When I work out, I occasionally take video. It helps me see what I’m doing, document my performance, and show it to the folks who help train me and encourage my training. The downside comes when I actually watch that video myself. All I can see are the misses in my form, how much more weight I should be lifting, how many more reps I should be doing, all of the imperfections in my body. It’s not even that I wish that I had captured a different set at another time that would have looked better, I just can’t see anything but how much I have to improve. I’m sure many of you can identify, whether it’s a workout video, a selfie, a group shot, or any other kind of media that preserves you in a snippet of time. It’s not, of course, a healthy attitude, but simply being told you’re wrong and you need to change is never helpful, so here are some actionable steps you – and I – can take to help change how we look at photos and videos of ourselves.
Instead of just telling yourself to be more positive about images of you, commit to specifically and consciously looking for high points, and making a list of them. Maybe the deal is that every one or two bad things you notice means you have to seek out one good thing, or you have to find a set number of things that you like about the image. I’m not demanding that you don’t notice negatives because let’s be honest here: that’s a futile ask for many of us, at least in the beginning. I’m also not trying to tell you you’re wrong in what you see and feel. I’m just asking that you balance them out by making sure you find things you can like too. And in case you need it (I know I often do), I’m giving you permission to brag on yourself a bit here.
Let me demonstrate with the video I’ve uploaded today, showing a set of chin-ups I did in yesterday’s workout. The first things I noticed were the bit of pudge over the waistband of my tights, and that I didn’t perform strict chin-ups with my chin over the bar with my head straight ahead, and without pumping my legs to help me get up there. I felt that the eccentric accentuation should have been a little slower. But! Then I looked for good parts, and I saw this too: I did nine chin-ups yesterday, completely unassisted. That’s a lot, even if I did struggle and might have cheated them a little. My forearms look spectacular. I kept my feet off the ground and my tempo was good.
Another step is to show other people those videos and pictures. Start privately and with the folks you trust. Then comes the hard part. When they say nice things – and they will, unless they’re toxic and you need to cut them out of your life anyway – believe them. Say thank you. Don’t add caveats. Don’t look for hidden caveats. Enjoy them at face value. Bask in them a little. Then remember them for when your internal voice, or maybe some less nice person, comes along and says something nasty. Believe in your friends and who and what they see in you instead. It’s not going to be easy, and your entire being may rebel against the idea. Try. Be gentle with yourself when it’s hard.
That’s why there are tons of workout videos I’ve shared only with friends and that will never otherwise see the light of day. That’s why I tested the waters on this video here with known friendly audiences before I decided I was okay with putting it up today. It’s a baby-step process and it required some real vulnerability. Over time, though, I’ve become more confident in showing selfies and sometimes I’ll even post before I get a booster comment or reaction from my Greek chorus. It took practice, and I need regular renewal. That’s okay. And I often need to remind myself that I’m not actually required to expose myself to criticism from the outside world. It’s okay sometimes for us to stay inside the bubble where people who love us will always be kind even if they point out flaws.
As you keep examining every minute detail, and finding every gap in your appearance or in how you perform a skill, frame them as opportunities for improvement. You don’t have immortal proof of failure in your hands. You have a way to examine what you have achieved, and see how to polish it to greater heights. You have a record of what you need to work on, and something to look back on to see how far you’ve come. It may seem a semantic way of playing with words, but it’s a true way to change your mindset because it changes your focus. You will no longer use a magnifying glass to prove how terrible you are, but rather to find all of the ways in which you have a chance to become even better than you already are.
For me, that means noticing that I’m so close on my chin-ups that when I work them again, I will be able to pay more attention to head position. I’ll see how many reps I can do with my legs only lifted, then only straight. I can count aloud the time I need for my eccentrics going down. I can wear a tank top or t-shirt instead of a sports bra to be more comfortable with my look while I chase the elusive six-pack. None of these are intended to be reminders of what I didn’t do. They are reminders of what I’m capable of working on. They’re chances for next time.
Then finally, remember that perfect should not be the enemy of good. Perfect polish isn’t necessary or required for a finished product. For that matter, a finished product isn’t always necessary or required. It is absolutely fine to be a work in progress, to show the journey, to pull back the curtain, to be in the “before” for a while instead of jumping right to the “after.” Nobody masters everything at first shot. Nobody looks effortless gorgeous at every moment. Everyone screws up. Everyone makes funny faces and has bad hair days. Even as we pursue more, we must pause to recognize that right here, right now? We took that first step and we did pretty good after all, with what we had, under the circumstances we’re in. It’s in those high points we listed out earlier. Those? They’re worth celebrating. Don’t wait for the more. You’re already good enough in this moment, for right now. Pause and rest before you strive ahead.
I know this might not happen with every piece of media where you are captured, but when you find yourself falling into the trap of only seeing how terrible you look…try these steps. For that matter, go through these exercises even if you are happy with how one has turned out. It will give you good practice in being willing to begin, and in seeing yourself as a person with unending potential.