always, always begins with awareness. We have to become acutely aware of the way to talk to ourselves and about ourselves. Once we begin to notice what we say to ourselves, we must discover how these thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes make us feel and direct our behavior. Our life is the result of the thoughts we think on an ongoing basis. As we think, so we become. If you are constantly thinking Negative Body Thoughts, you will adversely impact your body, your health, and your life.
The quality of your thoughts will determine the quality of your life. The way you think about yourself will determine the way you feel about yourself. The way you feel about yourself will determine the quality of your friendships, the quality of your career. Your beliefs, thoughts, and feelings about yourself will determine every aspect of your life.
So we will begin by cultivating awareness. Purchase a small notebook that can fit in your purse or pocket. For the next two weeks you are going to carry this notebook with you wherever you go. Keep it by your bed stand while you are sleeping; take it with you in your car on your way to work; have it accompany you to the bathroom when you shower. For two weeks keep this notebook with you at all times. Every time that you notice yourself having a Negative Body Thought, write it down. Also write down the Negative Feeling that accompanies the thoughts. If you don’t have experience identifying your thoughts and emotions, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize what you are feeling.
Below are some common Negative Body Thoughts and examples of possible emotional reactions that can help you with the identification process:
- Thought: I am so fat; Feeling: Embarrassment, shame, guilt
- Thought: The cellulite on the back of my thighs is disgusting; Feeling: Horror, disgust, hopelessness
- Thought: I wish I had her legs; Feeling: Jealousy, anger, self-pity
- Thought: My butt is way too big; Feeling: Inadequacy, shame, disgust
- Thought: If I gain weight, I will hate myself; Feeling: Fear, lack-of-control
- Thought: She is thinner [i.e. better, more attractive, etc.] than I am; Feeling: Inadequacy, inferiority
- Thought: If I had her body, I would be happy; Feeling: Longing
- Thought: I can’t look in the mirror, I am too hideous; Feeling: Terror, Fear, Disgust
- Thought: If only I lost those extra 10 pounds, then I would be [happy, successful, loveable, in a successful relationship, etc.]; Feeling: Incapable, inadequate, hopeless
- Thought: My age is really beginning to show; Feeling: Defeat, lack-of-control, resignation
- Thought: With these wrinkles my face looks like a dried prune; Feeling: Inadequacy, frustration, resignation
- Thought: I wish I had my pre-pregnancy body; Feeling: Dissatisfaction, defeat, hopelessness
- Thought: I looked so much better when…; Feeling: Sorrow, resignation, fatigue
- Thought: I am so ugly! Feeling: Inadequacy, failure, embarrassment
Whether you Negative Body Thoughts are mild or extreme, you are sabotaging yourself and your life, either in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. This list is by no means exhaustive; we all have our particular brand on Negative Body Thoughts that predominate in our psyche, and we all have unique feelings that result from them. You will soon begin to compile your own list of the Negative Body Thoughts that are keeping you trapped.
You will notice that I have included thoughts about your body, as well as thoughts you have about other people’s bodies. In reality, there is no difference between the two. The way we look at ourselves is the way we look at other people, and the way we look at other people is the way we look at ourselves. If we are judgmental of ourselves, we will be judgmental toward others. If we are critical toward others, we will be critical toward ourselves.
The beauty of this, however, is that when we learn to accept ourselves, we will accept others. When we learn to love ourselves, we will love others. When we uncover the beauty in others, we will uncover the beauty in ourselves. As we begin to love ourselves and live our dreams, we will empower others to do the same. As you will come to discover throughout this book, we are all one. We are of the same essence. We are merely reflections to one another, arising from the same source, each unique, each glorious, each beautiful, in our distinct way. It is as if we are standing in a house full of mirrors, and every person, every mountain, every ocean, every sunset, is a reflection of ourselves back to us. If we can see beauty outside of ourselves it is because we are beauty itself, for we cannot recognize something that we are not.
Be sure to include Negative Food Thoughts as well, and just for fun, add in any other Negative Thoughts about Yourself and the feelings they result in.
Some possible examples are:
- Thought: I can’t believe I ate that [chocolate, ice cream, doughnut, bread, etc.]. I have no self-control; I am disgusting
- Thought: As long as I control what I eat, I will be safe
- Thought: I am so out-of-control; I shouldn’t be allowed to be around food
- Thought: I don’t need to eat
- Thought: I must constantly control what I eat
- Thought: I get fat when I look at food
- Thought: I just love food too much
- Thought: I deserve to be treated this way by [partner, boss, co-worker, etc.]; I am so fat and disgusting
- Thought: I shouldn’t [ask for a raise, take a dance class, wear a swimsuit, go out with friends] because I am not thin enough, beautiful enough, etc.
- Thought: If I cannot control my body; I am a complete failure, regardless of other accomplishments in my life
- Thought: I am selfish if I focus on my needs
- Thought: I am just not that great
- Thought: I am unworthy
- Thought: I am not loveable
If you have been struggling with this for years and your brain is programmed with a seemingly endless slew of Negative Body Thoughts, you may need two notebooks. You may find that every other thought you have is a Negative Body Thought. Not to worry; don’t let your thoughts spin a story about how bad you are or how helpless you are or anything else because of your Negative Body Thoughts. Just simply identify and record every Negative Body Thought that arises on the screen of your awareness.
What you will discover is that these thoughts are extremely repetitive and entirely unoriginal. We have a tendency to take them so seriously, to truly let them control our lives, but upon investigation we discover they are nothing more than and repetitive, boring, constant recording that got stuck in “repeat mode” for years. It is the equivalent of a scratched CD or MP3 blip, so the same thoughts repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat.
It is like the Wizard of Oz who controlled people through his wondrous powers. Everyone accepted the fact that he had magical powers but upon investigation it was discovered that he was nothing more than a charlatan. He was orchestrating a grand illusion, a grand delusion. He was able to do it because no one questioned his authority. It was not until Dorothy challenged the Wizard that the truth was discovered: he was nothing more than a lonely, insecure old man, demanding power in a vain attempt to fuel his ego.
So it is with your thoughts. When left unquestioned and unchallenged, they direct our lives in painful, confusing, and self-defeating directions. They create suffering and strife. When we learn how to identify and investigate, however, we discover that our thoughts can have no more power over us than the power we give them. We no longer need to take them seriously at all; they are like clouds in the sky that pass on the screen of our awareness, leaving no mark or residue as they return from whence they came.
To summarize the exercise:
Purchase one or two small notebooks. Carry them with you wherever you go and record all the Negative Body Thoughts that arrive in your awareness.