When I was a kid, physical critiques were not an issue other than the occasional “You are looking too skinny” yelled at me while Mom prepared meals. My adolescent insecurities did not stem from body image or wanting to “look” a certain way. I struggled with fitting in and constantly worried about “acting” a certain way in order to be liked. As you can probably guess, despite my struggles for acceptance, rejection followed me everywhere.
I wanted to be the cool kid, but discovered I was destined to be the “weird” one. Suffering from ADHD and constantly getting overly excited made keeping my enthusiasm and energy in check nearly impossible. I tried everything to be liked. I constantly wished that someone or something would rescue me. It would take me years to find that one thing that would change my life.
It wasn’t until high school and through the ever-appreciated encouragement of others that I began to view myself as a wimp and weakling. This new insecurity began when I discovered how all the jocks had muscles and got all the attention. The awful truth was that I could never excel at sports or athletics. I began to dislike my body, and with the help of my classmates, this self-loathing was magnified. I had sprouted long limbs and my metabolism was out of control, burning everything I consumed.
In the summer of 1988, I moved to a new city, got a job, and hoped my move would bring a positive change. I was one of many young adults who yearned to be noticed in a world that places far too much importance on good looks and toned physiques. I was self-conscious and afraid to take my shirt off in public for fear of judgmental eyes. I found it easy to shy away from the public and to believe that I was not attractive enough or deserving of others’ attention.
One evening, after completing a typical work day, I walked home and nearly fell flat on my face when an object stepped in front of me. This “object” was the fittest man I had ever encountered. As I shook his hand, my body quaked and I felt faint. I knew right then and there that I wanted to possess this amazing strength and build.
Our personal views are not always entirely correct, and if we could just step back and appreciate what we can achieve instead of how crappy we feel and look, our motivation would be healthy, not harmful. Unfortunately, I chose to change my body instead of my attitude, and to whip it into shape no matter the cost. I joined a gym.
Joining a gym was worse than four years of high school combined. Everyone on the gym floor was staring at me as I strolled past the front desk, and I nearly turned around and ran out. I eventually mustered up the courage to make it to the locker room. I took a deep breath, found a locker, and got ready for my first workout ever. Stupidly, I thought to myself, “What do I do now?” After pacing the gym floor for what seemed to be hours, and feeling like a fish out of water, I decided to park myself on a treadmill pointed directly onto the gym floor. This was my safe haven for weeks, serving as my observation perch. Each day, I would locate the most muscular guys and take notes on what they did. After my test subjects had completed their routines and left the gym, I took my note pad onto the gym floor and, to the best of my abilities, copied everything they did, right down to mimicking their grunts.
Little did I know I had it all wrong. I went to the gym to change my body in hopes that it would quash my insecurities. I failed. It would be another 20 years before I realized it was not the muscles that would change how I felt. I would learn that I first had to change my personal viewpoint before I changed my body.
In 2016, following the summer Olympic games in Rio, I had an aha! moment. My students and I were debating which Olympic athletes had the best physiques. I suggested it was the gymnasts, while others voted for the swimmers. In that moment, I realized Olympic training had it right! The answer was so obvious! How had I missed it all these years?
It’s simple when you think about it. When you have a kid who is good at something, their parents or caregivers typically push them into a sport or activity that will offer them a skill in which they can excel. Kids begin the intense training to be an Olympic gold medal winner with the goal of winning the gold medal, not to look good. Kids train and fail time after time, struggling to be reach their personal best. Years later, after training their asses off, they have an amazing physique and the confidence to back it up.
Over the years, I have acquired helpful tools to locate the underlying cause of my insecurities. Instead freaking out and losing my sh*t, I now can spot the triggers and make adjustments to my attitude. I always joke that during a full moon, my childhood fear of rejection can rear its ugly head and cause me to regress. I can tell you that switching your personal viewpoint on what defines health is paramount. If we continue to join gyms to look good instead of learning to be great, we will always fail.
That said, I am less inclined to read articles on how to love yourself, and steer clear of topics that span the metaphysical spectrum. Rather, I read science articles and love them. I have grown to understand that “healthy” is more than your perception, It’s your approach.
If you focus on being your best and on winning your personal “gold medal,” you will be rewarded with a physique that matches your confidence.
As always, thanks for reading my latest blog. I greatly appreciate your feedback on this topic and on any future or past topics.