You know how it goes, right? You set a goal to lose 20 pounds/kilos/inches from your waist (let’s hope it’s not the last one 😉 ), and by virtue of your immense willpower and dedication, you succeed in losing the first 15.
But then something happens. For some reason, you can’t lose the last 5. You already work out as much and as hard as you can, and you follow the method consistently. But it’s like you’ve reached some kind of barrier.
Sometimes you get very, very close. You may even get past the barrier a little, but then something happens that sets you back. For some reason you lack willpower one moment and cheat on your diet. Or you overtrain. Or realize you have a lot of work and a sharp deadline you forgot about, so you’ll have to skip workouts for a few days, after not missing one for months. It’s as if the universe conspires against your six pack (or whatever the female equivalent is called).
Why does this happen?
It can’t be because you’re training wrong or eating wrong, because you were already able to get this far. You know the most important things about nutrition and sports. You have the knowledge and experience in your pocket.
Of course there will be tons of news articles and websites trying to convince you that it’s because you need some special supplement or training method to take you to that final next level. But let’s be honest here:
I’ve you’ve been able to lose all the weight that came before it, and shape your body this far, you probably know how to do the rest.
So what’s stopping you from doing it then?
The Part About Getting In Shape No One Talks About
If you look at the things that are holding you back in this final round, you’ll see a clear pattern. They’re mostly unexpected setbacks, a momentary craving or caving, a physical illness or injury, etc.
These things are all results of things that you do. Sometimes they look like bad luck, but then it just means you’re doing it subconsciously. You eat something you know you shouldn’t. You get sick or tired because you come into contact with an illness, overtrain, or undersleep.
Why did none of these happen in the first part of your transformation? Why do they always come up when you’re *almost* there?
It’s because you’ve hit the upper limit of your self-esteem.
We all have such a limit, but most of us are rarely confronted with them because we don’t set high enough goals. This limit is basically the maximum amount of happiness or success we feel we deserve as a person. An extreme example would be the person with extremely low self-esteem who keeps sabotaging every relationship (s)he gets into that’s not abusive towards them. Or a person who gets rich by surprise and gives all his money away.
But it also applies to your body image. If you look at people with bodies you consider “perfect” and adore these people, but think little of yourself in comparison, your subconscious mind will never allow you to attain such physical shape. Because it would not feel right. And it will never feel right until you change the way view yourself as equal to the people who are in the shape you want to be in.
So you may come close some times, but when you are almost there, it will do something to prevent you from getting that shape. Every time, with no exception. Even to the point of physically making you ill or robbing you of sleep (I used to have this every time I had to sing, even though I’m usually never ill). Your body will do whatever it takes to restore the balance and congruency in who you are.
But I Do Think Highly of Myself, Then How Is This Possible?
Probably because you do not think as highly of yourself as you think.
I know that sounded stupid, but lemme ’splain:
Most people who think they are confident, are not as confident as they think (see my previous article). A lot of the time, when we think we are confident, we are actually compensating to hide our own insecurities and low self-image for ourselves.
And we are very good at this. The smaller our ego is, the more it blows itself up, and the more we convince ourselves we actually have a positive self-image. Feelings of pride are especially a tell-tale sign that you are doing this. A truly confident person rarely has to reaffirm their own confidence (why would you need to do that?).
Like I mentioned before, a superiority and inferiority complex are just two sides of the same coin. But if you have the former, it’s a lot harder to discover the truth about yourself image.
However, if you notice that you always get an unexpected setback, or break your diet every time you’ve almost reached your goal, then it’s virtually a given that you are self-sabotaging because somewhere deep down, you believe you don’t deserve it. So if you really want to reach the goal, the first step will be to be honest with yourself about those feelings deep down. (Quick side note here: There is absolutely no shame in admitting you have low self-esteem and could work on that. Just because of the nature of our society, virtually everyone suffers from that to some degree 🙂 )
So how do you confirm that a limiting self-image is indeed the problem?
Testing Your Self-Esteem
There’s a great story about Nathaniel Branden (the world’s leading expert on self-esteem) who was teaching a graduate class in psychology:
He asked the students who in the class believed they had the right to exist. Everyone raised their hands. So he asked for some volunteers to come up in front of the class and state out loud to the rest of them “I have a right to exist.” He instructed them to say it really slowly and observe any feelings that came up in their body while they were saying it. He also asked the rest of the class to decide whether they believed them or not.
What happened was very interesting. None of the first volunteers were able to say it with calm conviction. They said it as if someone told them they didn’t have the right and needed to convince them. Or in a begging, pleading or arrogant way. Even after he told them no one was arguing and they could say it calmly, they were not physically able to.
One student said it wasn’t a fair test, because the volunteers probably just had a fear of public speaking. So Branden made him come up and answer some basic questions in front of the class. He did great. But when asked to say that he had the right to exist, he couldn’t say it in the same calm or obvious way anymore.
Tests like this, show us by the mere sound of our voice how much we really believe what we think we believe about ourselves.
Try it out. Tell a large group of people you deserve your beach body because of the person that you are, and ask them if they believe you. Or see if you feel like you believe yourself. You can try this in front of the mirror as well, if you're afraid to say such a weird thing to a group of people. Although that alone should already tell you a lot 🙂
Cause in the end that’s what it all comes down to. Why do most overweight people stay overweight? And why do people who are in shape seem to have it easy to stay in shape? It’s because they have different self-images.
Deep down, do you view yourself as a fat person trying to get in shape? Or as a fit person who just let themselves slip a little and are quickly fixing it now?
Because that’s a big difference.
In the first case what you are trying to do, will feel like a big, hard battle. Changing all your habits, being super disciplined, etc. On the other hand, for a person who is usually in shape, it will feel normal. Because the required behaviors are already part of their identity. They don’t even think about going to the gym or having to say “no” to certain foods. They just do what is necessary by virtue of habit. Because that’s what they consider normal in their reality. And if they slip for some reason, they get right back up on track again.
The things both these people do to reach their goals (the one with the self-image of a fat guy losing weight and the one “just getting back on track”) are exactly the same, but the way it feels is totally different. It is not taking the actions that is hard, it is the identity you hold on to that makes it hard.
So if you want to be able to reach your goal, you’ll need to make that mental shift.
How to Raise Your Upper Limit
Realizing that the problem is a psychological one, not a physical one (for hell’s sake, don’t blame it on your genes or your body, that will only make you feel less about yourself and make the problem bigger), the way to fix this is by cultivating a more positive self-image.
How exactly you have to do that will depend a lot on who you are as a person and what the root causes for your insecurities are. Maybe you need some kind of therapy (everyone does), do some spiritual or physical healing, or maybe you just need some books on the subject of self-esteem. Your self-image is a complex thing affected by a myriad of beliefs, habitual thoughts or behaviors and even your physical posture. So I can’t provide you with a quick fix without actually knowing you.
But there are always some things that will help virtually everyone, even if you don't have time for the deeper work (like therapy):
• Looking at yourself in the mirror daily and saying loving, confident things to your own reflection.
• Taking more responsibility in your life. Especially when it comes to solving any problems you have or situations you dislike.
• Having strong personal boundaries, communicating about this in a calm manner and letting go of people who violate them. Cut naysayers out of your life and surround yourself with positive, supporting friends.
• Making a list every day of things that make you a good person and the qualities that you admire in yourself. (No, this is not bragging. It's private.)
• Trying to make a list of things that make you worthless and undeserving. Then finding reasons why they are not true. If you find it very hard to even think anything positively about yourself, just remember that Donald Trump is president of the united states (or think of Joke Schauwvliege if you live in Belgium). If someone like that deserves their function according to so many people, I’m pretty sure you deserve a killer body, whoever you are 😉
• Reminding yourself regularly that the past is the past. Anything you did to people, or they did to you, cannot be undone. But you can always choose to do things differently starting today. Missed opportunities are gone. Mistakes do not exist. Do not let them linger, move forward and make better decisions in the future.
• Stop comparing yourself to others. Make a list of things you consider make a good human being and live up to those values. That’s all that counts. Life is not a competition, if you make it one, you’ll guaranteed to lose 10 times more than you win. You can’t be better than 7 billion people at everything.
• Stop trying to be perfect. Accept your flaws just as much as your strengths. Everyone has them. It’s normal. (I’m the exception to this rule of course 😉 )
• Start meditating and learn to become aware of the voices in your head (AKA, thoughts). A soon as a destructive or demotivating thought sneaks into your head during your day-to-day life, remind yourself that’s just your inner critic and he’s probably not right. Move on and take positive action any way.
• Recognize cravings as a sign that you’re running away from something and read this article.
• Push yourself to do the right thing. Be honest. Apologize for your mistakes. Don’t hide stuff from your loved ones. Don’t gossip. Being a good person will raise your self-esteem immediately and make you feel more deserving.
• Lead a life that you love. You only have one. If you hate your job and your boss, quit. If you make art and are afraid to share it with people, share it any way. If you feel lonely, go out to meet strangers. Follow your heart and the opposite of it what breaks it. If you don’t that’s a surefire way to start feeling a little less worthy every day.
• Last but not least: Practice noticing and appreciating the awesomeness of everyone else. Treat everyone with respect, no matter their social status. The more you start recognizing the innate worthiness in other beings, the more you’ll see how much you are worth as well. This will remove the barrier we were talking about, as that “upper limit of your self-esteem” is basically the maximum of what you consider your worthiness. If you stop looking down on other people and see the value in them instead, that will ironically a lot easier to really realize how awesome you are as well.
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