When I was a young buck I was obsessed with bodybuilding. And my body.
As most of you know I went through the fat kid phase until I was fourteen, then the how-far-can-I-run-every-day phase, for a few years and then when I was seventeen I began a love affair with barbells and bench presses which lasted for years.
Sometimes my heart still skips a beat when I walk near the squat rack.
By the time I was eighteen I had stopped playing competitive sport and had totally immersed myself into the world of bodybuilding. I walked, talked, lived, ate and trained like a bodybuilder. All I wanted to do was look like a freak; a cartoon character. The bigger, the better. Veins like garden hoses, delts (shoulders) like bowling balls, massive guns (arms), freaky wheels (legs), ridiculous abs and less body-fat than Brad Pitt in Fight Club.
I had zero balance, a warped perspective and strange priorities. Some people who are smarter than me would say that I was trying to compensate physically for what I lacked emotionally and psychologically.
As a kid I would dream of having a physique like a Super Hero (as most boys do). I figured that if I was built like Superman then chicks would dig me, guys would be in awe of me, I'd be incredibly popular, life would be great and of course, I would have no problems.
Okay, so I didn't totally think the plan through. Gimme a break; I was a dumb kid. It all made sense in my head. . . . at the time.
Anyway, one day I woke up, I was twenty one years-old, a 105 kgs (230lbs), less than ten percent body-fat, eating seven times a day, training twice a day, six days a week and I looked like a freak. The fat kid had been replaced by a large, muscular, lean. . . . .insecure, dysfunctional, obsessed adult.
Bugger. So much for the plan.
The amazing thing was that all of my ‘issues’ were still there. Even with my huge biceps. I learned that I couldn't fix my emotional problems with a physical solution. With my new found muscle and dimensions came a whole new batch of problems.
"What if I lose muscle and size?" Some bodybuilders suffer from what I call, Bigorrexia; the opposite of anorexia. . . they stress if they lose size or weight.
"What if I get injured and can't train?" If I had to miss a workout through injury, I would get anxious.
"What if I can't get to the gym?" I would never travel unless I knew I would be able to access a gym.
Cleverly, (!) I created a whole new list of things to worry and stress about.
It was partly out of my bodybuilding journey and subsequent realisations that I came to explore self-improvement on a level beyond that of my biceps and pecs (thank goodness). I realised that it didn't really matter what things looked like on the outside if internally I was dying.
And I was.
Not literally, but emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. The image I tried so hard to portray was so the opposite of what I was actually feeling on the inside. A scared, unsure, insecure ten year-old trapped in this great big, mans body.
I didn't intend to be shallow or one-dimensional. . . but that's where I was heading.
Somewhere, somehow I had ‘learned’ (and we all know about those destructive beliefs) that if I had an amazing body. . . . everything would be great. As a teenager I would devour muscle mags and they had ‘taught’ me that success was all about how I looked.
So now we fast-forward to 2007 and I have to admit that I occasionally feel conflicted about owning a business which deals primarily with the physical. The irony is that I spend far more time talking to people about their mental, emotional and spiritual well-being than I do about their biceps, body-fat or carb intake. As an Exercise Scientist I spend so much time not talking about exercise.
Breast implants, collagen injections, liposuction, hair transplants, face-lifts, electrolysis, nose jobs, appetite suppressants, diuretics, steroids. . . . you name it, there's not much I haven't seen people do to ‘improve’ themselves.
A few years ago I worked with a lady who had spent (the best part of) $100,000 on cosmetic ‘enhancements’. Pick a body part. . . it had been modified or tweaked. Over the course of ten years she had turned her body from 100% natural into. . “hey, let's see if we can find an original part!"
If only she had invested the same time and energy working on the internal stuff.
She was one unhappy, miserable puppy.
Unfortunately there seemed to be an inverse correlation between the volume of surgery she had and her level of happiness, joy and fulfilment. The more she changed the outside, the more miserable and desperate she got on the inside.
I don't think it's necessarily a conscious thought process, but I do know that many people feel that if only they can live there, earn more, own one of those, weigh less or look like that (all external stuff) . . . then most of their (internal) problems will disappear.
If you asked them they'd deny it. . . but look at how they live. Look at the choices they make. Look at how they prioritise things. Look where they invest their time and energy.
We all talk about how we want peace, balance, harmony, happiness and contentment. . . . but the truth is some of us live a life which is at odds with our (alleged) values. Remember 93% of communication is non-verbal. . . if you want to know what someone really thinks or believes, don't listen to them. . . watch what they do.
What they do will tell you much more about them than what they say.
I have a friend who has had four serious long-term relationships. I love her but I gotta say, she's got issues. A bunch. She knows it. Every time she has problems in a relationship she breaks up with the guy and leaves the country! Invariably she goes overseas and it's usually within days of breaking up with Mr. Right Now (as she calls them). Instead of dealing with the internal stuff (fears, insecurities) she changes her external situation (leaves the country) so she doesn't have to deal with things. Then she sneaks back into the country a month later, meets another guy. . . and the cycle continues. Sometimes a change of scenery is handy. . . sometimes it's simply a way of avoiding things we should deal with. Because she doesn't want to deal with her issues (primarily fear-based stuff), she continues to have the same problems with different men. Next bloke she dates I'm going to give him a warning card.
* Remember real personal growth always works from the inside out. . . . not the other way around. Change you first. . . and then your situations, circumstances, finances, careers and relationships will change for the better.
Craig Harper (B. Ex. Sci. ) is an Australian motivational speaker, qualified exercise scientist, author, columnist, radio presenter, and owner of one of the largest personal training centres in the world.
He can be heard weekly on Australian Radio SEN 1116 and GOLD FM and appears on Australian television on Network Ten's 9AM.
Australian Motivational Speaker - Craig Harper