On Dreaming Bigger

I’d started to follow up, as promised, on “Fatties and Phone Calls” because apparently that really resonates with people. But then I remembered that a certain kind of conversation has been coming up for me and the new guys I am consulting about training, which means it’s probably closer to the surface of my thoughts and what I think is important right now.

When I sit down with a client – this is before they even see the gym and usually over dinner or coffee so we can get to know one another – I ask them a range of questions designed to get a feel for them. Who are they? What is their health history? What are their goals? How do they treat and/or feel about their body? And they get a chance to interview me as well. It’s important to me to have a rapport with my clients… Usually the biggest reason they are working with me is because they know I’ve been on the other side of fitness – the painful, discouraging, difficult side of fitness – and so I, myself, am as much a part of their experience getting fit as any of the exercises I’m working them through.

Over the course of the “interview” between us one thing seems to stick out almost universally. My clients simply aren’t imagining themselves getting something they want out of fitness. They are dreaming too small. I’ll explain.

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Shallow-Phobia

I promised I’d get back to the idea of body image in Fatties Don’t Get Phone Calls (2), and so here that is.

I get the impression from talking to people about their weight that there is a pervasive fear about seeming to be shallow. This fear of seeming shallow colors a lot of what people think about themselves and their relationships to others, especially if like me they grew up struggling with weight and body image. People will go to unreasonable lengths to avoid the appearance of vanity, to such an extent that they end up making unhealthy and destructive choices in life… because it seems better than appearing shallow. It can keep us from making positive changes in our life and even sabotage us in some ways.

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Self-Criticism: The Easiest Trap

This post is something of a follow-up to that critique I wrote a few days ago about the woman doing her “Everyone is looking at me” art exhibit. But it’s also more than that and it deserves it’s own topic I think. What made me think to write this was reading elsewhere in the aether a post by a guy who thinks he is really, really ugly. The premise of the discussion was that the guy was feeling discouraged about his looks and was asking the forum whether he should even bother working out because he felt like his face was so busted. That is, what good was getting a great body if his face was ugly and there would be no changing it?

I’ll assume the guy was being mostly serious – sometimes people pull the “Why I so uggerz” card as a way of fishing for compliments – and that he really is obsessed about how his face looks. Now I’ll go ahead and say the guy isn’t a GQ model or anything (which is why I think he probably wasn’t fishing) but he isn’t hideous. In fact, he isn’t remarkable looking in general. But he wrote out a long list of perceived flaws in his face that apparently really haunt him: the angle of his ears, the wrinkles on his cheeks (he’s in his 20s, by the by), 2 pores on his forehead, the slight ovoid shape to his cranium… Very meticulous. But again, the guy actually looked unremarkable to me.

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There is this tendency, though, when we are being critical of ourselves to magnify things way, way out of proportion. This is a problem with former fat kids, of course, but is also a problem with anybody who has any kind of body image issue.

I grew up hating myself, hating how I looked, how I felt, and how I felt people thought I looked. It was so bad that for a long time I was immune to compliments. I thought people were lying or joking or just didn’t get me… because I thought of myself as fat and ugly. As a guy who grew up hating himself for how he looked, let me say this about self-criticism.

1) Never describe to people what you think is wrong with you. If you’re self-conscious about something, that thing may be big or it may be small but to you it feels like a head wound or a third eye. Other people, though, are probably not looking at it. They usually don’t notice until you point it out. And yet, when you do point it out, it becomes a thing that people notice. Because you brought it up!

2) No one notices your “flaws” nearly as much as you do. The human eye tends to generalize how people look, so unless you’re a circus freak or a beautiful demigod, most people average out what you look like. I have a lot if things I don’t like about how I look (I won’t say them as per rule 1), but I’ve literally had no one notice those things in me. I have a scar that I used to be self-conscious about and I think only one person has ever even noticed I had it… but to me it felt like everyone was looking and wondering “what the hell is that??” But no one is looking.

3) Don’t obsess over what you can’t change: obsess over what you can. The things you can’t change are the things you need to embrace: own them and wear them like armor. I can’t be “skinny”… I can only be huge. So I’ve embraced being huge. I’ll be huge on my own terms and in my own way, but my size is what it is. Even if this guy’s face were ugly, it would be a footnote if he embraced it (especially in the context of body building). How many people think Vin Diesel has a pretty face? Exactly zero. But it doesn’t matter because he has charisma that partially comes from just being confident.

Finally, and this doesn’t need to be a rule necessarily, just a reminder from the previous post… No one is looking. The thing about self-criticism is that it’s actually a curious species of narcissism. We believe that EVERYONE IS LOOKING AT THE THING I THINK IS IMPORTANT!!1! But that’s the opposite of the truth. No one is looking at you, guys. For the most part, no one cares. And once you stop focusing so intently on the minutia of how you look, you’ll begin noticing that no one saw your flaws the way you did.

Mental Discipline

Body transformation obviously isn’t easy. The main reason that transforming the body isn’t easy is because the body isn’t just a thing to be shaped into whatever we want it to be. Our bodies are the evidence of the way we eat, the way we move, the way we sleep, the way we work, the way we play, the way we rest… Our bodies are evidence of the life we lead. Which is why when you are losing weight, a good health professional will tell you that changing your diet or changing your exercise routine isn’t going to fix your problem. If your problem is your body, and your body is just evidence of the life you lead, you have to change your life. People with amazing bodies don’t just have healthy bodies: they have healthy lives.

mindBut there is a tendency, while losing weight is our goal, to imagine our needs in that respect to be physical ones. And why not? It’s a physical problem. We’re fat. We look lumpy and rolly and big and so forth… Of course it’s a physical problem with physical needs and physical remedies. But in my experience it’s not nearly as simple as that. And I think a careful reader will have gathered that from my writing so far: making a physical change requires much more than physical discipline. And this may be the hardest part of the whole thing: changing your mind.

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On Process

The thing you may learn about me throughout this project is that I’m still a work in progress. And I think that’s a pretty big thing to remember about us all. If you’re at the beginning of your journey, you may – like I did – imagine that there is an end point. There will be a day where I am completely happy and I can rest on my laurels. I mean, look at The Rock or former fat guy Evan Centopani: they’re jacked! They’ve reached the top! Well… yes and no.

I mean this is the most positive way possible when I say it: you’re never done. There is no finish line.

Now if I heard that when I was a fat boy I would have completely despaired… because I would assume that it means I’ll never reach my goal (because for most of my life I felt like I could never reach that). But the truth is that the process never ends because you never stop improving. There is no finish line because it isn’t a race and there are always higher goals to aim for. You’re never done because fitness isn’t a state, it’s a life lived. And anyone with any appreciable level of fitness will say this to you: fitness isn’t an achievement in itself, it is evidence of momentum. Constantly moving forward, constantly improving yourself, and constantly finding ways to challenge and better yourself.

Acquiring this kind of perspective is part of what going through Step 2 in my last post is about: setting short term goals that you can achieve. Because once you get in that habit, after a while you begin to do it automatically. You become the person that is always achieving. You become that guy who seems to effortlessly move forward, get stronger, get fitter. You may or may not be there right now, but I remember a time in my life where I envied the fit because they seemed like they didn’t even work to do what they did: they seemed just to embody a life I didn’t think I could live. This change, this shaping of our own perspective, is the first step towards embodying that life.

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As an aside, this post grew somewhat wildly out of my sense that I am always in the process of learning about myself… and I should have known that if I went on vacation without some writing implement (besides my iPhone) that I wouldn’t get much writing done. But I’m back and I won’t make the same mistake twice!

It’s begun!

I’ve started. That’s what this is. The first step of many in what is hopefully a long and incredibly fulfilling project: Former Fat Boy. The road ahead on this project isn’t quite as daunting as the road to a healthy body was when I was a 320 lb teenager, but still… it’s hard not to have similar feelings! What am I supposed to do? What can I achieve? What will my life look like much further down this road? Can I get all I want out of this? And do I really know what I want out of it?

We’ll see. For now, I know a few of the answers and the others will present themselves in time. The main thing to do is to take courage and press on! I am building something here – just like I was building something with my weight loss. And while I can’t know what that looks like at the end of the road, I do know that I will have built something along the way. Something amazing.

Let’s go!

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