Negative self-talk is something you probably do without even noticing. You might even feel like your mindset is the thing that’s really holding you back from finding a healthy relationship with your fitness or diet.
I know that the way I used to approach eating better and working out definitely came from a less-than-healthy place of guilt and shame.
Whether it was wanting to do harder and harder fitness events to “prove my worth” or cutting out allthecarbs because I was afraid of gaining fat, I knew this wasn’t the best way to approach my health. I pushed myself to do more only to feel worse about it, and I ended up at my lowest weight, still feeling unhappy about everything.
My real life friend Kristen (who happens to also be my attorney) and I have a lot in common.
- We’re both go-getters and successful business owners.
- We both used motivation and negative self-talk in unhealthy ways to try to change our bodies.
- The harder we both tried, the more despair we felt.
Luckily, Kristen and I both discovered that healing our mindsets was the answer.
I’ll let Kristen describe in her own words how the Women’s Strength Summit gave her the tools to overcome her negative self-talk and get on the road to mental freedom and true happiness.
(Take it away, Kristen!)
I suppose I should start this post by explaining my overall nature. I’m a lawyer by trade, so my crazy anal-retentive attention to detail, type-A, overachieving characteristics suit my chosen profession well. However, I can safely say, as a person, I’ve been suffering under the weight of my own personality for as long as I can remember. Yes, I’m very fun, outgoing, crazy, with a minimal brain-to-mouth filter, and I swear like a sailor. But inwardly, I’m intensely critical, judgmental, stressed, and full of anxiety.
I always thought these traits sort of went hand-in-hand, and I’ve always used my perceived “negative” personality traits as a means to drive me toward what I believed to be success. Over the course of my career thus far, I’ve told myself that the reason I’m being so hard on myself was to keep me motivated. To keep my eye on the prize. To keep me pushing myself forward. Any attempts to relax, take a day off, or just BE, resulted in me sternly telling myself I was being lazy, worthless, slovenly, and definitely UN-successful.
How Motivational Self-Talk Can Hurt
This has always been the case – not only with work, but also when it comes to my own self-improvement. By referring to myself as “fat,” or pointing out my physical flaws, I was not only simply acknowledging what others had to “see” too, but I was also driving myself toward my perceived notion of physical perfection.
For those of you who don’t understand this (lucky you), the negative self-talk goes something like, “Gross. You’re fat. Get your ass up and go to the gym. This is what’s best for you. Get moving. Come on. Don’t be lazy. Don’t let the laziness win. Get up. NOW!”
I never felt that this kind of talk was the same as the commonly understood “negative” self-talk, but rather as motivational self-talk. I mean, how many of you have seen memes like these?
“Don’t stop when it hurts, stop when you’re done!”
“Make yourself stronger than your excuses”
“No pain, no gain!”
The list goes on and on.
The underlying tone of these messages are clearly negative, but instead, we perceive them as motivational, not intentionally mean or picking you apart. So, clearly, if I decided I needed sleep instead of going to the gym, or if I decided to eat a piece (*ahem, bar) of chocolate slathered in almond butter, I was “allowing” myself to let the excuses take over. I wasn’t putting my mind over matter. I was letting something taste better than skinny felt, and all the rest of that garbage.
My Own Enemy Was My Thinking
For most of my teenage years, and throughout my twenties, this is how I approached self-improvement. If I didn’t see the scale move, if I didn’t eat the “right” foods, if I didn’t work out the “right” number of times per week, I was “letting myself go.” If I didn’t get every project done at work, or didn’t jam-pack my schedule, I wasn’t passionate enough or somehow “asked” to be stressed.
I was still convinced this was not really negative self-talk, because I know that outwardly, I’m not what people traditionally consider as “overweight” and my business bank account is healthy, so I’m not about to close my doors. I am incredibly active, fit, healthy, and all-around average when it comes to my size.
However, I truly believed that because my body didn’t look the way I believed it could, that I was fat FOR ME. If I didn’t meet a certain business goal in a particular month, I was FAILING. I know we always talk about not caring how others perceive you, but we rarely talk about how to handle a warped self-perception. How do we separate the difference between motivation and harmful mindsets?
Part of the reason I focus my law practice on helping those who help the world, i.e., socially conscious, sustainable, aware businesses, is because I want to not only help my clients reach a broader audience and spread their messages, but also so I can learn from them. Enter one of my first clients, Steph Gaudreau. Steph had told me she was putting together an online summit by women for women to address all aspects of building strength, be it mental or physical. She asked if I’d be interested in checking it out, and of course I said yes.
How My Negative Self-Talk Started to Change
Steph’s Women’s Strength Summit came at the heels of me deciding that 2016 would be the year I would speak differently to myself. I was very incredulous about my goal. I was convinced that addressing my accomplishments and appearance in a positive way would result in me becoming lazy, unmotivated, and unsuccessful both in life and business. I could not have been more wrong.
Putting aside negative self-talk, especially in the beginning was incredibly challenging. The amount of mean shit I would say to myself without even thinking twice was absolutely dumbfounding. Why is it so easy to say, “gross,” “shut up,” “that’s stupid,” “you’re dumb,” or “you look hideous in that,” but so foreign to say, “you’ve got this,” “way to go!”, “you are killing it today.”
At first, every nice thing I said to myself felt as though I was bragging or being egotistical in some way. Keep in mind, this is me saying things to myself, inside my head! Nobody was listening, yet I felt this extreme sense of unworthiness every time I said something nice. Despite these uneasy feelings, I powered through the first couple of months. Did I slip up at times? Absolutely. But one of the most interesting things that happened came around month four.
In the interest of anonymity, let’s just say “a friend,” came to visit. She said something about being fat, and rather than my usual call-and-response habit of chiming in whenever a friend said something negative about herself (talk about some twisted solidarity), my hackles immediately bristled. I said, “I am trying really hard this year to love myself. Hearing people speak negatively about themselves makes it hard for me to be nice to myself. Do you think you could try not to do that around me? For the record, I do not believe you are fat, at all, and I hope you believe it too.” I don’t think she was expecting it. She looked at me, paused, and said, “You’re right. I shouldn’t say those things.” Was it awkward? Yes. Was it completely worth it? Hell yes.
And Something Surprising Happened…
Not only did my awareness of negative self-talk in general become heightened, I actually began to see physical changes, too. Oddly enough, I am exactly the same weight I was when I started this inner challenge in January 2016. This in and of itself is a feat for me, because I generally gain and lose the same 10 pounds, over and over throughout the year, depending on how hard I’ve decided to beat myself up.
Yet despite this fact, I was losing inches. I credit this to actually seeking out foods that made me healthier as opposed to constantly living in a state of bingeing and restricting my food. I was celebrating what my body could do in the gym, rather than treating it as a punishment for eating “too much” the night before. I was sleeping more, relaxing more, taking more time off from work – and relishing it!
From a business standpoint, things became clearer too. I realized that my “why” isn’t to become financially rich, but to have a flexible and rich life. I already had that. This realization made me feel a sense of calm and success that I had never felt before. I was finally able to bask in the glory of the goals I’d already achieved. To set new, realistic ones; and to take my first long vacation in almost 3 years. Do I still wish I were doing “better?” Of course. I am still a driven, business owner. But I don’t walk around bashing myself for taking a vacation. Do you see the difference?
I truly believe the phenomenal group of empowering women included in Steph’s Women’s Strength Summit were the catalyst I needed to jump start this change in me, and I cannot recommend it enough.
That doesn’t mean you need to do what I did to get healthy, but I am one of the converted who wholeheartedly believes that your health and life goals cannot be achieved through negative self-talk. No matter how much you believe you’re motivating yourself – trust me – you are doing more harm than good. I challenge you to focus on gaining health rather than losing weight. To celebrate how far you’ve come, rather than looking at what you didn’t achieve. You might just be surprised.
(Steph here again)
My heart is bursting with gratitude for Kristen having the courage to share her story overcoming negative self-talk. I’ve personally seen her transformation, and when she graciously offered to share how the Women’s Strength Summit changed her thinking with this community, I was incredibly honored.
There is zero doubt in my mind that someone out there will resonate with Kristen’s story and see that finally, it is possible to shift her mindset too.
If it strikes a chord with you and you’d like to learn more about the Women’s Strength Summit, click here:
Kristen Roberts is the Founder and Managing Attorney of Trestle Law, APC, a boutique law firm that specializing in helping sustainable, socially conscious food and fitness companies with their business, intellectual property, and employment needs.