It’s what we’ve all heard at one time or other. Maybe it was before you nervously set off on your first date, or as you clenched your sweaty palms before that “this decides the rest of my life” job interview: just be yourself! If you’re anything like me, you may wonder why that seemingly simple statement can be so elusive.
The inevitable self-talk often goes something like “maybe I’ll be me once I have a body everyone admires, and get promoted, and live in my dream house with my dream lover…and maybe a white picket fence…then I’ll be me!”
Well let me tell you why waiting for any event or situation to happen before you become the real you is a bad idea, and why it could even be making you fat!
First an overview of how stress creates immediate changes in your body. Whenever your brain perceives a threat, it goes into the physical stress response. The stress response is the classic fight or flight mode that gives us all the lovely symptoms that might occur before you get on stage if you’re super-nervous about speaking in front of people. For more about running from the tiger click here, but one of the things that happens is the release of cortisol, the stress hormone linked with storing fat around the belly.
Now think about the last time you were in a situation where you felt you couldn’t be yourself. You were probably worrying about what to say, what not to say, how you should behave, maybe agreeing to things you otherwise wouldn’t, or pressured into saying and doing things that just didn’t sit right with you. This is a stressful situation! You perceived that you were under a type of threat, and that alone is enough to set off the beloved stress response.
Of course there are times when we can’t say and do all we want, and that’s fine. But what if you live most of your waking life afraid to be the real you? Then you are chronically bathing your body in the stress chemicals that do a ton of damage over time, including the dreaded belly fat!
If you feel you have been holding pieces of you back from the world for fear of being laughed at or seen as odd or different, and you have any of the signs of chronic stress, experiment with bringing more of the real you into light. I know it’s easier said than done, I’ve been there. You can read more about my own journey to become more myself here. Below are some techniques you can try to put more of YOU into the world.
Bring Out Your Inner 5 Year Old
Think back to when you were five years old. I know it’s tough, but I’m sure you can remember some things. This was likely right before you entered the first grade, before you wanted to fit in with all the cool kids and figured out just how to act to be liked. Right before that, what was it you loved doing? Obviously, we aren’t going to be into the same tutus and coloring books we were at age 5 (or maybe some of us are, and that’s cool, too!), but we often get some insight into our true personalities before we tried so hard to change them.
I’ll give you an example. When I was five I loved doing things in order. I loved tinker toys because I could follow the instructions. I loved color-by-number because I knew just where to put each color. I loved reading all the books on my shelf in order. I loved singing non-stop. I unintentionally memorized full length films and books on tape, accents and all. I loved stuffed animals. But I hated barbie dolls, getting dirty, and going shopping.
Make a list of all the things you truly loved. If you can’t remember, ask a family member. Do some other ages if you can think of things you really loved. Of course it’s normal to outgrow things, but when you read over your list, what stands out to you? Did you stop doing anything because you were worried what others would think? Did you give up some things because you thought they were silly or pointless, but really gave you joy? Pick one thing from your list you would like to try again, and do it!
Get in Touch with Your Values
It can be hard to stay true to who you are and what you stand for when we have so many opinions thrown at us from all corners. There’s our friends, family, coworkers, the news, books (wait, what are those again?) and of course social media. It’s easy to lose your own voice in a world where the loudest, most obnoxious one wins. It helps to really get clear about what’s important to you.
The next list I’m asking you to make (did I mention I like lists?) is to list your own 10 commandments. These don’t need to have anything to do with the religious commandments. These are yours and yours alone. What are the values you want to live by when you take away the noise of the outside world and see what really feels true for you? Once you come up with one, ask yourself, really? Do I really believe this and want to live this way? Even if you just come up with a few, that’s a great start, and more than most people have taken the time to examine!
To help you get started, here are some of my own commandments. And you’ll notice that a lot of them are pretty common, but they are truly how I want to live and show up in this world:
- Treat others with respect (even if they’re really annoying me)
- Everyone has some good in them, try to find it
- We all want to be appreciated – show more of it
- There is no perfection – usually “good enough” is
- There’s always another perspective
- It’s impossible to please everyone all the time – stop trying
- When I’m feeling “off” it’s probably because something is out of balance
- The more I can be honest with myself, the better I can serve others
- Thoughts and beliefs have the power to change our lives, for better or worse. Thoughts and beliefs can be shifted.
- We are all in this together. On some level, one person’s pain is all of our pain, one person’s joy is all of our joy.
Now make your list. Write down your list and keep it where you can see it often. We become what we surround ourselves with. So the more you remind yourself of your values, the more easily you will be able to bring them into your daily life.
The above two exercises are a great start to help you bring more of the authentic YOU into the world. By doing so, you will actually be relieving the stress of keeping yourself hidden. You will be halting the flood of stress hormone that tells your body to hold onto belly fat. Even more importantly, you will be a step closer to feeling free.
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