Self Acceptance, a neglected aspect of the Fitness Community.
Acceptance - a neglected aspect of the Fitness Community.
"Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand. In fact, your level of self-acceptance determines your level of happiness. The more self-acceptance you have, the more happiness you'll allow yourself to accept, receive and enjoy. In other words, you enjoy as much happiness as you believe you're worthy of.”
Dr. Robert Holden - Author of Happiness Now
I thoroughly believe that Self Acceptance needs to cultivated if you want to exercise from a mentally and emotionally sustainable place.
But Self-Acceptance is most definitely an ongoing life project.
It’s roots lie in how we were raised, not just by our parents (although that is significant) but also by our peers and environment.
But wait - you say - What is Self Acceptance? Is it the same as Self-Esteem and Self Love?
According to psychologists they are heavily related, but not the same thing. Self-Esteem refers to our sense of worthiness in relation to the status of our life - eg. Our physical, social, economical and relationship status can all contribute to our self-esteem (or lack thereof).
Self-Acceptance however is unconditional. It’s a much more universal affirmation of ‘self’ that isn’t reliant upon any thing, action or status.
This can feel like a hugely impossible task if you were raised by parents or peers whom YOU BELIEVED wouldn’t love you unless you were achieving or behaving in some way (believe being the operative word there).
Growing up as a gymnast and then dancer meant that I could only accept myself (and feel good about myself) if I was winning or developing in some way. This reliance upon progress developed potentially detrimental mental programming that I have to keep a close eye on to preserve my mental health (this is where I give thanks to psychotherapy, journaling and meditation).
Ok that’s cool Shona, but what does it have to do with EXERCISE?
Because I believe the fitness community (hell, probably even society) IS THOROUGHLY RELIANT ON THE GRATIFICATION THAT COMES FROM PROGRESS.
Many of us are addicted to it.
The proof of that is in the fact that we respond so much to transformational pictures. It’s why shows like the Biggest Loser did so well.
Progress makes us feel better. AND SO IT SHOULD and if it didn’t, well we wouldn’t progress right? So I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.
I’m here to tell you that YOU’RE NOT going to feel the gratification of progress every single time you exercise.
It’s just not possible.
And although the adaptations are occurring in your body, every millisecond you train, you will not see it, you probably won’t even feel it.
It can NOT be what you’re resting your motivation on and it most certainly shouldn’t be what you bank your worthiness on.
I’ve worked with hundreds of clients as a yoga teacher and personal trainer and I know THAT A LACK OF SELF-ACCEPTANCE HAS A HUGE NEGATIVE IMPACT ON PEOPLES ABILITY TO EITHER GET STARTED ON A FITNESS JOURNEY, OR ENJOY IT.
If you are overweight, underweight, sick or injured your ability to feel worthy and loved can be compromised and ultimately this can of course negatively impact on your health practices. Sometimes this ‘adversity’ can cause a wave of sudden motivation to take back ‘control’ of our health.
But other times we can feel deflated, demotivated, depressed - all with an extra serving of ‘f**k it’ on the side.
Ok so what do we do about it?
Drink a green juice, Green juice contains properties to help with mental health. HA! I GOT YOU! While the ‘Wellness’ industry might articulate that your mental health can be fixed by a daily spirulina smoothie, weekly colonic and a Sunday yoga class - it can not. Immediately unfollow anyone that conveys this message.
Consider investing in counselling sessions. I don’t understand why there is such a taboo in cultivating mental health through the practices of speaking to a professional ‘mental’ trainer (that’s how I see them). It’s not seen as ‘concerning’ to hire a personal trainer when you want to develop your body, but there seems to be a somewhat shameful stigma around wanting to hire a psychologist or counsellor to help you manage your thoughts and emotions. The NHS and Medicare offer some rebate on counselling session - check in with your GP about it. There are also lots of charities and helplines that can also help. Drop the shame - I promise seeking mental health help IS the new black.
Stay away from exercise regimes that cultivate this notion that you are being punished. Seriously, a workout is NOT the place for us to repent our dietary or lifestyle ‘sins’. It’s a place for us to celebrate our bodies in whatever shape or form they come in. To work them so that we can subconsciously reaffirm our physical existence - it sounds silly, but EXERCISE REMINDS YOU THAT YOU ARE ALIVE. Staring at a computer screen, phone or tv does not.
Embrace the discomfort of feeling your ‘flaws’* but choose to exercise anyway. So many women tell me that they love my programme because it makes them feel comfortable enough to train in the privacy of their own home. While that is GREAT and THAT IS ONE OF THE REASONS I CREATED THE PROGRAMME - eventually you must push past this feeling. Yes our fat will jiggle, our boobs with squish into our faces (ok sadly not mine, I wasn’t blessed with a chest), yes our hips will spill over the sides of our pants, yes we will sweat, look messy and red and flustered IN PUBLIC but that is NOT a good enough reason to avoid exercise (and more importantly HEALTH).
Educate yourself on the body not so that you can achieve anything, but because you will learn about how f**king amazing it is. So many people champion this idea of cultivating SELF-LOVE and I agree with it - BUT what is love without understanding? FAKE NEWS! THAT’S WHAT. We must must must become more sensitive and educated about our bodies generally if we want to fully learn to love them. THOSE OF YOU THAT HAVE READ MY BOOK - KNOW THAT I BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION IS THE BEST MOTIVATION.
These are a few of my suggestions, but I’m sure you have a hundred of your own. Let me know if you think I have left something off the list?
I love hearing your thoughts on this and I write these blogs to stimulate thoughts but more importantly conversation (we are social creatures and that’s the best place for learning).
Also if you want to read up a little more on Self-Acceptance, here are some great links and interesting reads on the matter: