Identity and your figure
Ever flicked through a magazine muttering envious expletives at the perfect size eight models adorning the pages, or cursed the Angelina Jolie look-alike working in Gap on Saturdays? Why are some people so physically perfect and seemingly happy with their lot? Did they forget to queue up at the cellulite counter when the fat retention genes were being distributed? Obviously they passed directly to the 'smug grin' section before moving onto the stomach of iron department for an extra helping of tight abs. Not to mention those lucky few who could have easily sashayed off a Paris catwalk on their perfect pins with their perfect smiles into an exclusive eatery and with no guilt at all, consumed a five course meal without gaining so much as an ounce (or spilling a drop of red on their Chanel dress, the white tablecloth or their perfect boyfriend). Insult adds to injury with the deliverance of the killer line 'I find it so hard to put on weight.' Here, let me show you how - open mouth, insert lard, swallow. Repeat hourly. Avoid exercise. Guaranteed results within 48 hours or your figure back.
Ok, so maybe not everyone in the world brings out these feelings in us (the over sixties and Mr Blobby for example won't often produce the same type of figure envy) but almost all of us at some point will have wanted to change our bodies. For many, this means setting off down that will trod path of predictable fad diet adoption, waving goodbye to Mr Couch and Mr Potato, and saying hello to Miss Detox and Miss Deprive. How many times have we been told that more people these days are on some form of diet rather than off? So if we are all working so hard to look good, why then aren't those who desire it, sitting pretty on firm buttocks raising glasses to their lips with toned arms? We can succeed in other areas of our lives so why are things so much harder where are bodies are concerned? Doing something practical to achieve our aims such as joining a gym or cutting out fat from our everyday diet isn't always enough to enable us to actually change for good. So in the absence of the Slim Fairy, what are our options? Jaw wiring? Nope - the metal mouth look is reserved for those with serious health problems. Corsets? No - breathing tends to be essential in prolonging life.
Forget all that, what we really need to do is take a look beyond the practical and change our mindset to get to the root of the problem and that is, to what is hidden within our identity. Doctor Kevin Eckert from Cyberspaces, Culture and Society in a presentation last year defined identity as a combination of individual traits and perceptions that characterise one's true self. He argues that these traits and perceptions are engrained deep within the conscious and subconscious mind, governing our conditioning and all our mental processes. Let's elaborate a bit on the good Doctor's definition and put it into context with the aid of a tale from Anthony Robbin's Nightingales tapes (Unlimited Power). The story he cites tells of a frog, a scorpion and a river and goes something like this:
Scorpion: Mr Frog, I am a scorpion and I need to get across to my family on the other side of the river. Would you be willing to let me ride on your back to get there?
Frog: I don't think so!
Scorpion: How come Mr Frog?
Frog: You are a scorpion and scorpions sting frogs. We would get half way across, you would sting me and I would die.
Scorpion: Oh Mr Frog, you are not thinking with your little frog brain. If I sting you then I will die as well. I wouldn't do that, as I would be killing myself.
Frog: (Seeming a little confused) OK then, since you put it like that, we have a deal. The frog lets the scorpion jump on his back and starts swimming across the river to the other side. They are halfway across when sure enough, the scorpion stings the frog. Just before the frog finally succumbs to the poison, he manages to turn to the scorpion and say:
Frog: I can't believe what you have done. Why did you do this to me, I am going to die but you are going to die as well - why?!
Scorpion: Because I am a scorpion and that is what we do. WE STING FROGS.
The point is that one of the strongest needs in our personality is to make certain that our behaviour is consistent with our identity, even when the identity we hold for ourselves may be negative (like the Scorpion's above). Because our identity is processed in the subconscious mind, we tend to habitually act on thought processes without consciously questioning the act, even when it is damaging our self-image. For example, if you are influenced in a negative way by a thought pattern such as 'I am a fat person' then this thought pattern makes up your identity. In other words, it forms part of who you are. No amount of training or diets will change that perception of self indefinitely.
This then explains why often, a person may be successful in losing weight initially, but because of such negative engrained thought patterns, will just accumulate the weight again at a later date (Anthony Robbin's Nightingales Unlimited Power tapes). Most people make the mistake of only changing their behaviour and not their identity. For example, a person wanting to improve their fitness level may without giving it any real thought, start running for forty minutes before work each morning. This technique may be successful for a month but because our behaviour patterns are temperamental and not as powerful as our identity, the interest will probably be lost and the running will stop. The secret is to do something to change this behaviour and not surprisingly, this is easier said than done.
Because the thought patterns that make up our identity are set deep in our subconscious brain, we need to create a leverage (a force strong enough to facilitate indefinite change) with enough intensity to bring a thought pattern from the subconscious, to the conscious. Take for example, a person who has just had a serious illness and has been told to exercise sensibly to avoid a repeat dose (or worse) of the condition. Such confrontation with one's own mortality is often a strong enough leverage to provoke a change in thought patterns and thus, in the identity of a person allowing them to succeed in permanently adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Of course nobody wants to get to the stage of being seriously ill before a change takes place instead; so instead we need to try and contrive situations that will have the same motivational effect. Some of these suggestions may seem extreme, but in order to change something as deep set as your identity, you need to get tough with yourself. Be honest - are you really going that extra mile and putting in the effort or are you just taking tactical avoidance manoeuvres? Know your limits and then push them.
- Get rid of all your clothes apart from one set and then slowly purchase a new wardrobe one size smaller
- Enter yourself in a challenge that requires you to train and push yourself. Tell all of your friends what you are doing to keep your motivation up. Try a sponsored event - helping others can be a wonderful leverage
- Invest in a personal trainer for yourself and a friend. Pay in advance and get fit together (this will only work if you value money or have little of it as wasting it will not be an option)
- Confide in one of your closest friends and ask them honestly what they think of your figure and what they would change if they were you. It is no good hearing 'you look great. I wouldn't change a thing' as that won't help. The truth may be hard to here bu could be the motivation you need to get going.
Remember, everyone is different and what works for one person, my not work for another. Have a think about what will really motivates you but approach the issue from a different angle (to borrow management speak, 'think out of the box') in order to get some real answers. Maybe you will find that deep down, you are happy with the way you are and your desire to be slimmer or more toned may not really exist.
Whatever you discover, knowing more about your identity will teach you more about yourself and what you really want to achieve for your figure. Failing that, get the City Beach girl fired and steal Miss Perfect's boyfriend.
Robbins, A. (1998). Unlimited Power: Nightingale Tapes USA: Zygmo
Eckert, K. (2000) Representation of Self and Self-Identity: Cyberspace, Culture and Society.