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Can Fitness Help Us Be A More Honest Version of Ourselves?

And by honest, I don’t mean brutally honest, but accurately or perhaps “just plain” honest.

I pondered this question as I stood in front of my barbell, getting ready to do a set of squats. I’ve been working on building my leg strength for quite a while. I haven't made my goal yet, but I keep chugging away, monitoring my performance and making adjustments each time. More interestingly, I had noticed my inner critic had been nearly silent on this whole deal. No judgy feedback was filling my head about my effort, my age, my body, or my dedication. It was just weights, reps and an honest evaluation of progress. It felt great but not typical and I wondered what was different?

What does it mean to have self-honesty?

I admit, for most of my life I have subscribed to the brutally honest definition of self-honesty. But when I started to look more into the concept, a different definition emerged. It defined self-honesty as being able to separate ourselves from the personal narratives or stories we tell ourselves. It could mean being brutally honest with ourselves about our weaknesses or current limitations. But it also can be some serious fact-checking on that negative storyline we’ve been telling ourselves. You know the one, it’s a bit like reading historical fiction. The timeline, events and outcomes are generally true, but there’s a juicy love story or devious betrayal added to keep things interesting.

Self-honesty is knowing and owning our weaknesses. It is also accepting them so that we are free to move forward and grow. I loved this definition, from Leena Lomeli and an article on Thought Catalyst.

“Self-honesty is a balance between grace and accountability.”

Self-honesty matters if we want to make change.

When we are capable of self-honesty, the benefits are enormous. Most of us associate the word honest with respect. When we can become more self-honest we also develop more self-respect. That type of self-honesty helps us leave unsafe relationships, address addictions and change unhealthy behaviors.

Another common benefit reported by those working to become more self-honest? Less fear of judgment by others and/or a decrease in the perceived importance of the judgements of others. To me, that says more freedom, more living authentically, less people pleasing and more peace. This type of self-honesty helps us say yes to trying new things or stepping out of the audience and into the spotlight.

And finally, when we’re honest about our trouble spots and accept them, we’re able to go from inaction to action. This type of self-honesty doesn’t let us self-sabotage, complain, think we’re the only one with the challenge or convince ourselves we have no control over a situation. In essence, it lets us move forward and make change.

My summary?

A more honest version of ourselves leads to greater self-respect, less fear and more action. That sets us free to live an authentic and joyful life.

How to Build Self-Honesty

Back to the weights and the squats. What about this specific activity led to better self-honesty? The psychologists, coaches and experts on self-honesty focused on two behaviors in particular that help build self-honesty: self-awareness and reflection. And that’s when my ah-ha came. That barbell and weights were the catalyst to mindful exercise which in turn improved my self-awareness, the thoughtfulness of my reflection and dampened my negative narrative.

1) Exercise builds our proprioception, or our self-awareness about where our body is in space and in relation to itself. More specifically, to exercise (safely) we have to pay attention to our posture, engagement of muscles and focus on the proper movement pattern. Our nervous system has to listen to receptors in our joints, muscles and connective tissue and make the right things happen. It’s the most basic self-awareness there is.

2) It can assist us in developing supportive, fair self-dialogue and reflection. To do that squat safely, we need cues, either from a coach or from ourselves. The cues, like drawing in the abs or keeping our knees in line with our 2nd toes are objective dialogue, focused on our actual actions versus external perceptions.

By tracking the weight used, repetitions completed or our perceived exertion level we get balanced, unbiased feedback which aids our ability to reflect accurately.

3) Lastly, exercise also teaches us to expect and overcome obstacles, including physical discomfort. We experience plateaus, setbacks and soreness. We feel how our physical strength is not always consistent. When we do one more repetition, lift one more pound or complete one more workout, we build our self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is an important way we build self-esteem through exercise. And more self-esteem seems to make self-honesty easier.

So the answer to my question? Can fitness help us be a more honest version of ourselves? It’s a qualified yes. Yes, exercise can help us become more self-honest. The qualifier? The motivation. When the motivation for my exercise shifted from extrinsic (appearance among them) to intrinsic motivations (like capabilities), a safe space for self-awareness, reflection, and self-honesty was created.

Putting it into Practice

If you desire the self-respect, fearlessness and greater action that come along with self-honesty, here are my tips for putting it into practice through exercise.

1. Find your intrinsic motivator for exercise. Identify how you want to feel, act or be different and make this your driver;

2. Work with a fitness professional so you are confident in proper form, positioning, posture etc. You want enough knowledge that your self-dialogue/self-coaching during the workout can be supportive, fair and specific.

3. Track indicators DIRECTLY related to your performance, like weight used, repetitions or rounds completed, perceived exertion rate, speed or mood before and after. This type of data supports honest and accurate reflection.

4. Don’t expect progress to be linear or exponential. There will always be obstacles and plateaus. Accept them as a regular part of the process for everyone.

If you want to put some of the tips into action with your own personalized fitness program, schedule a free consultation with me here. I help women of all ages enjoy more freedom by reducing their physical limitations, constraints and pain so they can enjoy the activities they love, with the people they love right now and for years to come.

Thanks for being here- Jenn

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