It can be incredibly challenging to feel good about your body, especially if you’ve ever gone out in public, watched TV, or so much as glanced at a magazine cover. As you may have noticed, we live in a world that constantly draws attention to our flaws and encourages us to improve our bodies and strive for so-called “perfection.” Because we’re brainwashed into believing we’re flawed, we’re presented with (and search for) “cures” that will (supposedly) make us beautiful.

We’re led to believe that once we “fix all our problems” in regards to our physiques, or reach a so-called “ideal weight,” that we’ll be happy, healthy, and totally carefree. In the meantime, we dislike our bodies more than ever.

The Slippery Slope of Negative Self-Talk

Ugh. I hate how my stomach looks.
My calves are too tiny.
My legs need more definition.
My shoulders aren’t round enough.
Maybe I should focus on improving my butt a bit more.
This shirt makes me look flat-chested.
I weigh too much and need to lose a few pounds.

I am no stranger to negative body image, which (as many of us know) has the capacity to spiral out of control. I’ve uttered all of the above phrases, and many more, to myself in the past. Heck, it wasn’t uncommon to think all of those things in a single day.

Once upon a time, when I first began my career as a personal trainer, I loved my body and didn’t obsess over tiny details like my calves or stomach, and I sure didn’t care about some number on the scale. But over time, as I engaged in this negative self-talk, my body image steadily took a nosedive.

It began innocently enough, with simply wanting to improve a body part here or there. I wanted to make my shoulders “pop” a little more, for example, so I included some extra shoulder work in my workouts. But then it progressed and I began to compare myself to other women—my height, weight, figure, and leanness. The negative self-talk increased in both frequency and criticality.

I just wasn’t good enough. Or so I thought.

My self-confidence quickly plummeted. I was constantly striving to repair my flaws, and I even developed disordered eating habits. All of those things only added fuel to the fire of negative self-talk that raged on a daily basis.

Mirror, Mirror—Fixating on the Negative

Answer these questions honestly: When you look in the mirror, where are your eyes immediately drawn? Do you zoom in with a laser focus on something you don’t like about your body? Do you immediately make a derogatory comment about a physical feature?

If you’re like most people, chances are that the first thing you look at on your body is something you want to “fix” or improve. We look at ourselves and immediately focus on our perceived flaws.

It’s time we break this self-defeating habit for good.

It’s time we replace self-descriptions such as “can’t,” “not good enough,” “flawed,” “ugly,” and “imperfect” with words such as “can,” “will,” “strong,” “powerful,” and “beautiful.” And self-talk is where it all begins.

Positive Body Image—The Self-Talk Solution

Here are some of my favorite tips for breaking free from negative self-talk, boosting self-confidence, and improving body image.

  1. Be positive, first and foremost. Whenever you look in the mirror, make it a point to focus on a positive feature and give yourself at least one compliment. Always be kind.
  2. If necessary, fake it ‘til you make it. I know this whole “be positive and kind to yourself” thing may be easier said than done, and that’s fine. In the beginning, you may have to fake it a bit and pay yourself the best compliments you can, even if you’re not actually feeling that good about yourself. Stick with it, and be consistent. After a while, you’ll no longer have to fake it.
  3. When it comes to working out, set positive, performance-oriented goals. Too often we place all of our focus at the gym on burning calories and improving the appearance of specific body parts. Try to focus less on how you look and more on what your body can do. Set performance-oriented goals like being able to perform 10 push-ups, a few bodyweight chin-ups, or whatever else gets you motivated. Choose to focus solely on what your body can do and on becoming the strongest version of yourself. This is what I call training to be awesome.
  4. Highlight the heck out of your natural gifts, talents, and abilities. Everyone has unique physical talents and abilities, and this is where strength training can be very beneficial. Discover what exercises or activities you’re naturally good at and enjoy, and do them! Again, keep the focus positive and have some fun along the way.
  5. Seek out social support—but choose carefully. Social support can be either extremely helpful or hurtful. If your close friends also engage in negative self-talk, it could be rubbing off on you. Either encourage your friends to join you on a boycott of all negative self-talk, or surround yourself with individuals who are strong and confident — and who inspire those characteristics in you, too.

Bottom line: Reject the notion that you’re flawed and that you need to constantly “fix” things on your body. Fight back and choose to fuel yourself with positivity. Make words like “beautiful,” “smart,” “strong,” “determined,” “confident,” “awesome,” and “badass” staples in your daily vocabulary—especially when talking about yourself. And please remember: What you say to and about yourself will form you. So speak wisely.

This post was written by Nia Shanks, a strength and conditioning coach, writer, leader of the Lift Like a Girl Revolution, and author of Sane and Simple Nutrition: The Ultimate Common Sense Approach to Eating for a Better Body. The opinions expressed herein are hers. To learn more about Nia, check out her website or find her on Twitter or Facebook.