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Awesome article re:self-image

Monday, October 08, 2007

I've always had trouble with self-image, and it has prevented me from taking a lot of chances or experiencing a lot of what life had to offer. I'm not a huge Oprah fan, I've never watched her show, but I found this article on CNN and it really hit home, especially with the universal question. From Oprah.com:
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You step into the party feeling reasonably confident. True, your favorite little black dress feels somewhat tight, but it's still elegant, and the wind outside only tousled your hair a little.

Then, just as you're preparing to mingle, it happens: You pass a mirror and glimpse your reflection -- your horrifying, horrifying reflection.

Your hair looks as though a crazed weasel nested, bore young, and died there.

Aghast, you wobble off your high heels and sprain an ankle. All eyes are glued on you. All conversation focuses on your disgrace. Everyone begins texting hilarious descriptions of you from their cell phones.

In your dreams, baby.

I mean this both literally and figuratively. Most of us occasionally dream about being embarrassed in social settings. But even in waking life, many of us operate as if Simon Cowell is doing a play-by-play of our work, wardrobe and snack choices.

One team of researchers has dubbed this phenomenon the "spotlight effect." In the beam of imaginary spotlights, many of us suffer untold shame and create smaller, weaker, less zestful lives than we deserve. Terrified that the neighbors might gossip, the critics might sneer, the love letter might fall into the hands of evil bloggers, we never even allow our minds to explore what our hearts may be calling us to do.

These efforts to avoid embarrassment often keep us from imagining, let alone fulfilling, the measure of our destiny. To claim it, we need to develop a mental dimmer switch.

Turning the lights down low

Thomas Gilovich, Ph.D., Victoria Husted Medvec, Ph.D., and Kenneth Savitsky, Ph.D., the psychologists who coined the term spotlight effect, also devised numerous ways to measure it.

In one experiment, they had college students enter a room with other students while wearing an "embarrassing" T-shirt. (The shirt bore the likeness of a certain singer, whom I won't identify here. I will say that for days after reading this study, I was medically unable to stop humming "Copacabana.")

When the mortified students were asked to guess how many people in the room would remember the face on their T-shirt, they gave a number about twice as high as the number of students who actually remembered the shirt.

Other studies support what this one suggested: The spotlight effect makes most of us assume we're getting about twice as much attention as we actually are. When Lincoln said, "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here," he was wrong -- but only because he was president of the United States.

If you are currently president, rest assured that millions will note and long remember if, say, you barf on the prime minister of Japan. However, if you are not president, you're probably pointlessly blinded by the glare of imaginary social judgments.

These judgments aren't limited just to times when we mess up. Our distorted perceptions mean we not only exaggerate the impact of our errors but also undersell our inspirations and contributions. For example:

•You modestly mumble an idea in a meeting, assuming that co-workers will be awestruck if they like it, appalled if they don't. Net effect: Nobody really hears the idea --until the annoying extrovert across the table repeats it more loudly, and gets all the glory.

•You wear clothes a bit duller and more concealing than the ones you love, only to look back years later and wish you'd bared and dared more in your youth. (As one of my friends sighed about her self-conscious daughter, "If she only realized that at her age, you're beautiful even if you're not beautiful.")

•You sing, swing, and mamba only in the privacy of your home, never with other people. Repressing the urge to sing "Copacabana," you miss the joy of sharing silly or sultry abandon with the people you love -- and the people you may never get to love because inhibition robs you of the confidence needed to form a bond.

These self-limiting behaviors have no positive side; contrary to what many assume, they rarely save us from doing things we'll later regret. In fact, Gilovich and Medvec have found in other studies that, in the long run, people most often regret the things they failed to try, rather than the things they bombed at. Trying yields either success or an opportunity to learn; not trying has no positive result besides avoiding mockery or envy that (research shows) wouldn't be nearly as big or bad as we fear.

How to free yourself from the glare

Double everything

Just knowing that the spotlight effect is real and ubiquitous can begin to liberate us from its inhibiting clutches.

I find it very comforting to have an actual number associated with my shame-based illusions: Spotlight effect studies suggest that people typically pay about 50 percent as much attention to me as I think they are. The first time I actually stood under a spotlight, in a high school play, the director told me, "Small gestures look embarrassed, so they're embarrassing. If you're going to do something, and you don't want to look foolish, do it BIG."

Now, thanks to Gilovich, Medvec and Savitsky, I know how big to make my actions -- about twice as big as I think they should be.

I've been experimenting with this in many different circumstances: raising both my hands, instead of one, to ask a question of a lecturer I much admire; pausing twice as long for dramatic effect while telling a story to some friends; eating two servings of a fabulous dessert at a literary club luncheon.

The result? I do seem to have attracted more attention, but rather than the disapproving judgment I expected, most people seem to feel pleased and liberated, made safer in their own skin by my willingness to live large in mine.

I believe this reaction is a major reason a lovely lady from Hawaii named Brook Lee once won the Miss Universe pageant. When asked what she'd do if she had no rules to follow, she replied, "I would eat everything in the whole world -- twice!" That one word -- "twice!" -- struck a chord with me, the audience and the judges, landing Ms. Lee squarely beneath the spotlight she actually wanted.

Why not join her by doubling the social behaviors you usually limit: the energy with which you communicate, the intensity of the colors you wear, the number of times you laugh, the clarity of the opinions you voice. You may think this will attract massive disapproval from others. Actually, you'll be lucky to attract more than a passing glance, and my experience (not to mention Ms. Lee's) suggests it will be more approving than not.

Think through your limits -- not to them

"You can't break that board by hitting it," my karate teacher told me. "Hit something 10 inches behind it. As far as you're concerned, the board doesn't even exist."

"But," I pointed out, "it does exist." (I am a trained observer.)

My sensei shrugged. "That's what you think."

Mentally noting that this man had been hit in the head many, many times, I proceeded to batter my hands to smithereens, trying to break that unbreakable board. When every knuckle was swollen, tender and bleeding, I said, "My hands hurt."

"Yes," said my sensei. "Your mind is really damaging them."

You get the metaphor: We smash into barriers of shame, embarrassment and regret because we pull our punches in myriad social situations. Stopping at what we think is the limit of embarrassing behavior, we let others claim the credit, the opportunity, the job, the person we love from afar.

The next time you feel performance anxiety in any form, remember that the negative attention you fear does not exist except in your mind -- if this works with the hard, cold reality of my ice block, I guarantee it will work with something as vaporous as other people's opinions.

Act as if there is no spotlight on you, even if there is one. Say, do, and be what you would if no one else were looking. It will be scary at first, but if you persist, there will come that liberating moment when you'll feel yourself sailing straight through your life's most inhibiting barriers without even feeling a bump.

Ask yourself the universal question

Once, I had an intense, emotional cell phone discussion with a friend while riding in a taxi. At a certain point I fell into a strangled silence.

"What's wrong with you?" my friend asked. "Why aren't you talking?"

Covering my mouth with one hand, I whispered, "The driver can hear me."

At this point, my friend said something so lucid, so mind expanding, so simultaneously Socratic and Zenlike, that I memorized it on the spot. I've gained comfort by repeating it to myself in many other situations. I encourage you, too, to memorize this question and use it when you find yourself shrinking back from an imaginary spotlight. My friend said -- and I quote:

"So?"

This brilliant interrogatory challenged me to consider the long-term consequences of being embarrassed (really, who cares?). It reminded me that failing to act almost always leaves me with more regret than taking embarrassing action.

Here are a few instances where the Universal Question might help a person break through imprisoning inhibitions:

"If I say what I really think, people might disagree with me."

So?

"If I leave my drunken abusive husband, his crazy family will call me a bitch."

So?

"If I go windsurfing, I'll look like a klutz. Plus, people will see my cellulite."

So?

There are endless applications for the Universal Question. I suggest using it every time you feel yourself hesitating to do something that might deepen or broaden your life. The answer to the question "So?" is almost always "Well, when you put it that way..." It pushes us into the spotlight, showing us we can survive there and freeing us to act on our best instincts.

Today, remember that what you perceive as prudent social caution is probably limiting your life to about half its natural capacity; that if you did everything you long to do twice as often, twice as boldly, twice as openly, you wouldn't attract a shred more social pressure than you already think you're getting.

Consider that vaulting well past the limits of your inhibitions will probably earn you more positive attention than negative judgment. More often than not, this will work out well.

If it doesn't, remember the most enlightening of questions: "So?" Little by little, you'll feel and see that the worst consequences of living in the light are less oppressive than the best advantages of hiding in the shadows. And you'll have little to fear from the rest of us, who will only be inspired by your daring as we sit, blinking and bedazzled, in the private spotlights of our own attention.

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

VIDABELA 10/9/2007 12:29AM

    awesome article~ i'm glad i read that =)

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JLH1026 10/8/2007 9:46PM

    That was a really good read. And so echo the thought of it applying even more so to us tall ladies. I am pretty sure that's where it all started for me - going places and being 'the tall girl' or the 'tall one'. Just made me super sensitive. And then always just wanting to 'blend into the background' came out of that too. This is something I recognize I need to fix, I've made tiny strides in the past couple of years and I just need to work on it more. If I can work on the outside of me so diligently I think my insides deserve equal time. Thanks for posting that!

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MLEPEARSON 10/8/2007 2:09PM

    Bonnie that was a great read. I think it especially holds true for tall women. Haven't we all said at one time or another how conspicuous we feel when we walk into a room? My husband once said "I see the heads turn when you walk into a room, you're beautiful!" and I said back to him "No, they just aren't sure if they really see a woman that tall or if I'm a man in drag, they're probably thinking "what a freakishly tall woman!" I'm going to change my thinking to they can't take their eyes off me because I am tall and beautiful and spectacular and the poor saps have probably never been lucky enough to see such a sight before! (and to think they might not even be looking at me at all!)
Emily

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Size 4...WooHoo!!!!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I went shopping today for some skirts to wear with my boots for winter. The size 4s fit well....woohoo!!!! That's a huge improvement, since today the scale said I was up 8 pounds (water weight). Definitely makes me feel better about sticking with the program!

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MLEPEARSON 10/3/2007 3:41PM

    HOLY COW! I would not have imagined that it would be possible for a 6'1" woman to fit into a 4! Oh, I hope I can get there too. Good for you.

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OUTOFCONTROL 10/3/2007 12:12PM

    Wow, congrats!

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FOODFROMAFAR 10/3/2007 8:29AM

    It's so nice when our clothes tell us what our scales do not!! I use my clothes as a gauge of progress even when the scale isn't budging!

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I feel awful!!!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Okay, so TTOM was due....a long time ago? I'm at least a week late. In the meantime, I'm bloated and crampy and moody...just a real joy to be around! Nothing seems to be making it any better...not exercise, not eating healthy, not eating poorly, not drinking 337 cups of water. NOTHING. And there's no way I'm pregnant, so it's just my body playing tricks on me. Ugh.

  


WOW - I did it!

Friday, September 28, 2007

So last week was the first time I ran over 10 miles...I'm happy to report that today I ran a whopping 13.33 miles!!!! That's more than my half marathon! I still can't believe I did it...especially on only 1.5 hours of sleep. I'm really proud of myself, and I'm now confident that I'll survive my half! I still have a month to go before the race. When I got back from my run, I was at my goal weight! That changed as soon as I drank a bunch of water though, so I'm not going to change my tracker...yet. I'm also thinking about continuing my training for a full marathon in January...just to keep me motivated. I'll probably wait until after the half to decide for sure.

For the tall ladies out there - I ordered 4 pairs of 37" inseam jeans from Alloy.com today (in a size 7, woohoo!). I can't wait until they get here - I even paid $15 extra for two-day shipping. I'll post when I get them!

Otherwise, I can't wait for the weekend to begin! Things are looking up - and it's payday! I'm racing a 5k tomorrow, the distance isn't a challenge but I'll be up in the mountains...gasping for air! Should be fun.

Everything else remains the same. Mom is still not doing well, but she's fairly stable. The divorce is progressing...same old, same old. But nothing's going too badly, so I can't complain.

  


Tomorrow is a big day!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Okay, so the training for the half marathon continues...and tomorrow is the big day, then day I will finally run 10 miles! I've never ran that far before, I'm totally excited and psyched for this opportunity. I already have the route planned, and my outfit laid out. This is better than the first day of school! The best part is I'll get to watch the sunrise while I run, since to run for that distance I'll have to get up when it's still dark. I've been telling everyone about my plans, most of my co-workers are laughing at my enthusiasm. I feel like - if I can do 10 miles, what's another 5k to complete the half marathon? Of course, if you had talked to me even 6 months ago, I would've laughed at the idea of doing even a 5k!

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MOTIVATED@LAST 9/27/2007 10:51PM

    I just wanted to say that with all the huge stresses in your life of recent, i think it's fantastic that you are keeping up with the running and the healthy lifestyle.

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SLCOLMAN 9/21/2007 10:09AM

    Good luck with your big run on your big day :)

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CAGIRAFFE 9/20/2007 1:13PM

    It was a good run this morning, I ran just over 10 miles in 1:46:45. A little slow for me, but the temperature dropped 25 degrees from the day prior and I was COLD, especially at first. I felt like I could've completed the whole 13.1 easily!

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OUTOFCONTROL 9/19/2007 4:25PM

    I remember having feelings of anxiety mixed with excitement over whether I could run that far. 10 miles is a milestone in distance running. You will feel so proud and accomplished!

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