Body Image

Shame, Guilt and Fitness: Linking Brene Brown to the Gym

June 5, 2015

From Shame To Neutral. I’m pretty sure she would thank me for this as she talks about one of her “shame gremlin’s” piping up and questioning if she goes to the gym enough. So, Brene, you’re welcome. ; ) You and your research are gonna hit the gym today! The other day, I was watching […]

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From Shame To Neutral.
I’m pretty sure she would thank me for this as she talks about one of her “shame gremlin’s” piping up and questioning if she goes to the gym enough. So, Brene, you’re welcome. ; ) You and your research are gonna hit the gym today!

The other day, I was watching one of Brene’s videos on vulnerability and shame. She said something that really landed for me… when we make a mistake and the conversation is “I did something bad”, that mindset is one of guilt, which is actually good! It gives us something to move forward from.

Then she compared it to a shame mindset, in which the conversation when we make a mistake is “I AM something bad”. This is a heavy difference between the behavior being bad (guilt) and actually believing we’re bad as a person (shame).

I began to play out this comparison in the context of fitness.

Take Fred, for example. Fred wants to get in shape. He is in his early 40’s, works 50-70 hours every week, has a kid, a wife, and extended family that live nearby.

He is very successful in business and a great family man, but has fallen off the exercise game. He wants to have more energy, lose about 15 lbs, and elevate his mood.

So, his first 2 weeks of working with a trainer are great. He already feels better, sees results, and wants to keep going. Then, in week 3, he misses a session. Something came up with work (his comfort zone) and so he rescheduled his fitness session.

This is when 1 of 2 things will typically happen.

1. Fred is committed to his fitness, he feels the guilt of missing a session with his trainer, and recommits himself. He sees where he made the decision in the moment to choose business over fitness, and knowing that will support him in negotiating differently next time. Instead of stress and self-beat up staying with him, he is able to relax into his imperfection, and still move forward.

2. If Fred goes into shame. He tells himself things like “I knew you were gonna do this. This is how you gained weight in the first place. You will probably do it again. You always self-sabatoge. Maybe you are just not someone who can have it all.” This takes Fred further away from his commitment, and actually increases the likeliness of him missing another session, or giving up completely. Not to mention it puts his body in stress chemistry, which ultimately will hae him keep weight on… Uh Oh!

Now, missing sessions is not supportive to Fred reaching his fitness goals either way. But when we are forming new habits, reaching towards new goals, a speed bump is bound to be encountered.

Therefore, our resulting self-talk and mindset is of utmost importance. It can ultimately make or break our success.  So will it be guilt or shame? Where are you on the radar when you “mess up”

Guilt? Shame? Or… I would argue we can obtain a 3rd level of response… Neutrality. Let’s take a look.

1. SHAME:   Dangerous not only to our goals, but our entire well-being, self-worth, and happiness. As Brene explains, shame is linked to depression, suicide, criminal behavior, loneliness, etc.

If SHAME is your go-to reaction when you make a mistake, the tools listed below GUILT will support you, however I invite you to seek additional support, such as therapy, life coaching, support groups etc.

2. GUILT: A positive in the sense that we are seeing our behavior as a mistake and therefore a guide of what not to do the next time. However, there is still an element of self-beatup in guilt. It can still be “oh man I can believe I did that. That was so bad. Shoot I made a mistake and it had a lot of consequences for me and other people”.

Wallowing in guilt can lead to shame, or at least still have us feeling down on ourselves. Here are some tools to help you shift out of self-beatup.

  • Remind yourself all habits take a process to build them. Be gentle on yourself when you do something that mimics “old ways”.
  •  Acknowledge yourself for the progress you have accomplished and determine what’s working. This will support in making clear what is not working and what is ineffective.

It might be something as simple as setting an alarm that has worked every time and it’s the consistent factor that’s missing when you miss a workout.

  • Talk about it. One of Brene’s consistent points is that shame is fed when we stay silent. When we get vulnerable, call a friend and put words on it:

“I don’t feel like I’m doing things right. I don’t feel like I’m gonna get where I want. I keep eating ice cream and cookies and that only makes me feel worse.” Likely your friend will have a “me too” story and be able to support you with empathy. If anyone makes you feel worse after this conversation, call a different friend!

3. NEUTRALITY.  This is responding to our mistakes as if it is a neutral event. Not good or bad. Which, in fact, it is neutral. Death is death. A raise is a raise. We put our own emotion and interpretation and weight on it based on how it is relevant to us.

I have learned to respond authentically neutral to things like getting a parking ticket, getting my car towed, fender benders (I have a lot of car issues lol).

In the moment when I get a parking ticket, I acknowledge that it’s there, I acknowledge my responsibility in creating the reason for the ticket, how I can be clear next time to avoid getting one, commit to paying it, and then I energetically move on.

Now, would I have preferred not to have gotten the ticket? Of course! And do I have a reaction at all of “oh no, no, no, please no. shoot. darn it”? Sure! But it is minimal. Before, I likely would have played victim, cried and let it ruin my whole day.

NEUTRALITY is one step up from guilt as it allows us to be human (feeling “bad” when we make a mistake is not all bad, it’s human, and it’s healthy) for the moment, and then shift into responsibility and solution.

Practice neutrality with something small today. Especially related to your fitness, body image and health. For instance, if you don’t get your workout in, you are not less worthy, talented or lovable.

And what fun it will be to try things differently tomorrow!

  • Give yourself less to do on purpose!
  • Finish the rest of today’s to do list first thing tomorrow. 
  • Start your day with your favorite healthy breakfast.

Leave a comment below with your neutrality experiment!

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