By Dave Smith
"Nobody cares about your story."
On Friday nights, I volunteer at a dinner for the homeless in downtown Vancouver. Every week is an awesome experience on so many levels, but a recent dinner was especially interesting...
Sitting with my usual group of guests who attend these dinners, we talked about life, purpose, and personal value.
(I know, not the type of conversation you might expect at an event like this!)
One man, let's call him Ron, was telling us a funny story from his childhood when another guest interrupted: "Nobody cares about your story."
Ron went quiet.
His body literally caved in as his shoulders rounded and his head drooped. Those 5 words, "Nobody cares about your story," crushed him.
Do You Care What Others Think?
Do you care what others think or say about you?
In fact, my interest in fitness was born in high school when a classmate made a passing comment about my "skinny arms." Even though I had never experienced body image issues before, I instantly became self-conscious of the way I looked when I heard her words. I got my first gym membership the next day.
What about you?
When have someone's careless words penetrated your heart and changed the way you feel about yourself?
Some might say that this is a good thing. Caring about how others perceive you can be used as motivation. You want to get in shape so that others view you as being a healthy person. Or you aim for career advancement so that you are more "successful" in the eyes of others.
You want to avoid shame or embarrassment so you try to be a "good" version of yourself.
I disagree with this idea.
Research has shown that we overestimate how negatively others view us. Without even hearing hurtful words, we are already imagining them.
Even more convincing is the fact that 80% of the thoughts that pass through your mind are related to relationships - how do others view you? Do they like you? Are you good enough for them?
It might feel nice to say that you don't care about others' opinions of you. You can tell yourself that nothing affects how you feel or act. But, that's simply not true.
We all naturally care (a LOT!) about what others think. And, we certainly don't need to fuel the fire, so...
What Do You Say to Others?
With so much of our lives being shared online these days, it's so easy to tear someone down with your words. You can effortlessly make a sarcastic comment on Facebook or drop a joke on Instagram that isn't intended to do damage, but it does.
This Youtube user apparently thinks my earrings are "hideous" and needed to tell me his opinion. Why use your time and energy to bring negativity into someone else's life?
(Although if you have legitimate fashion advice for me, I'm all ears... just tell me nicely!)
The old saying, "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you" is such a lie. Words are powerful.
Think about what you say to others, either in person or online. Every single day, you have the opportunity to build people up with a kind word. How will you take advantage of those opportunities? Whose life are you going to impact today?
And, it's not just about what you say to others...
What Do You Say to Yourself?
When I was in grade 4, my music teacher did a ritual at the start of every class...
She'd hit a little tuning fork on her knee, put it close to the ear of a student, and ask that student to match the sound by singing an A-note for the rest of the class to hear.
I was terrified to be chosen.
I didn't have much confidence in my music skills and had no idea how to sing a specific note.
Eventually though, my turn did come. The teacher approached me, struck her tuning fork, and placed it in my ear...
"Aaaaaaa," I sang with a crackly voice.
I will never forget the teacher's response:
"David, you sound like a dying cat!"
(I'm not making this up...although I wish I was!)
The class roared with laughter at my expense. I tried to laugh along. But to this very day, I believe that "I can't sing," and I tell myself this message often.
(Basically every week at church when I worry that someone will hear my "dying cat" voice!)
Working with people who want to get in better shape, I see this negative self-talk play out on a daily basis:
"I can't _________."
"I'm not good at _________."
"I'll never be able to _________."
"I'm always going to be _________."
"My body just won't _________."
"I'll always fail at _________."
It's very likely that you self-talk with words that you'd never say to another person in a million years. You're not that cruel to anyone... except YOURSELF.
What message do you tell yourself about your health, your fitness, your body, your ability to exercise, your potential, or your value?
(Seriously, think of one)
Is that message true?
What message can you replace this with that is more accurate and more affirming to yourself?
A Challenge For You...
I encourage you to write down your true self-talk message. For example, "I have a wonderful body that can do so many amazing things!" Or maybe you can say, "I am proud of how far I've come this year!" Or you could reinforce, "I can change my health. I will make it happen!"
Write one positive message that you know, deep down, is the truth. Then, next time negative words pop into your head, override them by repeating the truth. Seize the opportunity to build yourself up even if it feels forced at first. It will become true.
Now, I am going to turn on some music and sign my heart out because...
"I am a good singer and I love to sing!"