Yes folks, it is that time of year again – out with the old unfit body and in with the new leaner, healthy you …
… err, we would like to apologise for that interference and will shortly be returning to planet reality. What happens to our brains at the start of each January – is this how the turkey population get their revenge for our festive traditions (hey guys – let's eat these mushrooms instead of our grain / each other / our-bi products)? It is more like goodbye old you, hello new incarnation, which will stay for however many days it takes us to crack and go for a session in the post-Christmas munchy filled fridge, where the 'new you' sufferers the same fate as Mad Cousin Barb's mince pies. It is almost as bad as claiming to have quit smoking but managing only 8 hours (during which time you were sleep of course).
We start of with so many good intentions, read so many 'How to get the body you always dreamed of (but will never achieve without a fat wallet and a good surgeon)' articles but for most of us, our enthusiasm fizzles out quicker than a firework in a snowstorm. Forget looking into the mirror and with a steely expression, chanting motivational mantras through scratched teeth, fronting up to your size 8 bikini vowing that this year it will no longer be a beach virgin. You need to do something to break the cycle and take a different approach to the situation as jokes side, this is serious stuff. You can not hide your body at home in the wardrobe next to your size 8 swimwear. Your self-image is there all the time – in the shower, in front of the mirror, reflected in shop windows and distorted in your mind as a mobile tub of lard with a few limbs and a head sticking out for feeding purposes. We can not really offer a concrete explanation as to why we want a better body but nonetheless, we cling onto the belief that our own-image problems will be rectified once the ideal shape is obtained. This is made harder by the fact that those in the public eye who take up so many column inches in our newspapers and magazines, provide us (willingly or not) with the system for acceptance by others. And what a reference system it is – size 6 females splashed across the media in glorious technicolour, looking to look grossly underweight but held up as our role models all the same, feeding us the message that the thinner you are, the more attractive are perceived to be. Lasch (1979, p21) notes that celebrities give substance to and thus intensify narcissistic dreams of fame and glory by encouraging the common (individual) to identify with the stars needs and desires to the detriment of their own.
Is this right?
Is social self-image the new driving force of our identity in the 21st Century or do we as consumers still have control of our identity, our wants and our needs?
We all know the statistics – (for example, 67% of fifth to twelfth grade frequent readers of fashion magazines questioned in a Harvard study, were more likely to diet or exercise to lose weight, although only 29% were actually considered overweight (Fox, 1997). Of course it is not only through printed media that we gain our role models – television, the pop industry etc also play a huge part in shaping our perception of the body beautiful. So do such statistics mean that we should all succumb to the social pressure and social construction of self-image and punish ourselves in an effort to achieve promised perfection? Clearly this is not an ideal solution for obvious health reasons (both physical and psychological) which all of us are familiar with (but which strangely, we only apply to other people rather than ourselves). What then if there was a way to break the strong hold – what if step by step we could penetrate the social cloud that covers our identity to reveal who we really are?
Rather than leaving you with that thought to ponder, I will instead propose that you already have the answer and that you will find it staying in the re-discovery of the one fundamental notice that has been forgotten in the hysteria of social self-image – who are we and what really matters to us? As Mark Twain said “I can teach anyone how to get what they want out of life.” The problem is that I can not find anyone who can tell me vividly what it is “ ( http://www.toinspire.com/author) .asp? author = Mark + Twain ).
Whilst we might not be able to achieve a crystal clear image of exactly who we are, we can certainly take steps toward being more self aware about who the real you is. No, I do not want you to pack your bags and head of to some hippy retreat in the hills for a few weeks, just follow the steps below and forget the answers to breaking the cycle yourself (and maybe the turkeys will not win this year).
The 'Who Are You?' Plan
Step 1: You must discover 'who you are' and 'what you want'. Spend time and analyze your own intrinsic needs and wants and then match these needs and desires to your future goals.
Wants and Needs
Each person (as identified by Psychologists) has five basic needs:
- Survival needs (food, warmth, shelter),
love and belonging needs (acceptance by loved ones),
power needs (to control over your life),
- fun needs (awareness of activities, things you enjoy)
freedom needs (making choices) (Healey, K 1994).
With this in mind, grab yourself a pen and something to write on (an arm or leg will do if paper is not available) and make two lists, one detailing the needs and wants you want to set for yourself in firstly two years time and second, in five years time. For example, in two years time, I want to participate in two fun runs, have finished a short course, purchased a new car and found myself a life partner to share my life with. As you write down your needs and wants, rate each one on a scale of importance from 1-10 (10 being very important to you, 1 being not that important to you).
Once you have done this, write down your future goals for the following two and five years. By this I mean the things you will automatically state if for example, you were put on the spot by someone. Do not limit yourself to what you feel you're capable of achieving – extend yourself, even if you feel you are being really unrealistic – they are your goals.
Completing Step 1
Now compare your wants and needs lists with your future goals lists – you should find that many of the items will correlate. Mark these off and rate them on another scale of importance as we did earlier (discard any single items as they are probably less intrinsic wants, needs or goals in your life at the moment). This will clarify in your conscious mind what your subconscious already knows as being the things that really matter to you. If you find that none of the items match in your list then congratulations! You have achieved everything that you want from life and are now smugly waiting to die. Alternately, you need to untangle the confusion in your head and give yourself some space to think (in which case I take back what I said about the hippy retreat – get packing and try step 1 again upon your return).
Step 2: Create a vision of how you plan to achieve your goals and how you see yourself once you have succeeded
It is important that you try to understand what reaching your goals will be like in order to create the motivation and leverage (a catalyst which brings about change) necessary to achieve them. To do this, stop and imagine how all aspects of your life will be once you have succeeded. Place yourself there and notice how you react, feel and think. Imagine how other people might see you (you will need to spend time doing this in a peaceful environment where you are not distracted). Once you have done this, write down in as much detail as you can the main feelings which stick in your mind. This will help to motivate you when you begin taking practical steps to realizing your goals.
Step 3: Make a conscious decision about each of your actions and communicate them to someone for protection (you can confide in more than one person of course).
For example, if losing weight rated highly in step 1, decide right now by writing a time scale and plan of how you expect to achieve this weight loss. This plan does not have to be detailed as you will improve on it as we advance in the steps (but it must be realistic). Whilst writing this plan, combine it with your vision from step 2 and communicate it to a significant other so they can provide the motivation you need to succeed.
Step 4: Gather information on how you expect to achieve this vision and plan
Involves grounding yourvision and plan by researching and gathering information to support it. For example, to lose 10 kilograms, I would need to research the types of foods I will have to eat, the exercise program I will have to do, the equipment I would need to buy etc. It is also a good time to find someone who has had success previously and model yourself on their success. Talk to them and ask them how they did it? If you do not know someone, then pick up a book, access the internet or read a magazine as there are thousands of testimonials out of their people who have achieved their goals. Once you have done this, add this information into your plan.
Step 5: Take immediate action on your new detailed plan
You never leave the site of setting a goal until you take action '(Robbins, 1998).
This will be the toughest step that you will have to face, as the pressure of old habits and beliefs will rear up inside you and create fear and doubt within you. It is important to remember that for every positive move you make your new plan, you alter the neurological connections with your old habits and beliefs. It may only be a small alteration when you first start, but remember through continuous repetition you will ever sever the connection to old beliefs and habits and create a new path-way of thinking and acting.
The key through this whole process is Step 5 Action. If in your current state you do not like your self-image then it is time to make that commitment to change. Every minute that you waste in your current state, creates stronger neural connections which is supporting your current actions. Do not be 'sucked in' any longer to social self-image; once you have a detailed plan of who you are and what really matters, opportunities will emerge as your focus will now be more attuned to your personal success.
It is important to realize that people who are affected by social self-image do not have a detailed plan of who they are and what matters to them. They use societies ever-changing and at time unrealistic standards as their personal goals and dreams for happiness.
Fox, K. (1997) The Physical Self. USA: Braun-Brumfield Publishing
Healey, K. (1994) The Body Beautiful. Vol 24 Australia: The Spinney Press
Lasch, C. (1979) The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in a Age of Diminishing Expectations: New York.
Robbins, A. (1998) Unlimited Power – Nightingale Tapes: USA. Zygmo.