Unformatted Attachment Preview
Sense of Self, Body Image, and Confidence
“I’m too self-conscious about how I look.”
Many of us think that if we go to the gym everyone will be in super shape,
and we’ll feel like the odd man or woman out. We fear everyone will be
watching us and commenting in their heads, or to each other, about our body
or how we look. Let me bust this myth: it just isn’t true. Most people at the
gym are just like you. Most are not in super shape, and many are feeling thesame way and thinking the
same things as you. Hopefully, those at the gym
are there to improve their own bodies and minds—not comment on others’.
Still, self-consciousness can be a major deterrent when it comes to
exercise, and these suggestions can help:
• Go solo. Remember you don’t have to workout in a gym or in public at
all. If it’s too uncomfortable, then avoid the crowds all together.
Exercise at home with online videos, in your neighborhood, or invest
in some home equipment like a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical
machine. Check yard sales; people are always getting rid of exercise
equipment because they don’t use it, and you can benefit.
• Focus on the future. Imagine how you’ll feel about yourself after
you’ve been exercising for a while. Envision a healthy, happy,
emotionally flourishing you, and give yourself credit for committing to
this goal. Remember this vision when you feel uncomfortable and let it
motivate you until your confidence eventually improves.
• Review Key 2 and work through The Pyramid of Self-Worth. Being
aware that you’re self-conscious is the first step in overcoming it.
Practice self-acceptance and self-love using the tools in Key 3. As you
grow in self-worth, you will grow in self-confidence.
“I feel insecure, stupid, etc . . ..”
I think anyone who’s ever been to a gym can relate to this one. You walk in
and feel like everyone can tell you have no clue what you’re doing. You walk
over to the machines and don’t know how they work, or you look into an
exercise class, but have no idea what the routine is. Even when I worked as a
fitness instructor, I’d feel this when I went to a new gym. I always felt
somewhat embarrassed, because I thought everyone could tell I had no idea
what I was doing—yet.
As we keep repeating in this book, confidence is essential when it comes
to exercise. We are much more motivated to exercise when we feel confident
and secure in what we’re doing. When we don’t feel confident, the negative
self-talk usually begins. Thoughts like, “I have no clue what I’m doing,” “I
am the worst one in this class, for sure,” or “I look like an idiot!” can spiral
us downward until our self-worth is completely dashed.
But, as we discussed at length in Key 5, we can choose to hear, challenge,and change unhealthy
thoughts and self-talk. We can also remind ourselves
that practice leads to increased confidence in exercise.
Here are some tips:
• If you’re too insecure for group exercise, then exercise alone or with a
trusted friend. I’ve heard of clients who were so insecure about how
they looked when they exercised that they only tried it when they were
completely alone. One client did push-ups in the bathroom so even his
wife didn’t see him as he tried to build up his confidence to go to the
gym. Remember the story of Tyler, in Key 4? He started at home, too,
and with practice, finally felt confident enough to go to the gym
regularly. Remember, you don’t have to go to a gym to get a good
workout. (I don’t use a gym at all these days.)
• If you desire to go to the gym, then test it out in quiet times. Take a
tour so you can see where everything is and ask questions about how
things work. Or, go when it’s quiet and less busy at first, to give
yourself time to get acquainted with things.
• Remind yourself, “Practice makes better.” While practice may not
make perfect, it certainly makes better, and exercise is no exception.
The more you do each activity, the more comfortable you’ll become.
Practice the exercises at home, if it’s more comfortable, so you’ll feel
better prepared when you go to the gym. Over time, your confidence
• Tackle the negative self-talk. Go back to Key 5 and review the tools
for how to change your thoughts and beliefs. Use a thought record to
keep track of your self-talk. Be honest, then review it and use “thought
record, part two” to look for alternatives. If you’re saying, “I am the
worst one by far,” then challenge it. You have no proof you’re the
worst, and what does it matter anyway? It’s not a competition. You’re
only there to “beat” yourself (hopefully not to “beat” yourself up!).
Instead, you might change it to, “I feel like I’m not good at this yet,
but I know if I stick with it, I’ll get better.”
• Try imagery or visualization. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and
visualize yourself doing the activity you feel insecure about. Imagine
the best-case scenario, where you know exactly what to do and you do
it in a way that makes you feel confident and secure. Imagine yourself
feeling confident about exercise in general as you practice and reachyour exercise for mental health
http://www.exercise4mentalhealth.com to download a podcast or
watch a video of exercise for mental health visualizations.
“I’m afraid I’ll fail.”
Fear of failure, and sometimes even fear of success, is a powerful roadblock
for many. Fear stops us in our tracks, no matter what its source. It falsely
makes us believe we’re protecting ourselves from some sort of harm, when
the truth is fear only prevents potential good. Fear is not the same as a
warning—that sense we get when something is truly wrong. When we feel a
warning, we simply know something isn’t right. Fear, however, is very chatty
in our minds, reminding us of every reason we will never succeed.
Avoiding exercise because we’re afraid we’ll fail is the only failure when
it comes to exercise for mental health. If we recognize that fear is only there
to stop us from potentially achieving something great—in this case, mental
health and happiness through exercise—then we can take back the control
fear tries to exert over us and conquer the fear.
Even a fear of success can hold us back. Sometimes, we avoid exercise
because we’re afraid that if we succeed, we’ll have to change, and change can
be scary. But avoiding exercise because we’re afraid of change is just another
way of saying, “I guess I’ll stay right where I am.” It’s the antithesis of
progress, of improvement, of growth.
We must work to overcome fear if we want all the benefits exercise has to
offer. Don’t let fear get the best of you. Try these ideas and to help you face
• Identify your fear. “I’m afraid I’ll be the laughing stock if I show up at
• Name it for what it is. Say, “This is fear, and fear only prevents good.”
• Feel the fear. This can be tough at first, but sit still, breathe, and let the
fear come into your body. Continue breathing as you FEEL the fear
and remind yourself, “This is only an emotion. It’s not me, and I won’t
let it control me.” You may only be able to feel it for a moment before
you push it away again, but keep coming back to it, little bits at a time,
until you feel it loosen. As you process and feel the emotion, you take
its power away. (For more on how to FEEL fear, see the steps above orwatch “How to FEEL Powerful
• Set realistic goals. Sometimes, the reason we’re afraid is because
we’ve set our goals too high. Don’t promise you’re going to workout
hard everyday for an hour and then feel your self-worth plummet when
you can’t keep up. Go back and revisit Key 4 on goal-setting, and set
goals that help reduce fear.
“I’m not athletic,” or, “I’m just not an exerciser.”
Many of us grow up believing we’re just not made for exercise. Our body
isn’t as naturally agile or coordinated, or we just don’t seem to get the same
results as others. Identity labels such as “I’m not an athlete,” “I’m not good at
exercise,” or “I just can’t do it,” are excuses that cut to the core of our selfworth, and furthermore, they’re not true. We may not be as physically blessed
as someone else, but we each have potential to gain the health and mental
health benefits of exercise we desire, in our own unique way.
Here are some tips for coping with the urge to make excuses:
• Use The Pyramid of Self-Worth to remind you who you really are. Use
the principles of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-love (Key 2)
to remember that you are not the things you tell yourself. There is so
much more to you, and you have the potential to exercise for life.
Don’t sell yourself short by giving up. Give yourself the benefit of the
doubt that you are more than meets the eye. Then, practice selfawareness, self-acceptance, and self-love to overcome.
• Keep it simple. Start with basic activities, like walking, stretching, and
lifting light weights, and take your time. Give your body time to adjust
to what you’re learning, and in time you will reach your goals.
• Forget competition. This isn’t about competing with anyone, trying to
be the superstar exerciser, or pumping so much iron you become the
biggest guy at the gym. It’s about the positive changes you work to
create in your own body and mind—nothing else.
• Find your unique strengths and build upon them to make exercise
work for you. Do activities that make you feel confident, comfortable,
and happy about who you are. My mother-in-law is particularly good
at pickleball, so she plays it every day, and usually wins. She may notbe able to keep up with the hard
bodies at the gym, but I’d like to see
them try to keep up with her on the pickleball court. As you do
activities you feel confident in, you’ll begin to see you really are
someone who exercises; it just may take a little experimenting to find
your own way of doing it.