Compartmentalization: to separate into isolated compartments or categories (Merriam-Webster)
Sometimes, compartmentalization is regarded as a negative thing since it’s often seen as a defense mechanism or coping strategy, insinuating that we avoid dealing with our problem head-on. For example, a woman could compartmentalize her feelings and be emotionally unavailable to friends, colleagues, and family, alienating everyone around her. She avoids navigating her emotional landscape due to feeling vulnerable, uncomfortable, and ashamed.
It can also be used as a positive thing, in the case of balancing work/family/personal life. A lot of people prefer to keeping their work and personal life separated, while others prefer to bind them together. When it comes to body-acceptance I guess it can go either way, but I will be sharing a positive way you can use it to benefit yourself and those around you.
There is plenty of advice to “just love yourself” going around, but none of them tell you HOW to do that. It took me a while as I sat down and really thought about what it took to go from absolute disgust to acceptance and appreciation — even love. It boiled down to three steps.
- Create a short term performance-related goal. You will be delightfully surprised because achieving it will automatically increase self-confidence. You will feel good about your body and what it can do, which in turn will have you chasing bigger performance goals, continuing the cycle of increasing self-confidence as you put in the effort required to achieve it. Here are some examples:
- perform a pistol squat
- add 10 pounds to the squat by the end of the month
- beat my 5k running time by
- perform 10 full push-ups
- perform 5 body-weight pull-ups
- increase my 60 second deadlift AMRAP by 5
2. Compartmentalize and reframe the situation/emotion. I use this tactic very often. It is synonymous to the practice of zen buddhism, where you let go of all thoughts, feelings, and emotions and instead experience the present moment. This conscious non-attachment relieves anxiety, worry, and distress because you recognize that there is no point in wasting energy on something that simply is. Specific examples include:
“I have fat, but I am not fat.” You can easily change the amount of fat on your body. Besides, you are not adipose tissue. You are a human being with skills, knowledge, experience that you can use to positively impact the world around you. You are more. A lot more.
“I feel weak, but I am not weak person.” A forced deload, a sub-par training session, coming back from an injury…these are all instances where you can get frustrated because your body is not performing the way you would like it to…something I’m going through. However, recognize that your physical performance is only one part of your overall strength as a person. Consider your mental fortitude and tenacity in going through what you need to in order to come back stronger. The strength it takes to care for your family. The strength it takes to stand for your values. The strength it takes to exercise discipline with your nutrition. Physical strength is only one part of your overall strength as a person.
“I have an injury, but I am not broken.” As soon as injury occurs, your body’s cells work around the clock to repair and protect you from further incidents. You are in the process of healing physically, and I’ll be damned if you don’t come back mentally stronger because of it.
“I feel ugly, but I am not an ugly person.” Are you an asshole? Do you enjoy seeing people get hurt? Are you distrusting and cynical of everyone and everything? Then yes you are an ugly person. But how symmetrical your face is has little to do with how you impress positive energy onto those around you. We all carry an energy whether we’re aware of it or not, and what we do or don’t do has an impact. This is incredible power.
3. Adopt a third person’s POV, of someone who adores everything about you. If you’ve never done this before, it’s uncomfortable at first. Start with a body part you like, and write down what it is you like so much about it. How does it look physically? What did it take for it to look that way? What does it do for you? Then pick a body part you don’t like so much and repeat this same exercise, working your way to writing positively about your most hated body part.
If this is painfully impossible for you to do, let me leave you with the truth…nobody cares as much as you do about how you look. Would you rather hate your body forever or do something about it?
I will always have moments where I dislike how I look, feel, or perform. That’s just life. But at least now I deal with it in a positive way instead of self-sabotaging. Let’s not allow our feelings to get in the way of what we know we need to do to keep progressing.
I’d love to hear other ways you’ve dealt with a negative body image, so please leave a comment if something else has worked for you!