When you look at your body in the mirror, where do your eyes go first? Odds are, your gaze goes straight to your “trouble spots”—the places you’d love to change, if only you had the time, the money or the energy.
Maybe you straighten your spine, fluff your hair or use your hands to smooth your stomach. Or maybe you grunt and criticize yourself for a moment. Why can’t you just look…better.
If these little habits sound familiar, you’re not alone. Many of us have a tendency to focus on the trouble spots—to allow those negative feelings to become negative self-talk that soon turns into negative behavior.
Have you ever dropped a few self-loathing comments to garner sympathy or compliments? Or spent far too much cash to cultivate the image you think you should be portraying? Obsessing about what you want to change (and how) does nothing more than train your brain to think that what it sees is who you are.
And that’s just not true.
THE SCIENCE OF SELF-LOATHING
Your brain is constantly piecing together images of the world based on the data it receives via your senses and feelings (a.k.a. hormones). That mental picture, in turn, affects your mental and emotional state.
When you look in the mirror, your brain uses these contextual clues like how you feel to determine what you see. In other words, the little tummy pooch you can’t help but notice every time you catch your reflection probably doesn’t even cross the minds of the people around you. Ever.
HOW TO RETRAIN YOUR MIND TO LOVE (NOT LOATHE) YOUR BODY
Most people—women in particular—have unknowingly trained themselves to search for every single minor flaw possible. (There’s a reason the beauty industry is doing so well.) If this habit starts early—say, as a child or teenager—the self-hatred ritual (and thus, the same neural network) only grows.
This means that body insecurity, as well as poor self-esteem, is a habit we must simply unlearn. Easier said than done, I know, but you get the idea. Here are a few strategies you can use to start building a healthier picture of your body:
1. Take it all in.
It’s time to employ your wide-angle lens. Let your eyes skim over the entirety of your person, without sticking on any parts you’d like to change. Remember: You are a whole, beautiful person, not a mismatch of “if-only’s.”
2. Make changes (within reason).
There is nothing wrong with heading to the gym when you’re starting to see a little extra around the middle. Go for it! Just make sure you have a healthy “why” in place, and focus on the amount of weight you can lift, not what you look like.
3. Choose to see the positive.
Self talk—whether positive or negative—is something you have all the power in the world to change. Work hard to stop comparing yourself to other people and choose to adopt new, positive patterns of thinking.