That's me in 2016, six years ago. I thought I looked pretty good back then, but I wasn't satisfied. I wished my muscles were bigger. I wished they popped. Even though I worked out and dieted religiously, I compared myself to women with the "ideal" shape I yearned for, and obsessed over what I perceived to be hopeless flaws. Despite my self-criticism, I paid for a photo shoot to commemorate my results. On a lark, I submitted a photo of myself to Bodybuilding.com, and to my delight, they published it.
It was as if I'd "arrived," but I still beat myself up, and eventually even considered steroids.
I didn't go the steroid route because I knew it wasn't healthy. It's the same reason I never entered a figure competition. I got into health and fitness was because it increased my health and fitness. Duh, right? So if I sacrificed my health to look a certain way, it would unravel me emotionally and physically. So I stayed natural, but I kept yearning, and I kept beating myself up.
Now at 53 I'm a little softer, a little slower and a little sweatier. I look at that photograph and go, WHOA, that's me?! I was HOT!
And so I come to a fork in the road:
I could tell myself I'll never be that tight, toned and energetic again. I could rip myself a new one for not appreciating how good I had it, tell myself I'm gross and old and grow despondent. Then I could sigh, throw my hands in the air and say, fuck it. I'll quit working out and stuff some cake in my face.
I could congratulate myself for how much I have accomplished, profusely thank myself for not ever taking steroids and re-commit to my health and fitness. Because the reality is that youth is fleeting, fitness peaks and ebbs, life is short, and I'm still better off training than not training, even if I'm not as fit and strong as I used to be.
The kinder path is obvious, but that doesn't mean I have always chosen it when faced with a choice.
I posted on Instagram yesterday challenging all of us to speak kindly to ourselves—for a month, while the days are short, or for the rest of our lives. I'm aiming for that last option because I've been battling myself ever since I can remember and I'm sick of it. It's time for my inner asshole to finally knock it off already.
The rules are:
Every time you catch yourself being an asshole to yourself, knock it off.
This isn't about blowing smoke up your ass. And it's not about vanity. It's about sanity. I don't know about you, but I have never accomplished anything worthwhile being an asshole to myself. I've never reached my goal weight, started a business or written a novel by beating myself up. In fact all beating myself up does is eventually land me in bed sobbing and hating myself with such ferocity that I wish I were dead. This helps no one.
If you're prone to paralyzing misery, now is a good time to get started with this challenge. If you need help acquainting yourself with your inner life so that you can actually catch your inner asshole in the act, try journaling. If that sounds like a drag, try talk-journaling into the voice memo app on your phone. I take forty-minute walks for this purpose a few mornings a week. For half the walk I talk, and for the other half I listen. It's like gaining a friend. If you don't know whether you're beating yourself up or not, because it can be tricky, let your feelings guide you. If you start feeling anxious, depressed, hopeless or furious, it's a sign that you're not being kind to yourself, and to knock it off.
You might find that you are mean to yourself often and in cunning ways. The Netflix documentary Stutz calls the inner asshole Part X. Part X wants to end you. Don't let it. Stutz, along with Barry Michels, also wrote a couple instructive books on the topic. I'm reading the latest one now and finding it very useful.
When I was little, my dad used to tell me to knock it off a lot. I always felt so hurt by those three words. Now though, I see their value. Telling a kid to knock it off for acting goofy, laughing uncontrollably or being noisy is not very nice. Telling Part X to knock it off is very nice—to you.
If you decide to go for it, please let me know in the comments below, and—you got this!