They say perception is reality, but that’s certainly not the case when it comes to self-esteem and how we look. The way we feel about our physical appearance shifts over time, and it’s not always to do with changes such as skin aging or weight gain – quite often what we think about our looks comes from inside. That means that we have the power to take control of what we feel and how it affects our behavior. Psychologists call it ‘appearance contingent self- worth’, and it means wrongly basing our value on being attractive. Our society emphasizes appearance and a very narrow ideal of beauty, and this can be hard to deal with. Sometimes we find ourselves going to extreme lengths to alter how we look, from following very restricted diets to finding ourselves on the Internet looking at breast lift surgery videos. There is nothing wrong with seeking to improve a physical aspect of ourselves. The problem comes when we assume that changing how we look will magically affect how we feel, and then if we make the change, being disappointed. The truth is, feeling good about how we look has little to do with attributes of our body and everything to do with our mental attitude. You’re not going to change your feelings overnight – but you can take small, sustained steps towards a better balance.
Focus On Your Strengths
Our brains like the comfort of certain thoughts. Think of them like a jungle. When we have negative thoughts, over time these form a pathway. It’s easy to continue to follow this pathway, even if it doesn’t make you feel great. What’s harder and more uncomfortable is forging a new path. Retraining your brain to think more positively about your body can be done. However, the mistake many people make initially is to try to replace their negative thought (e.g ‘I hate my fat stomach’) with a positive one (‘My stomach is beautiful’). The brain doesn’t accept this sudden sea change, so you’ll still get the little inner voice contradicting you. Try instead of aiming for a neutral thought (‘A lot of people’s stomachs look like mine’). This is far easier for your brain to accept. Over time, you can shift the needle to a slightly more positive thought, and build it up gradually. It takes practice, but with these techniques, you can slowly change your negative perception of your body.
Focus On Health
You can also choose to shift your thoughts away from just appearance to function, strength, and health instead. When we aren’t in healthy habits, we feel sluggish, out of shape and our self-esteem suffers. Making some changes to lead a healthier lifestyle actually has a huge mental impact as well. Again, completely changing all your habits is probably not going to be successful. Focus on small habits you can implement, like purchasing a reusable metal water bottle and aiming to stay better hydrated, adding two more portions of vegetables to each meal, or making it a habit to get up half an hour earlier each day to fit in a home workout, a yoga session or a jog. These changes can be added to and built up over time and can really make a difference to how you feel.