One of the things that my trainer, Kenneth Ferrer noticed as soon as we started working out together is that I didn't look at myself in the mirror. At best, I would look sort of to the side and get a sense of what my body was doing. I've done that for as long as I've been working out. So he said on our second session that he'd like me to start looking at myself in the mirror unless the exercise made it inconvenient. I did so and immediately regretted it. Out came my inner-critic and started commenting on all sort of things about myself that I didn't like: my gut was too big; there was too much fat under my chin; my eyes looked especially baggy; these shorts make me look dumpy; etc. I started having a hard time completing the set. Looking in the mirror was like someone turning on a radio of nonstop negative comments about my appearance. In the onslaught of that, I turned away. I went back to looking to the side. Anything to get that self-critic to stop.
The rest of the workout didn't go well. Kenneth saw that I wasn't really looking at myself. He kept asking me to try and I refused.
I had sort of a weird synchronous event the next day as I went to an immersive theater experience. At one point during the play, I ended up by myself in a small closet that was mirrors on all sides. There was a set of headphones. I put on the headphones and the voice told me to look myself in the eyes. I did. The voice whispered a monologue into my ears about looking at oneself and seeing future possibilities. I developed a sense of comfort just looking at myself and noted how weird it was that this happened the day after my little freak-out at the gym. I took this as a sign from the universe - it's time to get over this and embrace looking at myself.
The next time I worked out with Kenneth, there were new rules. The rep didn't count unless I was looking at myself square in the eyes while doing it. I gritted my teeth about it, but I sort of knew it was coming. I had my little theater experience the day before, so I was able to get okay with it all. I realized that the negativity stops after about 10 seconds. I guess it gets bored of being critical and quiets down. At the end of that workout, he gave me the other part of the exercise: I was to come to the workout with two things that I liked about myself.
I decided to pick one personality thing and one physical thing. My first two things were: I liked the fact that I am a relatively smart person and I like my shoulders. We had a brief discussion about why I picked those things and what about those things did I particularly like. Then Kenneth told me that I had to pick two new things every time I worked out. I'm trying to remember what my reaction was. I think I took it as sort of a challenge and one that I was sort of looking forward to.
After about 5 days of this, though, I started to panic. I asked him "What happens when I run out of things I like about myself?" And his answer: "You never run out of things you like about yourself." (I still kind of laugh when I think about that. I'm not sure I believe it.)
Early on, I kept thinking "When are we going to get to the parts that I don't like? Isn't that just being fair and balanced?" I don't know why I thought that, but something in me wanted to start listing things I didn't like. I guess it was just some weird grouchy side of myself that felt like I couldn't progress without looking at the bad parts, too. I ignored that voice and it eventually went away.
After about 10 days of this I was really running out of things I liked about myself physically. I could list things about my personality for forever, but I was running out of body parts that I legitimately liked. I learned that I was being too generic. If day one is "arms" and day two is "legs", you're obviously going to run out of body parts. I learned it's a lot of fun to be really specific. It also helped that the effects of working out were giving me new inspirations. For instance, one day I saw a very strong dimple where my delts, biceps, and triceps intersected. That was one of my favorite things. One day, I noticed my vastus medialus muscles were getting quite big. That was one of my favorite things.
Sometimes I would pick things that I was kind of on the fence about and see if I could find some love for that body part. I picked my belly relatively early on. Even though I wanted it to go down, I realized part of me really liked my belly. It was a sign that I knew and enjoyed good food. And bellies are associated with laughter. I like my belly.
As this exercise of "my two things for the day" continued on, I realized that I would not have any problems coming up with physical things I liked about myself.
It turns out that the personality side got a lot thornier pretty quickly. One of the things that makes Kenneth the best trainer you can possibly get is not just that he made me go through this exercise, it's that he would incorporate the things I liked into his motivation for me. For instance, one day my favorite personality attribute was Patience. So in the middle of holding a plank position for extended periods of time, and well past the point of what I thought I could hold, he would remind me that I was patient - that it was one of the things I liked about myself - and I needed to draw on that patience to get through that set. Another example: I liked my geek side. We talked briefly about what that meant to grow up reading comic books and identifying with heroes. He worked that into the workout and got me to tap into my inner super hero. It was all used to raise the bar higher and to push myself into unknown territory. I realized I have a pretty extensive set of tools at my disposal for reaching my goals. (FYI - I have the best trainer in the world.)
A couple of times, things happened in my life that brought things out in me that I really didn't like - a negative reaction to something a friend said, or procrastination, or laziness etc. As I had done with the physical attributes, I thought "Well... is this something that I don't immediately like but maybe I can find some positive aspects and generate a little self love?" These were the really difficult days. We probably all have things that we don't like about our personalities. We're all highly capable of self-sabotage in various forms. In my journey to try to turn a negative aspect into something that I liked, I found that a lot of things I originally thought were my downfalls were actually sources of power and strength. They were just misapplied. Instead of fighting the voice, I can work with it. I've since named a lot of the various voices and aspects in my head and how they play out.
Even going back to the original culprit, my inner critic, I realized is a drawback-turned-advantage. That inner critic that always found something to not like about myself was the voice that got me to start going to the gym in the first place. And the voice that got me to significantly upgrade the intensity of the workouts. Have I fallen victim to that voice in the past? Absolutely. But now I see that as long as I keep him in check, he's a source of power. He gives me my resolve. He pushes me to be the best I can be. I've used him all throughout my programmer career. I constantly ask myself "Is this code as clean and well-thought out as it can be?" and my inner-critic helps guide me. It's just that he got misapplied to other aspects of my life. Or he is perhaps not helpful at certain times and I needed to put him in check.
About 20 days into this, I was shaving in the morning and I was looking at myself in the mirror. The workouts were going well. I picked my two things for the day and one of them was my jawline which had been making a more prominent appearance in my face. You know how sometimes you have these very clear thoughts that tumble out of your head? This voice in my head said "There's all these things I like about myself that have been buried for so long." And it wasn't just my jawline. I felt like I had become my own best friend. I had become my own advocate. I had a moment of full-on, uncensored, self love and appreciation for the first time in a very long time. I got really choked up (i.e. two minutes of total water works over the bathroom sink) and I still get pretty emotional remembering that morning and finally getting free of my inner-critic and feeling wholly myself.
Kenneth said we were going to switch gears after 40 days. So I have a list now of 80 things I like about myself. Half of them are physical. Half of them are aspects of my personality. I look at the list often. There are many surprises in the list. I remember some of the specifics in my life that brought about the things that I chose. There were some pretty intense journeys behind some of the items.
Apparently there's a part B to this that he has not told me yet. We supposedly start that this week.
I highly recommend you find a very trusted friend that you can say anything to and go through this exercise. Forty days. Each day you say two things you like about yourself. Aim to do this three times a week. I think trying to do this 40 days in a row would be too much. It's good to let life happen in between the days.