At the turn of the year it's a fresh start for everyone. New Year's resolutions are common, but unfortunately, both research and practice show is that resolutions don't work. They don't actually lead to real and lasting change. But there is something that will work, without fail, every single time: Dedication to one, powerful, keystone habit.
As a life coach, I'm in the business of supporting people through the change process. I know from experience that it takes much more than a desire to make positive changes happen in your life. It certainly takes more than motivation, which always ebbs and flows. It even takes more than a plan.
A habit is a behavior or activity that you routinely do over and over again. So much so, that you begin to do it unconsciously. A powerful habit becomes so ingrained in you that it feels hard-wired — the way you cover your mouth when you cough, put on your right sock first, or answer the phone. You don't actually think about it at all.
It is also true that the arc, even the outcomes of our entire lives are built on the habits that we engage in every day — most of which are almost entirely subconscious. Think about it: Your life, as it is today, is simply the outcome of everything that you've done up until this point. A few macro-decisions have the potential impact our life to a significant degree, like who you marry, the job you take, moving to a new town.
But even then, the actual outcomes you experience in any of these scenarios have much less to do with the circumstances themselves, and more about what your daily “micro-habits” entail. Plenty of people get into Ivy League schools, and don't have the personal habits required to be successful. So they flunk out. Pretty much any relationship has the potential to be a good one or a bad one, depending on how people are in the habit of treating each other day-to-day. All success or failure is determined by your habitual behaviors.
When you think about the changes that you might want to make in your life, and resolve to “save money” or “lose weight” or “have a better relationship” or “expand your social circle” or “keep my house clean” — all of those are fantastic hopes. But they will remain hopes until you understand and learn how to utilize the habits that are creating your current reality, and swap them out for the ones that will allow you to create the life you want — hour by hour, day by day, and year by year.
What is a Keystone Habit?
A keystone habit is a very special habit. It's one, powerful habit that “touches” many other aspects of your life. If you find a single, great keystone habit, it can begin working it's magic on everything from the way you feel, to the way you think, to how much energy you have, to how easy it feels to do other healthy things (and interestingly, harder to engage in the bad habits you might be prone to).
Let's be real: If you think about ALL the habits you might need to change in order to achieve your goals, it can feel discouraging. It can be overwhelming to sit down and take stock of the all things in your life that aren't working, and all of the personal habits you'd have to change in order to create the kind of results you want. Even just having one goal of losing ten pounds requires a number of small daily habits to make that happen: tracking food, consciously choosing healthy lower calorie options, saying no to junk and sweets, minding portion size, getting yourself to exercise, being mindful of cravings and impulsivity, and having a plan to deal with special situations like holidays or outings.
It's probably exhausting just to read that one paragraph! When you tack on other personal goals / resolutions of things you aspire to, like saving money, having a better relationship, being more productive at work, etc, it's even worse. That's because when you start breaking down all the small action steps that achievement in those areas would entail, it's enough to make you want to eat ALL the donuts, isn't it?
I want you to be successful at creating the change you desire in this new year. So for that reason, today's episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is all about how to find and lovingly cultivate one solid keystone habit that will carry you forward. I'll also be discussing how to make that new habit stick, so that this new year turns into a string of successes for you.
Specifically we're discussing:
How to find your keystone habit
How keystone habits work to effect change in many areas of your life
Habit loops, and how to make them work for you
Habit stacking, and how to cluster winning habits into a life-changing force
How long it takes to form a habit
How long does it take to break a bad habit? Why it may be easier than you think.
Some tips and tricks to help you stay on track with a new habit
How to avoid some common pitfalls that could knock your new keystone habit off course
All that, and more, on this episode.
I hope that this info helps you as you craft your path for this new year, and that it brings you only good things.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast
Keystone Habits: The Key to Changing Everything
by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Music Credits: “Nothing to Hide” byAllah-Las
How to Read People
Do you ever wonder how people really feel? Even if they’re saying something different? Learning how to read people can lead to greater happiness at work, in your love life, and improve your emotional intelligence. How can you tell what someone is truly feeling? Luckily, you have a window into their soul: their face.
Believe it or not, every thought and feeling that we have flashes across our face before we’re even aware of it. Most people learn, at an early age, how to put their “masks” back on quickly when unintended expressions slip through. But if you know how to read someone, you can still understand them — sometimes even better than they understand themselves.
Why are faces such a source of truth? Your face is the only place in your entire body where your muscles are attached directly to your skin. Fleeting feelings, stray thoughts, and even subconscious core beliefs will all reveal themselves through our facial expressions. The art of reading people is not just decoding body language, it’s learning how to decode facial expressions too.
Today’s podcast will help you learn how! My guest is author and researcher Dr. Dan Hill. Dr. Hill is the author of nine books, including “Emotionomics,” and a pioneer in the use of facial coding. Besides having spoken to audiences in over 25 countries, Dan has had media appearances ranging from ABC's Good Morning, America, to NBC's The Today Show, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, ESPN, and was also a regular guest on PBS’s Mental Engineering show. His advice has also been featured in The New York Times.
And today, he’s here to share his insights about reading people with you.
Listen to this episode to learn…
The science behind understanding emotions
The importance of understanding others in building relationships and connecting with others.
How to decipher emotions using facial coding — the beginning of knowing how to read people.
How to hone your emotional intelligence.
Tune in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or listen right here. Show notes are below, and you’ll find a full transcript at the bottom of this post. Follow-up questions or comments for myself or Dr. Hill? Join the conversation in the comments section!
In our interview, Dr. Hill explained that 95 percent of our mental activity is not fully conscious. Because most of our brain activity is not known to us, it debunks the paradigm that we are in total control of the thoughts and emotions that pass through our heads. He added that our faces provide a wealth of information to other people, and that we’re constantly taking in data based on what we see in the faces of others.
These revelations are simultaneously humbling and liberating — they confirm that we don't need to pretend to be someone we aren't. “We are who we are, and accept it. Try to learn from it. Don't just give in to it necessarily,” Dan says. You might have emotional blind spots, but gaining awareness of them will help you learn how to read people better.
The Art of Reading People
Charles Darwin found that the face is the only human body part where the muscles attach directly to the skin. Interestingly, human beings have more facial muscles than any other species. While some triggers might differ based on cultural context, there are also some universalities. Dr. Hill observed these similarities in his travels around the world.
Dr. Paul Ekman conducted a study where he showed photographs to people in New Guinea and had them identify the emotions in their subjects. But emotions aren't that simple. There exist 23 expressions that reveal our seven basic emotions: happiness, surprise, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and contempt. But photos can't capture the nuances of all of them. When it comes to the art of reading people, Dr. Hill says, “It’s simple, but it’s not that simple. Because to be that simple would be ridiculous.”
Out of the seven basic emotions, six are core emotions that serve as our fundamental emotional building blocks. So emotional intelligence has three steps:
Perceiving emotions in oneself and others
Understanding the emotions
Putting them together and managing the emotions
Emotional intelligence and understanding how to read people starts with perception. Often, we get so caught up in our own inner experiences, and fail to pick up on other people's emotions. Facial coding offers us a window into the emotional experiences of others so that we can understand how they’re feeling and respond appropriately.
Reading People: The Connection Between Words and Emotions
Reading people doesn't stop when you're able to surmise what a person is thinking or feeling. To understand why they're feeling specific emotions, it helps to ask questions and find behavioral patterns. Understanding facial expressions is not the end; it's merely a tool for reading people and connecting to what they're feeling. It can also help address what Dr. Hill calls the “feel gap,” or the chasm that opens up between ourselves and others when we feel one thing but say another. By becoming aware of it, we can better connect with people and help ourselves and others in becoming emotionally healthy.
In his research, Dr. Hill places the link between what people say and what they’re feeling into four possible categories:
What is said is what is felt.
What is said has some distance from what is felt.
What is said is not what is felt.
What is said is in complete contrast with what is felt.
Out of all the categories, the first one is the least common, according to Dr. Hill’s research. Understandably, some words don’t match up with emotions. We all work to get along with others and avoid conflicts, after all. Essentially, our motivations are to feel good about ourselves. We want to attract others romantically, platonically, and professionally, and sometimes that means “smoothing things over” by not expressing exactly how we feel.
How to Tell When Someone is Lying
In a cover story from National Geographic, Dr. Hill remembers that 40 percent of all people tell five lies per day. These aren't white lies either; they're deceptions with substance, with real consequences. Dan dislikes the implications of that statistic, but says, “…mostly I try to be intrigued by it and say, ‘How can I do better? How can I understand this? How can I accept my fundamental humanity and accept that of the people I'm talking to?” For more on this topic, check out “Being Honest With Yourself.”
Communication Tip: Don’t Confront Directly (h3)
When you learn how to read people by picking up on facial cues, you’ll begin to observe contradictions between what people say and what they seem to feel. Think carefully about what you do with this information, as approaching it head-on with the person might not be helpful. The person you're talking to might feel embarrassed when you point it out. They might be actively trying to hide it, or they may not even be aware of the contradiction.
On this point, Dr. Hill quotes Emily Dickinson: “Tell the truth, but tell it slant, lest everyone go blind.” It's best not to directly “call out” the person, or to push them to explore that emotion along with you. It's much better to let them connect the dots themselves, rather than tellingthem directly that their stated feelings don’t seem to match up with their expressions, which might seem like an attempt to tell them what they’re feeling.
People usually remember things tied to emotions. For example, when you hear something that hurts you, it sticks with you for a long time. Whether in personal or professional relationships, it's vital to understand how to read people's emotions, because there are real, long-lasting stakes.
When you know how to read people, you can pick up cues that could make or break relationships. For example, decoding a smirk of contempt can help people in the business industry know if they are respected. For married couples, a smirk of contempt can be an early warning sign that the relationship is in trouble.
These underlying emotions, when undetected and unaddressed, can even create financial headaches — contempt destroys respect and trust, which can erode business relationships over time. Ultimately, decoding those emotions leads you to be honest with yourself while forging stronger connections with others.
When coaching a CEO, Dr. Hill encourages vulnerability. It can sometimes feel risky, but the result is better relationships between leaders and employees.
While there are many success stories about the benefits of learning how to read people, decoding emotions isn't a sure-fire thing. As Dr. Hill states, “You don’t make a hit every time, and you do have to live with that.” Part of emotional intelligence is not beating yourself or the other party up when feelings get messy or difficult to decipher.
When we’re trying to read people, it’s easy to project our own feelings onto others, a habit that impedes understanding and can be corrosive to relationships. Dr. Hill suggests two paths to avoiding emotional projection.
First, ask yourself, “Am I making assumptions about other people’s behaviors?” Asking this question helps you avoid assumptions about someone else’s feelings.
Second, be open to new information. Even if someone has a habit of slipping into a particular emotional state, it does more harm than good to assume that an emotion or expression is a person's default and that it’s what is always going on under the surface. To break free from this habit, work on cultivating empathy and curiosity about others.
Controlling Your Own Facial Expressions
Dr. Hill says he doesn't consciously shift his facial expressions when he's talking to people. Once he entered this field, he decided he wouldn't review his tapes to preserve his emotional authenticity and avoid manipulation. Dan sees facial coding as a tool for reading people, and he wants to use it faithfully. He was also interested in restoring humanity to the business world and encouraging better treatment for employees, clients, and colleagues.
The Emotional Advantage
Cultivating emotional intelligence is more than an interesting hobby. It gives us real-world advantages at work, in romantic relationships, in friendships, and even with baristas or grocery store clerks. These little advantages add up to an improved quality of life, which Dr. Hill says, based on research, can actually be quantified as an overall six percent advantage. No kidding!
If six percent doesn’t sound like much, consider that sports stars like Serena Williams are only a percentage point or two better than other top competitors. When it makes the difference between winning and losing, six percent becomes a pretty meaningful advantage.
Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence isn't fixed; it’s a skill that we can improve over time, in part by learning how to read people. Being intelligent is fantastic, but unless IQ is paired with some EQ, it’s hard to leverage those smarts to make positive changes in the world.
While earning his Ph.D., Dr. Hill took a teaching course. He didn’t like that the course focused purely on IQ without any regard for EQ. It didn't teach him how to connect with students on an emotional level, a skill that would make any teacher far more effective than simply being smart.
As the teaching example illustrates, “soft skills” like the ability to read people often get ahead at work and beyond.
Resourcesfor How to Read People:
Get Dr. Dan Hill’s books, “Famous Faces Decoded” and “Blah, Blah, Blah” on his website.
The music in this episode is Nothing to Hide by Allah-Las from their album “Worship the Sun.” You can support them and their work by visiting their website.
Each portion of the music used in this episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Please refer to copyright.gov for more information.
Enjoy the Podcast?
Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about emotional intelligence? How do you think these insights can help you get better at reading other people and understanding yourself? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Subscribe to us now to discover more episodes on living a life full of love, happiness, and success.
[Intro song: Nothing to Hide by Allah-Las]
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. That’s Alla-Las with the song, “Nothing to Hide”. I thought this was a perfect setup for our topic today because on today's show, we're talking about how to read people, so that you can understand with accuracy how others are really feeling, sometimes even before they know it themselves. This is a huge component of emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence is something that we have talked about numerous times on the show and the importance of it, the ability to be able to understand yourself, understand others, and then manage relationships with others and yourself accordingly, based on this awareness. I think many of our other episodes on the subject of emotional intelligence have really talked about your ability to understand and manage yourself.
Today's show is really all about how specifically, do we understand other people by using, what they're showing us about how they feel on their faces, in order to be able to decode their emotional experience accurately. Knowing how to do this gives you a huge advantage in any situation involving other humans, be it your personal relationships, your interactions with your partner, and even on the job. So I'm so excited that we're exploring this topic together today. My guest on today's show is a true expert on this subject.
On this episode of the podcast, I'm so thrilled to be speaking to Dr. Dan Hill, who is the author of nine books, including “Emotionomics”, and most recently, a book called “Blah, Blah, Blah: A Snarky Guide to Office Lingo”. He is an expert on – wait for it – understanding people's emotions by looking at their faces, among other things. He's done an enormous amount of research around the emotional impact of faces, the way we respond to art and photography. I'm so interested to get his insight into particularly his research into emotional intelligence and how you can use his ideas and what he's learned to help you be more confident and effective in all of your interpersonal relationships. I'm so pleased to be speaking with you today, Dan. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. Dan Hill: Oh, absolutely. Lisa, I'm so looking forward to it. I think it'll be a great conversation.
A Cosmic Joke
Dr. Lisa: Wonderful. Well, Dan, we have much to discuss. I mean, you do so many different things. You're an author. You're a researcher. You're a speaker. But why don't you if it's okay, let's just spend a couple of minutes and talk about, you know, how am I so interested to know like how you got interested in this field of study? And just tell us a little bit about your research?
Dan Hill: Sure. Well, I often joke that as a cosmic joke itself, that I would be an emotions expert, because I'm Scandinavian. And Scandinavians are not necessarily famous for being outgoing or emotional
Dr. Lisa: You do have a reputation.
Dan Hill: Yes, Gary Keillor, with his Prairie Home Companion show once said the joke about the Norwegian American man who loved his wife so dearly that he very nearly told her so. And I happen to be half Norwegian. The other cosmic joke here is that I have a PhD in English. Yet my specialty is not in that field. It's arguably in psychology, and it certainly in nonverbals, so we will converse in verbals. But yes, I rely a lot on what I learned about people from their facial expressions.
The way I got into this was someone I was working for a consulting firm, looking at the customer experience, trying to write a book for the company president. And he had me in contact with someone at IBM, who one day changed my life, sent over an article from a Cornell University publication called American demographics, talking about the breakthroughs in brain science, and how much we are intuitive, sensory emotional decision-makers with a killer statistic that the conservative estimation is that 95% of our mental activity is not fully conscious. which is actually probably about 98-99%.
That's what the science is kind of at these days.
Dr. Lisa: That’s so interesting.
A Scientific Approach to Emotions
Dan Hill: So I read the article, and yes, I had the same reaction. So interesting. My hands started trembling. I mean, literally started trembling, I went, “This is so cool”. I have no idea whether I can make a living at this. But it would be shameful if I didn't pursue it, because it's so striking. And so revolutionary, and the business world's not awake to the importance of emotions, and they're denying it. And I just have to go here, I decided to leave my job within five minutes of reading the article. That is an absolutely true story.
Dr. Lisa: Wow. That’s like psychologically being struck by lightning kind of experience? That is remarkable.
Dan Hill: That exactly what it was. I mean, I was transfixed with excitement. I mean, it just, I couldn't believe it. I mean, it just happened.
Dr. Lisa: That is so cool. I mean, I think, so many people long for that kind of experience where this is why I'm here – that passion, that purpose, and how amazing that you had that. And we're open to it.
Dan Hill: Well, and then the journey had to start. So then I had to stay open, because then the question was, okay, so emotions are really valid. I mean, of course they are. But then the question was, well, how am I going to research this or capture metrics, because my father was in charge of 3M post-it notes production, sales and marketing.
I grew up in a household where the word innovation, being a tagline for 3M was bandied about just a little bit, shall we say, but knowing that would be my higher target market audience, someone I would have to sell into is like, Oh, my God, I'm gonna have to have science, I'm going to have a methodology, I'm going to have to have metrics. I can't show up and say emotions matter. They're going to call that “woowoo” and soft. And so what, and everything else under the sun.
That started the hunt. And the great thing is, I had a second bolt of lightning, a second Eureka. Because first, a friend blew me up, and was actually a favor. I spent half a year almost developing a methodology, sent it to my friend, Joe Rich — great name for a business person, by the way- and Joe said, “This is great stuff”. And I said, “well, Joe, there's a ‘but’ in your voice, I can detect it. We’re friends, I know”. He said, “Well, actually there is.” “So what's the problem?” He said, “The problem is if you follow these traditional methods, you're going to ask people to think their feelings. And guess what? They feel them.” I had to start over. That's how I came to facial coding, because I said, “Oh, my God, what is it going to be, a very lost month? I don't have much money. I gotta start earning some if at all possible here.”
At the University of California, San Diego, UCSD, they had a lot of PhDs and social sciences in town and psychology, all of that, and a great section on neurobiology. And I started checking out books. One day, I came across the fact that Charles Darwin, the Charles Darwin, came to realize that in your face, you best reflect and communicate your emotions. I read that about 10:45 in the morning, I can picture to this day, just like a picture where I read that fax from the IBM guy.
I can picture the very seat in the coffee house in San Diego where I was sitting when I came across that statement in one of the books I checked out from the library. I went, “Oh, I was an art history minor in college, I lived in Italy, as a boy, I had to read nonverbals my mom was an interior designer, I can do this, this fits, and this is exciting. I'm going to be doing this for the rest of my life.” And I knew that just as instantaneously, as when I read the article where I decided to quit. So two of them within half a year. I mean, it's a blessing.
Dr. Lisa: Getting these sort of messages and just like the right information at the right time. And so the first message was most of our brainpower is not fully conscious. And then the second message was people understand and process so much from other people's faces. Those were the kind of the two messages and then taking those together.
Dan Hill: So the first one blew up the paradigm. Because the real paradigm we've lived with basically is really outmoded. It's Rene Descartes saying “I think therefore I am”. Yeah, I mean that that's obsolete as can be, but we still live by it very often. And so it's The Big Lie we tell ourselves. And then the second revelation to your point was, here's a tool.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, that's so fast. And I'm so glad you're talking about this. Because I know I personally do this too. I think we all fall into that belief that we’re fully in command of what's going on in our heads and we're making sort of like thoughtful decisions that is not even remotely true. It's so humbling to be like, “No, actually, that is not what is driving your bus most of the time.”
Dan Hill: It is humbling. But I also think it's really liberating, as though we don't have to pretend to be something we aren't. Because we're not Mr. Spock, from Star Trek, we are Homer Simpson. And you know, and Maggie and everybody else in the family, it’s just, we are who we are, and accept it, try to learn from it. Don't just give in to it, necessarily. But yes, there are tremendous blind spots, and it's going to help you with other people. Because if you think they're rational players, you're off base and the vagaries of their behavior, and how you're going to connect with them most effectively. We'll certainly have a better shot if you're grounded correctly, which is to say, I'm around a lot of other people's blind spots and biases, too.
Dan Hill’s Discoveries
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Good reminder. And, and your research and where you started to go is this idea that our faces and other people's faces are kind of a window into what is really going on, if I'm understanding correctly, and I'd love to hear more about how that path unfolded. And if you could take our listeners into just, you know how, I mean, I am a card carrying nerd. And so I'm always interested in how you did the research, because I think it's super cool. But, of course, and again, you've written nine books on the topic. So there's so much to share. But it's, you know, some overviews, I guess, of some of the main themes that your research uncovered.
23 Facial Expressions and 7 Basic Emotions
Dan Hill: Sure, there's a lot to unpack there, but I'll try my pieces. And if I miss something, you can, you can redirect me back to what I missed. I guess the first thing I would go to is, obviously, Charles Darwin, not available for a conversation after I came across this revelation. But you know, I'm a researcher with a PhD. So I like to verify through multiple sources, and then I like to get to the most credible sources, or resources to draw on as possible.
First of all, Darwin's work, essentially arguing that the face is the only place in the body where the muscles attach right to the skin. We have more facial muscles than any other species on the planet. There's 44 sets of muscles, so there's a real richness of data there. It can also be argued that it's universal, that the display rules vary. Certainly, what could be the triggers, you know, can vary by cultural context. But there is a universality and I believe that because my company has done research for more than half the world's top 100 brands. We've done research in I think about 35 countries, I've spoken in more than 25, I have traveled to more than 80, myself. So you know, I have seen it across the world.
Now. There is someone, Lisa Barrett, who are used against that, but it's because Dr. Paul Ekman was kind of the expert in the field made — it was an early kind of rookie mistakes, I guess I would call it. So he went out to verify this. And he showed some photographs to people in the highlands of New Guinea, and tried to identify if they could pick out what the expression is. And she picks on that and says, Well, yeah, we tried to replicate this, in India and Africa. And it didn't work.
My point is, of course, it didn't work and Paul Ekman never should’ve done it. In the first case, because we have 23 expressions that reveal our emotions. Let's just take anger, for instance, there are nine different ways you can show anger in the face. Some of those expressions just show anger. But some of the other expressions potentially based on Dr. Ekman’s research itself, indicates that it might go to more than one emotion, maybe two, maybe three, you can't possibly hold up a photograph that's going to be — is this anger, because you're not going to probably show all nine emotions or expressions for it. Plus, some of those expressions will also reveal another emotion.
It's simple, but it's not that simple. Because to be that simple, would be ridiculous. You know, when we'd all had to the Botox Center and the plastic surgeon, you know, to try to hide what we're revealing on our faces, potentially, if we did have something to hide. But the real point of that research is that there are these 23 expressions, and they cover seven emotions.
The seven emotions are happiness, and surprise, and anger and fear, sadness, disgust, and contempt. Six of those most psychologists I think, would agree that there will be called basically core emotions or, the real fundamental building blocks. And that really sets up the proposition because emotional intelligence really has three steps to it.
In essence, I perceive what's going on for myself and others. Unless you got a mirror- its not going to be so good for that. But it could be, we will have seen your expressions, you can go back and look at your own photographs and video. But it gets you started by perception, then the question is, Do I understand these emotions? Or what do they actually mean? What's their significance? What may trigger them? What does it lead to in terms of behavior? And the third one is putting it all together and managing the emotions.
You can't do the last one, of course, without the first two. And the game really starts with the perception. And that's why I love facial coding, because it gives you the chance to capture data and get a sense of what's going on for other people. Because one of the problems we have otherwise is we caught up in our own silo. And we do need to get outside of that to be effective.
Dr. Lisa: Yes, your silo meaning like so caught up in our own inner experience. Sometimes we don't fully recognize what's going on.
Dan Hill: Or to quote my favorite New Yorker cartoon is I have more than once from the stage and so on. Two women are talking to each other one says to the other, “But enough about me, what do you think about me?” Yeah, that’s the silo.
The Feel Gap
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Okay, that's so interesting. And so that there are the 23 different facial expressions that are tied into variations of those, those basic emotions. And then it ties into emotional intelligence, because you're saying that when you can kind of clue into people's faces and understand what they are really potentially thinking, or feeling that you can have more insight psychologically and kind of know what's happening. And that, I'm guessing, it also might sometimes be different than what people are saying out loud, or perhaps, if we're going to get really deep, perhaps even different than what they are consciously aware of?
Dan Hill: Oh, absolutely. So, I mean, I'd make one small correction, what you said, which was, you said, what they're thinking and feeling. I can get a reasonable surmise, and nothing's infallible, and I'm not fallible as a facial coder, but you're looking for a leg up, you know, an opportunity to be better. So I can know, I think reasonably well, what they're feeling, whether they're aware of it or not, whether they're going to admit to it or not. How they're thinking, or why they're feeling that feeling- I can only get through probably through asking questions, trying to look for behavioral patterns that link up to this. So the detective work is not over yet. But yes, it gives you that chance to get to more end.
You mentioned the idea that might be a distance between what they say, and how they feel. And indeed, in my research, I get very quickly settled on the term, the say “feel gap”. They say one thing, but they feel another. What we've found in our work, and I think could be true in your personal relationships as well, we actually found four categories. One is- what they said and how they felt matched up. That's the least common of the categories.
Dr. Lisa: That's so interesting.
Dan Hill: There's also, the lineup was some connection, but you know, some distance. Another one is that they say something, they don't feel it at all, you know, there's no muscle activity. They're just saying it, it's lip service. And the last one is the say-feel gap, where indeed, there is essentially a complete breakdown between what they say, and what I believe they're actually feeling on their face. Because yeah, we try to get along with other people that mean, it's understandable. We don't want to fight all day long have conflicts. And so essentially, our motivations in life are to feel good about ourselves, and to attract allies, whether it's romantically, in terms of our career, and so forth.
Neither one of those has to line up necessarily with being honest. And that being honest, might get us into trouble. The National Geographic had a cover story just a few years ago, about you know, called I think it was, “Why We Lie?” And of course, we went into all the reasons why we would lie, but what I remember is the statistic — 40% of us apparently, tell, on average, five lies a day and we're not talking about little white lies, but lies of some substance, some consequence. 40% of us five or more a day, and I went, “Okay, that's a lot.” But if it's good research, it could make some sense.
Yeah, we don't know what's going on. We do lie to ourselves, perhaps most of all. And it's probably why you know, life is a little messy. But I guess my approach is to be intrigued by it. Most days, there are days I despair about it. But mostly I try to be intrigued by and say how can I do better? How can I understand this? How can I accept my fundamental humanity and accept that of the people I'm talking to.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, that is sobering. And I'm, I'm sure we have people listening to this right now who, you know, might have trust issues and relationships. I mean, that's a thing. And that's very scary to consider that, humans routinely are saying things that are not fully true.
I like your point that sometimes that is a conscious deception that is motivated by you know, a desire for self-esteem or to manage relationships. But the other times, it is not fully conscious that even though people are saying something that isn't true in a moment, they may not be aware of that, they're lying to themselves.
Dan Hill: Yeah. And maybe the lie is altruistic. In some sense, you know, benign.
Dr. Lisa: “Your baby is so pretty.
Dan Hill: Yeah, I think what really disturbed me in a relationship is when it's for malicious intent. And it's a pattern, pronounced pattern with real consequences. I mean, that's kind of a trifecta of poison, that one would be well advised to escape if possible.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Definitely. And so I guess what I'm curious to hear more about, so much of our brainpower is, you know, focused on people's faces. And there's such a wealth of this, I mean, kind of reading through the lines here, it seems like, if you become very skilled at kind of decoding people's emotions from their faces, you have a huge advantage and understanding what's really going on.
I'm curious to know that if somebody wanted to develop their skills in this area, to be able to read people more effectively, you know, not just to maybe see problems potentially coming down the line, but I think also just to develop their own emotional intelligence skills, like how do I become better able to reading people and understanding how they're feeling? And I'm curious to know what you would see as being like the sort of arc of that growth process for lack of a better term, like if somebody wanted to develop their skills in that area? What do you think works?
Dan Hill: Well, I decided at this point in my life, I just published it just a couple, three years ago, I released a book called, “Famous Faces Decoded: A Guide to Reading Others”. And the reason I did that is because, I lived a couple times here in passing to Dr. Paul Ekman, so he's considered the modern expert on facial coding. Although in addition to Darwin, I could even go back as far as Leonardo Da Vinci.
If you look at his notebooks, they include drawings of faces because he was interested in their, you know, the muscularity and how the muscles moves and which emotions they showed. And I really think it's a big reason why Mona Lisa is such an intriguing painting, because it was informed by his interest in science, just like Michelangelo was contemporary was actually doing likewise, but more focused on the body. So one gave us Mona Lisa, one gave us the statue, David, because they had different areas of interest, so to speak, even they were parallel interests.
Dr. Ekman, simply picked up the baton and ran with it and figured out with a colleague of the School of Medicine in San Francisco, you know, these expressions. His manual was like 500 pages. So when I got it, I read through. I was a good student. And I think based on my art history, interests, and even frankly, the fact that I fell in love with Rembrandt at age seven, because my mom took me to the Rights Museum in Amsterdam, and Rembrandt is greater portraiture work.
I think I had some real built-in advantages. And that time in Italy, where we moved for my dad's career, and I didn't know the language at first and went to Italian first grade, and the fishing village, waited all day for the math unit. But Italians have a lot of body language. And you know, that kind of gave me away. And so I had some advantages.
What I'm doing is, is making it simpler for people. So my book is much more accessible than the 500-page manual, definitely shorter, but gives you the secret sauce. So I think the book is really kind of operating on three levels.
One is I said, for some people, you know, maybe learning isn't so easy or attractive. I'll make it real fun, because I'll give them celebrities. I'll give them celebrity examples where they can follow along, but learn something new about these celebrities, in terms of their life stories, little tidbits. And that's kind of the setup piece. And they're celebrities who are Americans and for the last, you know, a couple of generations, and the celebrities were actually did something with their career. They're not just famous for being famous. You know, by and large, they actually did something.
That's kind of the first layer of the cake. And then the next layer was really to try to explain the emotions because that's step number two of EQ. Emotional Intelligence is understanding what the emotions are. And so most emotions really have and there's not necessarily a negative emotion or positive emotions, they both have, all have upsides and downsides. But just understand what are the possible triggers and ramifications for behavior because emotions have a storyline and let me ground this for people by one example, disgust.
With disgust, some really obvious things that might happen to do is your nose wrinkles, or your upper lip curls, it's almost as if nature is very literally saying, it stinks, my nose curl or wrinkles, it tastes bad, my nose, my mouth kind of lifts up and away from the offending taste. Think about the evolutionary advantage of this. You pick a fruit off the tree, you are at the watering hole, you know, we're talking 1000s of years ago, and, of course of evolution and civilization. Well, Disgust can give you or reinforces for this feeling, “Oh my God, that's a bad idea.” This fruit is rotten, that water is toxic, it's polluted, I shouldn't drink it, I shouldn't eat this. And you back off, because that's the storyline of disgust essentially, is something's toxic, poisonous, bad for you. And I'm out of here.
So that that's the, kind of the understanding. So the second tier of the book or of the cake, as it were, is, you know, what do these emotions mean. And then I have diagrams and photographs to explain how you reveal those emotions. So I actually deliver all three of those things. And I think I've tried to make the book as successful as I can without, you know, making it too dummy down that it's not actually accurate, or useful to somebody. And, you know, did all that in a couple 100 pages with fun examples, as opposed to a 500 page manual. And I think that's, I'm not just saying this, because I wrote it. I really think that's probably the most helpful thing out there in this specialty.
Dr. Lisa: I mean, yes. And so again, this is “Famous Faces Decoded”, I will be ordering this immediately after our conversation ends sir, by the way, because it sounds so fascinating. But I could totally see how you would really have to, like, see examples that you present in your book to be able to kind of put it together and know what to look for.
Dan Hill: Yeah, we're visual creatures. And yeah, there's no way you're gonna learn facial coding, without visuals. So I have plenty in there.
Confronting Others About Their Facial Codings
Dr. Lisa: Got it. Okay. But now, I have another question for you. So. So say, it sounds like such a huge, useful thing to do is to really put time and energy into getting more clear around facial expressions and what they mean so that you're better able to read people.
I'm just sort of putting myself in the mind of like a client that I meet by be talking to as a therapist or a coach who does that, and is in tune and is picking up on some of these subtle facial cues, you know, maybe from a work colleague or a boss, or maybe even their partner, asks what do I do with that, like, I know that somebody is maybe having this feeling.
As you said, just so insightfully if human was before, is that, that humans have a tendency to conceal. Their faces say one thing, but that if you ask them or try respond to that, they may or may not be willing to engage with you on that level and say, “Yes, I am actually feeling XYZ.” Like, it's easy for people to blow things off. And I think that that feels frustrating sometimes for people who know, on some level, but can't like engage with it directly. Do you know what I mean?
Dan Hill: Oh, absolutely. It comes up all the time. I mean, my advice when asked a question or came in as part of a discussion is to say, you're right, I mean, it's, you bring it up directly to them and say, there's a contradiction here. They're gonna feel embarrassed, they may not even be aware of it, they're gonna deny and shut you down. It's very unlikely that that's a good approach, how helpful approach to moving things forward.
I said to cite the poet Emily Dickinson who said, tell the truth, but tell it slant lest everyone go blind. To take things on, you know, head on probably just doesn't work. It's got to be done on a slant. And so you know, if I see something I might say, well, that's interesting. And we just play that out a little bit. So I'm training separation from the comment that I think is obviously not quite on the up and up, and just try to let them talk it through and maybe they realize themselves, you know, that's not all of what the answer is here, that's a little more complicated, or may even though work themselves out and say, you know, what I said a moment ago isn't quite accurate.
If they can get there themselves, and you don't have to push them, you might pull them a little bit or invite them to get there. That's a whole lot better. Or just say, I'm a little bit confused. You know, I, I kind of thought it was this, see, I'm trying to get these softening words in, no, I'm confused, you're taking agency on yourself. You're not making a declarative statement. Just ways that soften the path and see if you can keep them in the conversation, then maybe the revelation will come, the connecting of the dots, and it'll be a far nicer landing. That's what happens, as opposed to “you bloody liar.” That's not likely to go down well.
Dr. Lisa: No, I get it. That's just so helpful that, you know, it's a full frontal like very direct, I think maybe “you're feeling a little bit differently” will shut people down, they will feel attacked or defensive. And so what you're saying is that the advantage here is that if you, you have information, and then you can sort of move into a interpersonal stance, where you're helping them talk, cultivating emotional safety, and giving them you know, opportunities to sort of talk through with you because the other thing here, just based on what you were saying previously, is that they literally may not be consciously aware, in a moment of what their faces are telling you as the observer.
Dan Hill: Yeah. And I'm speaking from experience, I can tell you more than once I said to someone, you know, back in the day, you said something the other day, and you know, it kind of hurt my feelings. And I can't tell you how many times they deny they said it. And I have a pretty good memory. And you know, you do remember things, particularly when it's emotionally laden for you. But that's really how memory works in a lot of ways that it's something significant, and emotional, and you hold on to it.
Maybe it wasn't significant for them, because there was just this little jibe they made. But it was for the person who received it and felt hurt very significant. So I have a hard time imagining that I was really wrong about them saying those things. But boy, they didn’t own up. And if they didn't own up that we couldn't have the conversation. Because if I was crazy for having imagined that they could have possibly said such a thing, even when I'm quite certain they did. So that's how it gets to be so difficult.
Een when I tried to circle back indirectly, sometimes and say, “Have we ever discussed this topic before”, and then see if it came back, even, that's not always been helpful, because the mind in a lot of ways, like a paper shredder, we just, we just dump stuff as fast as we can. I mean, you would know these statistics, the brain is 3% of our body mass, and consumes 20% of our calories.
It's all about metabolic costs, as the psychologist would say, we're trying to preserve mental energy, and not use up more than we have to because, you know, if the brain suddenly took 100% of our calories, well, then we can't even walk or breathe, or do anything else. So we're awfully determined to try to keep it to 20.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, so kind of shredding things that the brain doesn't perceive as being significant, even if it was highly significant to another person. And I think, you know, going back to one of the first things that you said is that we're all kind of stuck in our silos of, you know, being very aware of how we, well sometimes, you know, we're, we're caught up in our own inner experience and that if when you said to your friend, “Hey, that hurt my feelings.”
Now, like, “What are you talking about?” Like, they just experienced it so differently, it's very difficult to have that empathy for the validity of somebody else's experience when it is so different from how you experienced the same situation.
Dan Hill: It's one thing with friends it's another thing I mean, I can think of at least one instance where it was a boss. And now you got power dynamics in there because you know, one needs the job, and they're in charge of your career. And you really can't push very far there at all. And yet, you know, just like in a romantic situation or with one's parents or children you know, these are real stakes. These are serious stakes and yet you're kind of on this uneven and very flawed playing field you know, and the balls not rolling evenly.
Self- Awareness and Understanding Others
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well and that's a such a good reminder right there because I know that I'm so like in my practice we really have two specialties. We do Like couples counseling, relational coaching kinds of things, and then it's and it seems like it would be different, but it's really not the other sort of post of our practice is around career development and professional growth.
I think that the link there is really in emotional intelligence and being able to understand yourself and manage relationships in both of those domains. But because of that, I know that we have a lot of people who may be listening to this podcast, who are in leadership positions, and who are very interested to develop their skills as a leader.
I'm just so glad that we're talking about this for their benefit, because what you're suggesting is that someone who is in a leadership position needs to become extremely careful to make sure that they are accurately reading the people that work for them or that they work with, because due to that power dynamic, the person in those sort of, you know, perhaps the employee position, may not feel able or even be able to bring up their feelings.
Dan Hill: And that's in a particular relationship, even in general, I mean, most statistics would suggest that no more than 10 to 20% of employees in a company feel like they can speak truth to power, or be very candid or transparent. And to go back to your example.
I mentioned my father was an executive, but I was a Director- Executive Communications for a Fortune 200 company, which meant that I was helping him prepare for his speeches, whether it was to shareholders, to employees, to the press, potentially, to nonprofit groups. I've done executive coaching, using facial coding and EQ for those same purposes. So yeah, that's another situation where the stakes are high. Because you know, these can be large audiences. There's moneyed interests involved here. Do you predict the stock price and you handle the press conference well, when there's a crisis or a scandal, some people do that well, I'd say a lot, don't do it terribly well. Because, you know, executives are used to being in charge and power.
One of the things that they can default to is anger, because now you're challenging my control, because I'm on the hot seat. And you're asking me to make an apology. I mean, the analogy I often make is, at least if you're like me, it's so much harder to back the car up than it is to go forward. I'm always afraid when I'm backing up that I'm going to hear that terrible crunch, where I hit the back bumper or worse of another car going forward. I don't, you know, it's the other driver’s mess. I don't really expect I'm going to cause a fender bender. You know, I can see more clearly that way.
Then, the combination of the rearview mirror and trying to turn around and look over my shoulder, which always leaves me feeling like, God, there must be a blind spot there somewhere. Some sliver of my vision field that I'm missing and haven't helped me if you know, it goes wrong.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. So you're saying to use this self-awareness and understanding of others to try to prevent problems as opposed to going back and then trying to fix them?
Dan Hill: Well, I'll give you an example. So we were talking about disgust and the poisoned waterhole earlier. It has a sister emotion or a male brother emotion whatever you want to say here. It would be contempt. Because, you know, it's also an aversive kind of backing off emotion in some ways. But contempt is really complicated because it's a smirk at the corner of the mouth. When we say Mona Lisa smile, she actually also smirks, although there's even more there than just the smirk. But there's a vast difference between a smirk and a smile.
In business, I sometimes say its profitability is the definition of that gap. Because contempt, a smirk means I don't trust you. I don't respect you. And it applies to both aspects of your practice, by the way, because, as you would know, with Dr. Gottman, John Gottman at the Love Lab of the University of Washington, Seattle, with 30 minutes of facial coding and 90% accuracy rate, if the couple will stay married.
Contempt is the most reliable indicator it will fail. But I also call it the, not just the emotion of divorce, but also of bankruptcy. Because now you have caused the target market not to trust you. And if trust is the emotion of business, I'm now in the wrong place. Because you know, I'm backing off from you, and I don't trust you, and I don't respect you. And therefore anything you say to me might seem like it's a lie. And you've created, you know, real problems.
I was once doing some executive coaching for a CEO and in the annual employee meetings, he was pretty given to contempt. But I'd said, you know, if you're trying to solicit their input, and feel like you're together with them, and that's what you're trying to convey, then contempt makes it feel like you're above them and removed from them. And it's kind of contrary to your goals. And that led to a really good conversation, it turns out, because he was a good person, and actually a psychology major as an undergraduate.
He appreciated the power of psychology and said, “No, it's not that at all. In fact, I do respect them. It's that I'm uncomfortable sometimes in the trappings of being a CEO. Sometimes I feel like I have to say things, feel things, to the shareholders, to the press.” He said, “I know the story's more complicated. We're not always without our blemishes.
Obviously, we're fallible like anyone else. And yet, I'm kind of told this line that I'm supposed to walk, and the things I'm supposed to say.” So he said, “to be really honest with you, Dan, I feel at times a little bit of contempt for myself, because I feel like I'm playing a role. And I'm not authentic.” And I said, “you know, if you told your employees that they would, they would understand you better, relate to you better.
It really be that kind of shining moment of truth that could really make them root for you as a leader.” And as you know, we met at a couple other occasions afterwards, down the road where he had got into some public speaking, and he did shift. And I'm not saying this, because I'm trying to Frankenstein people into someone they aren't or weren't or don't want to be. But I think it really actually reflected who he genuinely was. But he felt that trapped in a role.
Dr. Lisa: Well, how wonderful though, that you were able to kind of like see that in him and get him to talk about it in an authentic way with you and to be able to provide coaching. I'm thinking of the work of Brene Brown right now, like the power of vulnerability.
Dan Hill: Oh, absolutely.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, to be able to say, I'm not comfortable with this, because I think so often, you know, we feel like we need to, like a project this image that we have it all together. But you're saying and what your research, it sounds like that it sort of seeps through anyway, even if you're trying to, like maintain this facade. And that, and that the real way of creating those connections is to just be honest, well, I also heard you say that sometimes being direct is not always the best course of action
Dan Hill: Well, in this case, I try to reach my audience and the way I really framed it initially, because I didn't know what reception I would get was to say, you know, I think these are your goals, because I said, I've been a Director of Executive Communications. And I know, this is what you'd be trying to achieve, is to motivate, galvanize, engage your employees, so they, you have more productivity, that's the business goal. I said, so the business goal is being harmed by the communications goal. And even not the words, but the nonverbals. So really, I just laid out that contradiction first.
I kind of sat back in the woods and waited to see, you know, how the bear responded when they found the meat, you know, and the campsite. And, you know, all respect to him. He took it on. He said, yeah, that is a problem, that he admitted what he admitted to me, which is, you know, allowing for vulnerability, wanting authenticity, revealing what his value system was, he didn't have to do that for me. I, you know, I'm just a consultant, and not his wife. I'm not on the board of directors, he didn't have to do those things.
But he did do them. And it allowed him to grow, in my opinion, and the results we saw, and it's a real nice success story, without ever, you know, exactly putting him under the gun. I mean, I know the person who was his chief of staff was like, all nervous, you know, what are you going to tell him? You know, what did you see?
They were on pins and needles and I said, “I'm a good diplomat, you know, I'm a constructive person here. I'm not out to flame anybody diss anybody, destroy anybody's ego or career. That's not what this is about. So if you'll allow me the latitude, I need to do my work. I think I can ensure that you know, I will take it forward to the extent that, you know, the CEO is willing to take it forward. But I won't impinge.”
Dr. Lisa: Wow, yeah, that masterfully so I'm thinking of like the Montessori kind of philosophy right now like you creating a prepared environment and then it allows the student or the participant to engage and clearly this person was motivated toward growth and took the opportunity that you provided, but how lovely it must have felt good for you.
Dan Hill: It certainly did. I mean, I'm still here to talk about it today. So it was years ago, but it stuck with me. And I was really happy for the occasion. And you know, and then you just have to accept that. Sometimes it may not work that way. I mean, you know, I'm not the biggest baseball fan in the world, and I know the World Series is starting.
The truth of the matter is, you know, a great hitter, maybe gets the 300, and very few do, that means they're not getting to first base or beyond most times. So you just don't, you don't make a hit every time. And you do have to live with that. That's part of emotional intelligence actually, is not beating yourself or the other party up. Or the fact that not every time is, is that kind of success story, it just, sometimes it is what it is for now. It doesn’t mean it couldn't change later, they may even sleep on it, and come back. But you can't assume that everything's going to suddenly make the doors swing open, and the world looks different. It just doesn't tend to work that way necessarily.
The Power of Projection
Dr. Lisa: Well, good, good reminders, such interesting stories. And I know, I know, we probably don't have a ton of time left, but I have two other questions for you, if I may. And so one of them — and I hope that this is okay to ask.
As we've been sitting here talking, one of the things that I have been thinking about in that, you know, the facial decoding and reading other people is also the power of projection, and, how you are what you've observed about that, even potentially, in our research, and so I'm sure that you understand this well, but for the benefit of our listeners, so that the idea of of projection is that, particularly when it comes to how we interpret other humans is largely based on many of our early life experiences, attachment styles, and back in the day.
Like Sigmund Freud, and those guys would practice actually a form of therapy called psychoanalysis where the therapist was a blank canvas, they did not offer thoughts or, you know, they would just be that person sitting behind you scribbling notes in the chair and and that the person in therapy would sort of free associate for an hour, five days a week, and in doing so, would start to project all of these ideas and interpretations and personalities and thoughts and feelings on their therapist like so they would imagine that the therapist was angry with them, or hostile to them or in love with them. I mean, like could be all kinds of things.
But the idea of projection is also very real, that we tend to see in other people many times what we do experience in ourselves. And I'm curious what your research has uncovered about the interplay there, or how to even like, manage some of that. Does that make sense?
Dan Hill: Sure. Well, I think the way I approach that, at least, is kind of two levels. One is I'm in the moment, and am I projecting assumptions about why they're behaving this way? Why they thought this, why they feel that and I try to be really gingerly about that, because you don't know.
It is a wonderful comment from Bekenstein, no, it’s Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard said, “Out of the twisted timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
Dr. Lisa: No what was ever made?
Dan Hill: No straight thing was ever made. There's warps in the wood. There are knots. You just, you know, and I use that quote, sometimes to just remind myself do not project, do not assume. You know, because you can't know I have some glimmerings of what's their feeling. I can restate the question, go back with a topic. They may feel more than one emotion.
What's the interplay of those emotions? What's the sequence of the emotions even? Do they go from sadness to anger? Do they feel this is a really common one, someone could be afraid, then they get angry because they are uncomfortable being afraid. Or they're a guy and they want to mask the fear with anger? Because they think you know, men don't feel afraid, which of course is absurd. Naturally they do. So yeah, the blend that sequence of emotions, whether it comes back in another situation, so I see a recurring pattern. There's so many things there that I think you are alert to or need to recognize you can't jump in and make the assumptions.
On the other hand, for me, at least, I admit, it's a little tempting, not in the short term, but over time to say, Ah, is that kind of a signature expression of theirs? Because George Orwell, the writer said by the age of 50, a man has the face he deserves. We do have muscle memory. We do have patterns as human beings. We're very habitual creatures after all. And so it can be tempting to think I've got to make it really simple. I've got a hothead, they're rarely given to anger, I have a sad sack and they struggle with sadness.
Whatever the case may be, I've got a nervous Nellie, they're always afraid. But those are stereotypes, of course. And it's very unlikely that they fit the one budge bucket. And then the question is, if that is true, you know, what cost? You know, is it me? Is it a boss? Is that a primary relationship, including from earlier in their life? Yeah, you'd hope that it creates empathy, and the curiosity to understand the person as opposed to a judgment and potentially put down or a verdict.
I think I do well, in terms of trying to stay away from the put down. But it is tempting for me as an analyst, to just try to see if I think I can get there and unlock the clue on somebody. And so yeah, I don't want to say it's a parlor game or something. But when I watch people on TV being interviewed, having been on national TV myself, do I get tempted to try to kind of figure out this person, it's like, a 60 minutes episode, I got 20 minutes with them. Yeah, that's enough time, they're like, Oh, let's see if I can, you know, come away with a real sense of who this person is. So you know, that's fun. But you still have to be aware of the stakes and the risk availability.
Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, well, and you're so clearly like approaching this with a, like scientists mind, like, of I have a hypothesis, but I don't want to assume and I think I'm also reading through the lines here that your own self-awareness of those habitual patterns, because I'm just thinking to myself, like, over the years, one of the things that I have learned about myself, is it because it can be very tempting to like do mind-reading, and particularly in relationships, you know, people can run into trouble when they're like, I know how you feel.
What we're talking about is, you know, taking a more scientific approach, and really like looking at people's faces and trying to read their emotions to get that accurate information. But like, one of the things that I've learned is that, you know, it's easy for me to assume that people are upset with me, somebody is mad at me, or doesn't think well of me. Not to blame parents, but me, I had a kind of a critical dad. And so that was often true in childhood.
So now I sort of even have to like talk through that, like, you don't know that, you know, and just kind of like back away from that idea. But, I think, I think that self-awareness, just even just knowing that you have a tendency to make, like kind of key assumptions, could be helpful in staying in that reality-based place that you're talking about is like the taking more scientific approach of uncoding people's faces and understanding them.
Dan Hill: Yeah. Well, I think I can relate to what you just said. I think my father is a very smart and honorable person.
Dr. Lisa: Yes. I love my dad.
Dan Hill: Yeah. But in, in my case, I would say my dad was, could be given to a little bit of condescension, since he was smart and industrious. And so I'm particularly adept at picking up smirks and you're sensitive to them. And who's to say, you know, I don't know myself, but who's to say that the nine books that I've fathered, and all this work that I've done is in some way to try to gain the respect I don’t get in childhood easily. It could be, you know, yeah, I couldn't prove it in a court of law. But, you know, if I was on trial, I would have to confess that there was a distinct possibility that that's at least a part of the explanation
Dr. Lisa: Was your dad, the Norwegian one?
Dan Hill: Yes.
Dr. Lisa: Okay. My dad, Belgian. I'm a first-generation Belgian American, and I think there is something to that, Dan, I really do. Yeah, I really do. Well, then, so the other question that I had for you. So there's one side of this, I'm imagining, which is really learning how to understand what other people are showing through their faces.
I'm so curious to know about the other side, because I would imagine that people might want to use this knowledge to manage their own facial expressions in such a way that they are being careful about what they're kind of communicating to others. I'm curious to know if and maybe we could talk about your clients but I'm also curious about you. Have you noticed yourself kind of consciously shifting what you are doing with your face when you're talking to people?
Dan Hill: The answer is absolutely no, because I decided almost immediately once I got into this that I was not going to go back and look at my videotape, my TV appearances from my speech. at conferences, I didn't want to put myself in a fishbowl.
I wanted to highlight authenticity. The reason I became a facial coder is because I liked it is that an objective tool, or at least I can say quasi-objective, since there's probably nothing that's truly, utterly objective in the world. But to try to faithfully use the tool with the researcher, Dr. Ekman to try to get a lens on what's happening, it could be to make companies more efficient. But honestly, my interest in business had almost entirely to do now with, you know, bottom-line profitability. I do, like I do like to have, you know, efforts that are fruitful, as opposed to stupid and wasteful.
I was interested in restoring humanity to business, and getting recognized that whether it's your customers or your employees, your colleagues, that why don't you treat them better. I mean, I've been to enough office politics, you know, it's probably why I wrote the “Blah, Blah, Blah” book, like, I'm thinking of office, politics, and bullies, and all those head games that go on. But I know I never wanted to look at myself, but I do know, because I just, I can't avoid it sometimes.
I gave a speech once where it was the chairman of Nokia, Nokia kind of imploded. It was the chairman of Nokia and the CFO of Nokia, and then me, three of us on the stage back to back to back 15,000 People in the hall in Barcelona. The screens behind me were like I was born out with a YouTube concert. I mean, they were, I think, I'd guess roughly 52 screens, each of them 50 feet high, and 100 feet wide, behind me. So could I avoid seeing myself? Not so much.
I do know at least one thing, but I don't harbor it or belabor it, I can be given to showing a lot of surprise. And I guess, therefore some fear on my face, because those two emotions are quite similar. And I think there's an explanation for it in part, which is, I wasn't always that aware of human nature growing up.
I was pretty isolated as a boy, in Italy, you know, the boys I did play with were older than me. And so when you got a big age gap, at that point, it's a little difficult. They didn’t definitely want to hang with a younger boy. The one boy who was my age was, you know, not very athletic, and maybe not as lively, even intellectually, so he wasn't a companion, I was seeking out. Especially I spent a lot of time going on long walks along the Italian Riviera, up in the hills in the olive orchards on my own.
I read copiously and read a lot of books as a kid. So I think to this very day, there are times where human nature just shocks me, baffles me, leaves me bewildered because I expect higher standard, I expect more thoughtfulness, more sensitivity, more owning up to something that actually happens. And so I seem to be potentially always in a state of being “Oh, really?”
But at least I guess the upside of that is that also indicates that I'm willing to be very curious, and continue to learn, which is true. So just like every emotion has an upside and a downside. That can be the two coins, or sides of the coin in this case. So I know that much about myself. I do think that in the progress of understanding emotions, I probably made by and large and adjustment to being more calm.
When you run a company as I have, it's a lot of stress. And you either buckle under it, or you learn to cope with it better. And I think I got, yeah, I'm not perfect, but I think my ability to cope with snafus and stress and things that come up is vastly improved. And I think one of the motivations I have to be a tennis player, and I'm almost exactly at this very close within half a year of being the same age as John McEnroe.
We're both lefties. Now am I as good as John, not even close. But I did watch John's career and at some point, I started feeling embarrassed for John because he was a great champion. But he was out of control. He got tossed from tournaments, he got fined, he undercut himself. He's a great commentator now for the US Open. I mean, he just, you know, really cuts through and has some insightful things. And he really knows the game and you never know he's going to quite say. So it's really exciting to listen to him.
But there was a point in his career. I was like, No, John, you know, you're maybe when you're 23 and you haven't matured. I can cut you some slack. But now you're a 32-year-old player. And you're still getting into these kinds of shenanigans. Yeah, it's wrong. It's embarrassing.
Dr. Lisa: Just for the benefit of some of our some of our younger listeners. So John McEnroe was a very famous tennis player back in the day who was legendary for like freaking out on the tennis court like, straight up tantrums, like throwing his racket, like stomping off, like all kinds of things.
Dan Hill: Once in the tournament in Sweden in a year where he went like, I think at three and four, he lost four matches in the entire year. In a match that I think he went on to lose, maybe didn't, but anyway went berserk yelling at the ref and everybody else, he whacked a tennis ball at one point into the stands and barely avoided hitting, I think it was the king of Sweden, in the face, with the tennis ball. So he's the number one player in the world for several years, you know, a legend in the sport. Did he reach his full potential? I don't think he did.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, and so there's certainly a benefit to being able to control your own emotions. But I also just, I want to recognize what you said. Because when I asked you, you know, if you've used this information to kind of, I mean, I can't, this is a terrible word, but it's the right word to almost like, manipulate how other people see you, I heard you say that you made deliberately a conscious choice to use these superpowers, so to speak, for the purpose of good and just like sitting with you and talking with you, Dan, you seem just like a very genuine, ethical, like, just good.
I don't know that you and we don't know each other that well. But that's the energy that you give. And I'm just, I'm so glad that you are sort of the steward of this information, these things that you've learned about it? Because I would imagine as you're teaching them to others, it's for the purpose of helping them be more effective and more empathetic in relationships, as opposed to using the information.
Dan Hill: Yeah, be that's yeah, that's all true. And if I just close my eyes for a moment, there's we're talking, which is a sign of sadness, because, there are, of course, people who use it for other reasons. Just to pick up on one, the Chinese government, there's a very large company. All the companies in Silicon Valley are basically at work automating facial coding, they're not very accurate so far, but they're at work doing this.
But so true for a Chinese company, worth billions tied into the Chinese government and using this to monitor the Uighurs. Rather, it's how you say it, the Uighurs in northwest China, who are Muslim. So it's being used as a tool of oppression in that case, because it's monitoring their emotions and behavior and trying to indoctrinate them. So this can have very large stakes. But yes, I am trying to be benign, beneficent, positive, ethical, and my use of the tool, whether involves myself or others. That's, you know, that's my purpose. But I'm aware that it could be used for other reasons.
EQ: Emotional Quotient
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, well, but that I mean, my takeaway is just how much good it can do to to be more aware of the needs and rights and feelings of the people around you, so that you can have closer and more connected relationships with them. And really, like more emotional intimacy is like my big takeaway is that when you become good at understanding how other people are feeling, by that you can open the door for those really emotionally intimate moments like the ones that you discussed, you know, with, with your coaching clients and other situations.
Dan Hill: Yeah, I mean, it's all about EQ. And I wrote the book, you know, “Famous Faces Decoded.” I was lucky that I talked to him about an endorsement from John Mayer, who's one of the three founders of EQ movement. The other two are both at Yale University, and he's up in New Hampshire. And he pointed out gives you probably there's a lot of inflated claims as to what EQ could do for you, he said, but it's a very solid like 6% advantage.
I went well, because I know being a tennis player, and having been on Tennis Channel twice with Mary Carillo, interviewing me that the greatest players in the world are Roger Federer, or Serena Williams, on average, even when they're number one in the world, they were in 53% of their points, on average. That's it. So the margin to winning you lose, even when you're the very best in the world is not very large. So 6% advantage, you might go. That's not much. That's a lot. That's an awful lot. And it's the separation between EQ and IQ. IQ is relatively fixed. That's my understanding of it. EQ isn't fixed. It can grow, it can embellish. And they should work together as opposed to just EQ being silent now give you maybe one last instance here as we're wrapping up.
So I'm at Rutgers. I'm getting my PhD, and I'm going to be teaching courses now in my case. I'd already taught both at Brown University Of course, and for two years full time at a state university before I came back for the PhD so I was versed as a teacher but my fellow classmates were not. The truth of matters, the students at, you know, even at Rutgers, they pay a good amount of money for the tuition. The chorus is the time and the money, and yet, you're gonna put me in a classroom. And maybe I know the content, and maybe I got the IQ part down.
But do I know how to teach? Do I know how to interact with the students? There wasn't one second that I can think of that we spent on EQ skills, even though that particular course was supposed to be a training course, to prepare us to be, you know, in the classroom, as teachers. It's kind of absurd. And if you look at where the economy is headed, skill sets will evaporate.
Technology is such that, you know, things get overturned immediately. So I know your podcast, one of the words in the title, and we didn't talk nearly enough about love, and relationships. But if you want to just end it for a moment on success, success is going to depend a lot on soft skills going forward. Yeah, I think your ethics, your flexibility, agility, you know, all those things that get poo pooed sometimes, because those are permanent, and they can be built on and your so-called hard skills, those are actually the soft ones.
They may be the erased skills, the invisible skills, the obsolete skills. So what was wrong about how we got prepared for the classroom at Rutgers is a problem that all sorts of classrooms are making, and all sorts of companies are making universities, colleges, businesses, organizations in general, should never underestimate the importance of EQ.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, what a powerful message that culturally, we've been kind of over-prioritizing intellectual informational IQ type of knowledge. And what I'm hearing you say, is that the robots are coming for us all and all of the informational things, that's the part that we like, can't come things change so fast. But the soft skills, the compassion, emotional intelligence, flexibility, those are the things that are going to endure. And so that to your point, that it's really worth if you're going to invest in anything to be successful in, professionally and relationally, it's to really develop your skills in that area, because that's what matters.
Dan Hill: Yeah, I mean, if he just follows the progression, I mean, yeah, machinery, you know, started to step in and take over and do as well, what our backs could do, and our arms and our legs, lifting and making things work. And now we work in conjunction with them, but they do the bulk of it. The same thing is going to happen with the IQ side, we can supplement the robots, we can fill in, collaborate, but the robots are going to be better at some point, maybe even now, at times in that area.
Probably the one thing we can hold on to best actually is our hearts and our creativity and ingenuity, and ability to collaborate. And that's why this is also important. And facial coding can help you because it's right in the moment. It's what's happening. And you can pivot it and respond and utilize it. And that’s the opportunity. I think it's a real sweet spot where people could be and believe me the same they can help in your personal relationships, too. So anyway, we'll leave it at that.
Dr. Lisa: Oh, what a beautiful idea for us to glide to a halt. And, and a beautiful segue for me to remind everybody where they can find your books, if they like me are going to be. I, as soon as we hang up, I'm going to be getting all of these books that you mentioned from Amazon, because I really want to learn about this. But the one is “Famous Faces Decoded” to learn how to understand facial expressions, and another, what the most recent book is “Blah, Blah, Blah: A Snarky Guide to Office Lingo.”
If you want to get a handle on how to manage some office politics, and I mean, again, you've written nine books and so there's all kinds of information and guidance that you offer. But you can find all of it on Dan's website, which is sensorylogic.com Access to his books and you have a podcast as well.
Dan Hill: I do. It's called Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight. It's on the New Books Network. It's the largest book review site in the world gets about 1,000,007 downloads a month, not just me, but for everybody who's on it, and set up by a former Harvard Russian studies professor who is best I understand it had tenure, but walked away because he didn't think it was interesting enough anymore.
He was going through the motions too much and wanted a different way to bring knowledge to people in the world. So you can check that out of the new books network, Dan Hill's EQ spotlight, and you're right there are the books the ones you've already mentioned, other business books, and even a book called Art, a book on democracy and political leaders getting all the US presidents that I've facially coded. So I can't say I've covered everything under the waterfront but I hit a number of topics over time.
Dr. Lisa: Definitely an authority. But thank you so much for just coming and, and sharing your wisdom with us today. This has been a fascinating conversation. I really enjoyed speaking with you. So thank you for doing this with me.
Dan Hill: Absolutely, thanks for the good conversation.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Music Credits: “Gaga” by Julian St. Nightmare
How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
What you believe about yourself holds so much power. But it's easy to get tricked into believing the devil inside — your self-limiting beliefs. Self-limiting beliefs are so dangerous because they often masquerade as “truth.” But buying into them only creates pain, and damages your self-esteem, your career, and your relationships. On this episode of the podcast, I'm teaching you how to identify your limiting beliefs and overcome them.
The Devil Inside — Self-Limiting Beliefs
As a Denver therapist and online life coach, I work with clients to overcome their limiting beliefs and tap into new and healthier beliefs that support the lifestyle they actually want to live. And I know that this work isn’t easy. Our beliefs hold so much power. Beyond our external circumstances, which we sometimes have no control over, what we think and believe can dictate the paths we take. We have so much freedom and control over our choices, and we can make decisions that will help us grow and thrive in every area of our lives.
However, we may forget the power we hold because of the insidious little devil inside us: telling us that something’s impossible by virtue of us not being good enough. Alternatively, we may have these personal rules that govern our everyday lives. While functional, they may not really be serving our highest good. It’s time to reexamine these self-limiting beliefs and open yourself up to the possibilities outside of the space you’ve boxed yourself into.
In this episode, we’ll be unpacking self-limiting beliefs and their effects on our lives. We’ll start by highlighting why it’s important to be aware of these oftentimes unconscious beliefs. Then, we’ll give several examples of self-limiting beliefs. Finally, we’ll map out the steps to identify, examine, and shift these beliefs so that you can live a happy and fulfilling life.
If you want to learn how you can grow and affect positive change in your life, then tune in to this episode!
In This Episode: Self-Limiting Beliefs, You Will…
Discover the power of your thoughts and beliefs and how they contribute to positive change and growth.
Uncover the reasons why your thoughts and beliefs can hold you back.
Learn what self-limiting beliefs are and how they impact your self-esteem.
Understand that self-limiting beliefs can be challenged and shifted.
Why It’s Important to Be Aware of Your Self-Limiting Beliefs
While external circumstances in our lives can prove challenging to our journey towards personal growth and positive change, we often struggle more with the subconscious limiting beliefs we hold. These devils inside of us bombard us with a toxic inner narrative. They tell us that we’re not good enough, why something won’t work, or why we can’t do something.
Although these self-limiting beliefs don’t have a basis in truth, they can still hold you back. They keep us from thriving and growing into what we were meant to be. Because of these self-critical thoughts, we can think that there is no path forward. Now, don’t be discouraged. It may take work, but you are entirely capable of recognizing and challenging your limiting beliefs. Once you shift your limiting beliefs or incorporate new beliefs, you’ll find that there actually is a path forward.
What Are Limiting Beliefs?
Can you think back over your life and pinpoint a time where you could have done something that you were genuinely interested in and might have always wanted to do – but you didn’t? Chances are, a big part of why you didn’t take the chance is because you mentally set yourself on fire. You identified many reasons why that amazing opportunity wouldn’t work out for you… and that caused paralysis. This negative stream of self-talk and self-criticism held you back from even trying.
However, the “could-haves” aren’t even the worst of it: limiting beliefs can even burrow themselves into our day-to-day lives. They come in the form of expectations of how we should be and how we compare ourselves to others. The narrative can look a lot like the following:
I need to be perfect.
I need to have friends, success, and certain personality traits.
I didn’t get the results I wanted; therefore, I’m a failure.
Here, we can see that self-limiting beliefs are tied to self-esteem. At the core of low self-esteem are these highly negative self-limiting beliefs about who you are and how that compares to what those self-limiting beliefs tell you you should be. Can you relate? We’ve all experienced self-limiting beliefs holding us back from time to time. It’s time to change that.
Overcoming Limiting Beliefs
In essence, self-limiting beliefs tell you that you’re not good enough now and that you can be better. This may sound like a positive thing. But don’t be fooled. Beating yourself up and criticizing yourself isn’t helping you. It’s actually limiting your growth.
Instead of being overly self-critical, try creating a space for emotional safety through self-compassion. This can look like:
Supporting yourself in difficult moments.
Having compassionate understanding for why you do the things you do.
Honoring your feelings, needs, and rights.
As you learn to hold space for emotional safety, you also foster a growth mindset. You learn how to love yourself even if you sometimes experience non-ideal outcomes.
The Power of Belief
Aside from impeding our growth, self-limiting beliefs also impact how we connect with others. If you feel as if you’re not worthy of love, you can end up being hyper-vigilant in your relationships. You may also tend to reject others before they can reject you. After all, you believe that they’ll do so eventually.
We’re all vulnerable to self-limiting beliefs. We all have these rules about what should happen and what needs to happen. Andonce you have set an idea of what’s possible and what’s not, it’s difficult to veer away from those beliefs. That’s why it’s important to build relationships with others that can help you see things more clearly. As friends, family, and coworkers challenge your beliefs, you may begin to realize that your “truths” aren’t necessarily the same truth for others. It's also for this reason that life coaching is valuable – working with a really good life coach can provide you impeccable insight into your self-limiting beliefs and what you can do to overcome them. At some point, we need to have a mirror held up to us so that we can take a look. This mirror allows us to rethink our beliefs and challenge the belief’s truthfulness.
How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
The first step to overcoming limiting beliefs is being aware of their existence.
Step two is understanding the self-limiting belief’s function. These self-limiting beliefs may seem ridiculous as you examine them. However, if you want to overcome your limiting beliefs, it won’t do you any good to dismiss them or get mad at them. Acknowledging that these beliefs have a function and uncovering what that role may be can help you overcome them. Oftentimes, these self-limiting beliefs serve a protective function.
Identifying Your Limiting Beliefs
Say someone gives you advice about something you’ve been complaining about. You may be inclined to argue or become indignant. Instead of insisting on your idea, take the feedback in and think about your reaction to others’ advice. Your reaction may be because you have a limiting core belief that was put in the spotlight. Others may see the possibilities that you either don’t see or that you feel is impossible.
Another indication that you have a limiting belief is when a thought or idea leads to:
When we are in this space, we actively think about the impossibilities or the negative outcomes that may come about. A common example of this is saying that you don’t have time to exercise regularly because of your circumstances. However, we all have 1440 minutes in a day to do as we wish, and when you realize that the choices you make and what you prioritize play a role in your circumstances, you can start to make real, lasting change.
The dynamic then shifts from “I can’t” to “I am making different choices.” At the end of this reflection, you may still choose not to exercise. What’s important here is the choice. You bring back power and personal responsibility to yourself.
Finally, any idea that makes you feel bad about yourself is a powerful core belief that leads to an emotional spiral. If you understand the driver of this negative internal dialogue, you can create space for a kinder, more helpful one.
It’s important to note that it takes hard work to unpack your core beliefs, figure out their functions, and find a way to shift them. This is where a good therapist or coach can help support you traverse paths that were previously blocked.
Resources for Self-Limiting Beliefs
Subscribe to our website and other platforms to get updates on our latest episodes.
Listen to other episodes of the Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast:
The music in this episode is Gaga by Julian St. Nightmare. You can support them and their work by visiting their Instagram account.
Each portion of the music used in this episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Please refer to copyright.gov for more information.
Enjoy the Podcast?
Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about self-limiting beliefs? How has this episode helped you identify yours? Tell us by commenting on this episode. Subscribe to us now to discover more episodes on living a life full of love, happiness, and success.
[Intro music: Gaga by Julian St. Nightmare]
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: That is Julian St. Nightmare with Gaga, kinda reminds me of old Bauhaus, but better. I like it. I love to do a Halloween-themed episode every year, not just because it gives me an excuse to resurrect old gothy music or new gothy music. But because, I don't know this time of year, it's just like an invitation for you and I to dive in to some deeper, even darker, aspects of the human psyche together.
Today, we're talking about something incredibly important for all of us, which is the devil inside. Yes, friends, self-limiting beliefs, and the havoc they can wreak on our lives, and how to manage them successfully so that they are no longer obstacles in your way. That's what we're doing together on today's episode of the podcast. I'm so excited to talk about this because unchallenged self-limiting beliefs are a major problem for a lot of people. So my hope is that by the end of today's show, you'll get some clarity, perhaps even some insight into your own self-limiting beliefs and also some strategies for how to work with them.
If this is your first time listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I'm so glad you're here. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching, which is a group practice with all kinds of extremely cool people. We have so much fun together. We do marriage counseling, relationship coaching, individual therapy, life coaching, and career coaching. Hence, Love, Happiness and Success.
Every week I'm here in your ear, talking about hopefully helpful ideas and tips and strategies that can help you, support you rather, I should say, on the path of creating love, happiness, and success in your life. So I always want to talk about you and what is important to you. If you have questions for me or topic ideas for the show, please get in touch. You can track me down at growingself.com, on Instagram at drlisamariebobby. You can even send an old-fashioned email. You can even call us on the phone. Heck, we do answer the phone. So get in touch, let me know what's going on and what you'd like to hear about on the podcast. And thank you for being here today.
Why It’s Important to Be Aware of Your Self-Limiting Beliefs
Let's dive into this juicy topic of self-limiting beliefs. First of all, we need to talk about why it is so important to be aware of your self-limiting beliefs. I've been a therapist for a long time, a coach, I have also been a human, and like seeing this at work in my own life, and what I have seen time and time again, is that the number one biggest obstacle for people that they really struggle to overcome on their path of personal growth or positive change or improving their relationship or pivoting in their career are not their external circumstances.
Although things going on in our lives can be objectively challenging and very real, a much bigger issue for most people are the beliefs that they carry in the sight of themselves about who they are, and what is possible for them. And if the beliefs they're carrying are negative, or pessimistic, or tell themselves that they can't do it, or it isn't going to work if they try, or these are all the reasons why it's not gonna work out, they will never experiment. They won't take risks. They won't try to create positive change because they don't believe it's possible. Because of that, they remain very, very stuck in these old ways of being that are no longer serving them and also can feel like they are just surrounded by obstacles just hemmed in by a fence on all sides, not because they always are in reality, but because their self-limiting beliefs tell them they are. So that is what they experience.
A lot of the work that I find myself doing with clients over and over and over again is helping them identify these self-limiting beliefs. Just even knowing that they're there is work because they feel true, right? These ideas that we're all carrying around like the world and us they just, they feel like the truth. But so to realize them, and then also learn how to understand them, and then work with them a little bit differently. It is challenging work. But when people are able to set aside or kind of shift some of those beliefs or incorporate new beliefs, all of a sudden, things that felt so hard, feel much easier than when it had felt like there's walls and obstacles all around you. All of a sudden, there's a path forward. And it's really amazing to watch that happen.
That is my hope for you because the alternative is just so awful. If we do not believe that we can create better outcomes, or if we have all of the list of reasons why things won't work, we don't try. Instead, we just feel paralyzed. We feel stuck. Things feel hard. There is no path forward. And again, not because there is truly, literally no path forward but because of that devil inside, the story, we're telling ourselves and the self-limiting beliefs that go unchallenged. So it's a very real issue. And if you're on the path of growth, it has to be dealt with, sooner or later. We all carry these things.
I'm glad we're here together today. I wanted to subtitle this episode, “the devil inside” because that is often, not like you're actually possessed by a demon, but that's kind of what it feels like when people first start becoming aware of self-limiting beliefs and this internal dialogue in their mind. Sometimes, I've had clients who are almost horrified when they're able to really understand the way that they have been talking to themselves, this inner narrative is quite toxic. It's mean to them. It's telling them about all of the reasons why things won't work, or why they're not good enough, or that they can't trust people, or bad things always happen. And it really can be very damaging.
Again, it's a beautiful thing when people can understand what is happening because it is often subconscious. It is unconscious. Again, if we don't fully understand when something is happening, we do not have any opportunity to change it because you don't know it's there. It makes you feel bad. It influences your behaviors, but it's like this invisible force in our lives. Understanding what our filter is, what our personal narrative is, what that voice is, is really like three-quarters of the battle.
On the bright side, it is a battle that is winnable, not sure if that's a word, but you can be victorious over self-limiting ideas and beliefs and self-criticism when you are able to shift into a more supportive relationship with yourself and very intentionally create a more helpful and supportive inner narrative, a more personal narrative that has hope, an inner dialogue that is more positive or more helpful, but again, like more compassionate towards you.
I don't want to lead you to believe that the opposite of self-limiting beliefs or difficult inner critic is swapping that out with a bunch of positive thoughts because that's not always helpful. What is always helpful is having a different kind of relationship with yourself, a relationship that's based on honesty, but also authenticity, and compassion, and compassionate support, but also reality-based support. We have to start being a little bit skeptical of our thoughts to make this happen.
What Are Limiting Beliefs?
Let’s go into this a little bit more deeply. What are limiting beliefs? What does this look like in someone's life? I think that it can be helpful to think about… I think it's easier to see in other people sometimes than it is in ourselves. An example, and you might know somebody like this in your own life, but I know a person, mid-career creative type who had an opportunity to take a year away from their full-time job and focus entirely on their art. It's amazing. Maybe they could start a new business or do some freelance artwork. They actually had been doing some freelance design work that they had already had some success with. So, not outside the realm of possibility, but really this opportunity to live this, lifetime dream of living as an artist, and just being able to make art every day. That's like the holy grail for a lot of creatives. Right?
They were given this opportunity and lined everything up, financially. They would be okay, objectively. Everything was alright, and they finally had time and space to pursue their art and just see what happened. And then, mentally, basically set themselves on fire, just torturing themselves with these self-limiting beliefs around, “I can't do this. I'm not talented enough. I don't have the right skills. This is a super competitive industry. There are so many people just like me. They're probably more talented than I am. I'm mediocre.”
Also, telling themselves stories about how difficult it is to get this kind of freelance work: “I'll be rejected. Oh, these people don't want to hear from me. They have hundreds of pitches all the time. I'm just another person bothering them.” But also going into: “I ruined my life. What did I do by taking this time off? This was terrible. My former coworkers are going to hate me. What was I thinking that I could even do this? I just ruined my career for nothing.”
It's really bad, just this monologue of just really negative self-limiting beliefs, negative self-talk, self-criticism to the point where it paralyzed this person. They had this really cool opportunity to live the dream, but so bound up by what they are telling themselves about the situation, that not only can they not do any creative work, but it's just totally stuck of like, “Should I go back to my job? Should I try?” Just feeling so bad, not even being able to try to take some time and see what might be possible. I mean, it's just awful.
I think on some level, we can all relate to that, maybe not in such a clear and dramatic example, but moments in our own lives when we've had chances or looking back could have done something, and we didn't. That’s often why is because of what we were telling ourselves about this situation. It is very inhibiting. It creates paralysis. We don't take action when we have that going on.
Self-limiting ideas can show up in a lot of other ways. Certainly, when we have opportunities to try things or take chances, that's when self-limiting ideas can be activated, but even day-to-day, around our expectations for who we should be and how we compare to others. It's often some variation of this quite subconscious, but the narrative is, “I need to be perfect. I need to not make mistakes. I need to have all of these friends, or successes, or things going on in my life, or personality, just like, all of these things.” And any kind of anything, almost, can be interpreted as a failure or not quite good enough. “Somebody else is doing it better. I didn't get the results that I wanted; therefore, I suck.”
When you go into the core of self-esteem, which we have talked about on other podcasts, you can go back in my feed and look at look for some of the self-esteem-related podcasts that I've put together for you. But really, that is at the core of low self-esteem are these highly negative self-limiting beliefs about who you are and how that compares to what those self-limiting beliefs tell you you should be. And it's so tricky. This is what really messes people up is that in these situations, self-limiting beliefs that tell you that you should be different, you should be better, you should be more, you should be… At the core of it, the message is, “Cuz you're not good enough the way you are now.” Right? But they're sort of this frenemy.
You have this voice in your head that's telling you that you should be better or that you could be better. It’s like this weird mean-girl thing because it almost sounds good. It sounds like somebody is encouraging you to be better, to grow, to work on self-improvement, to attain these personal goals, right? It's easy to get tricked into believing that it's helpful to you, that it's motivating you in some ways. Sometimes, that is also one of the very sneaky, self-limiting beliefs that people are carrying without even realizing it is this idea that “Me beating myself up and criticizing myself is actually helping me. If I stop doing that, I'll stop moving forward. I won't be motivated. I won't even try if I stopped screaming at myself on the inside. I have to do this or otherwise, I will definitely be a failure.” It's like having this “friend” that’s super mean to you. But it's like your only friend. And somehow you've gotten tricked into believing that it's here to help you.
Overcoming Limiting Beliefs
I am here to tell you that it isn't helping you. It is actually impairing growth. Because being self-critical, it's like having this bully, this abusive thing that lives in your mind. It's always putting you down. It's beating you up for not making mistakes or making mistakes. It tells you that you're wrong when you're too vulnerable. It tells you that you're wrong when you're not vulnerable enough. Anything you try, it's wrong. Other people are better than you. You don't know what you're doing. It's never gonna work out. If you've ever listened to other podcasts of mine, you'll know that this kind of internal hostility is essentially the opposite of what is necessary for growth, which is emotional safety.
Growth is fertilized, it is cultivated through the opposite of self-criticism, which is self-compassion, and being able to support yourself in difficult moments, and understand compassionately why you do the things that you do, and honor your feelings, and your needs, and your rights. That kind of internal emotional safety fosters a growth mindset that allows you to try things, and take chances, and get up and dust yourself off, and say, “Okay, what did I learn from that? I'm going to try this again.” It’s like having this internal supportive coach, or a parent, or a real friend that is able to love you, and care about you, and encourage you, even if you make mistakes along the way.
It's the voice that reminds you that that is actually how people learn, is by trying things and putting yourself out there. “What happened when I did this, and what can I learn? How do I support my growth, instead of beating myself up and feeling terrible every time I put my little head out and try something different, or feeling like I should already know this? Therefore, I'm not going to read a book or listen to a podcast. Because what's wrong with me that I don't know how to do this already, everybody else knows how to do this?” It's really just not helpful.
If growth, I'd like you to imagine it's like this little, little leaf unfurling itself in the sun, right? It has roots in fertile soil. It requires warmth, and sunlight, and support, and hope. This kind of inner hatred, this mean-girl self-limiting belief thing is exactly the opposite of that. It's like walking up to that little leaf and just spraying it with bleach, or round up, or some kind of toxic, whatever horrible chemical kills plants. That’s the internal effect of really negative self-limiting beliefs on growth. It impedes growth. Because of that, that is why our self-limiting beliefs make it really impossible to move forward or to grow while they're active.
Because when you have this list of really powerful, unchallenged, or subconscious, self-limiting beliefs, you will, A, feel like you're incapable of doing anything anyway. So what's the point? Or you will talk yourself out of everything. You will have all of these reasons why things won't work. “Oh, I tried that before that didn't work. I can't do that. It's going to be futile to try. Or it isn't going to end well. Or these are all the rules I have in my head about what needs to be happening for X, Y, Z to happen.”
Sometimes, you might have non-ideal outcomes. That is a thing. When you have self-limiting beliefs, you will never find out what might have happened because you already know that it won't work. “Why bother trying? I'm not good enough. I can't do that.” And so these beliefs will just create so many obstacles, and hurdles, and rules, and complications, and things just feel so darn hard that people give up. They just feel so painted into a corner. “I guess this is my life.” Even though they want more, it's this inner experience that is just truly, truly limiting.
The Power of Belief
The other piece here, though, that's important is that these kinds of ideas do not just make us feel badly about ourselves or destroy our ability to grow or create change. They also impact our relationships. When we have self-limiting beliefs, they are terrible for relationships because these beliefs will tell us that we are not worthy or lovable, which can make us feel very anxious about whether or not we're being loved and hyper-vigilant about what our partner is doing or not doing and what that means about us and their relationship with us. Or it can make us do other kinds of weird things, like reject other people before they reject us because they're going to. We've all seen that play out in people's lives.
These self-fulfilling beliefs about ourselves, and what to expect in relationships can really become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We either wind up getting super reactive and strangling relationships to death, or we reject people and are so self-protective and avoidant that we don't even give people a chance. More on the subject, if you'd like to cruise back and listen to a podcast that I did a while ago about trust issues, and what to do with trust issues and relationships. It's a lot about that. In that podcast, though, I'm talking about the outcome of these self-limiting beliefs. Sometimes, to be fair, people have had legitimately traumatizing life experiences, or past experiences in relationships were really hurtful. So, that is definitely a thing that needs to be to be worked through.
Many times though, these early experiences have become these beliefs about what I can expect from humans. And what is true about me that we can carry with us for many, many years into the future, and unexamined, unexplored, unchallenged. So we then act as if these things are true, these things that we are telling ourselves, the things that we believe are true, with sometimes devastating consequences to our relationships. So it's very important to examine our self-limiting beliefs in the context of our relationships in order to be able to ferret some of this out, especially if your goal is to have healthy relationships.
I also just want to add, I'm going to out myself here, but we are all vulnerable to self-limiting beliefs. We all carry them. I am not talking about other people's self-limiting beliefs, right now. I am talking about your self-limiting beliefs. I'm talking about my self-limiting beliefs because we literally all have them. It was so interesting. I participate in a coaching group. I love coaching. I can't get enough of it. But I thought I'd do a group coaching thing for people who have businesses like me. In this one group event, we all… There's like five or six of us we’re sitting in a circle, a virtual circle. This was by Zoom but still was a circle. We took turns talking about a business issue, like a stressor or a pain point that we were having.
We talk about the issue, and then everybody had the opportunity to get feedback from the group. This is a group of really, quite successful business people, people who really had a lot of good ideas and good guidance. And it was so interesting. Because every single person, I was one of the last ones, but I watched every single person talk about a problem they were facing, and the things they tried, and all these things that didn't work. And then, the group gave feedback. Every single person was like, “Yeah, but here's why that won't work.” Or, “Well, but with our system, here's what we do.” It was so interesting because they were all getting really good advice. And I just sat there watching this process.
It was like every person actively repelling really good advice. And I realized, it was because they were clinging to these ideas about the way things should be, ideas about what was possible, and what was not possible. They had already pre-decided the outcomes of trying different things and had all these reasons why they didn't work. It was just fascinating.
For one person, it was like, “Well, this is what we look for in an employee.” After, he'd been spending quite a bit of time telling us about the struggles that he was having hiring people, by the way. “So this is what we're looking for.” And so, ideas about maybe different kinds of people, or different personality traits, or different characteristics. He's like, “No, these are the kinds of people that work well in our business,” after he had just told us that it wasn't working well in his business. So, over and over again, and it was, for all of them, rules around, “This is what it should look like. I already know what it should look like. And so this is what I've been trying to do. It's not working. But this is how it should work according to my, my rules.” Right? These self-limiting ideas.
Then the group, made its way around to me, and I told them all about my most stressful business situation, and they gave me advice. And I couldn't even help myself. I was giving them all the reasons why that wouldn't work in my situation. “No, my business is different. Let me tell you why.” I was like, “Ah, dang.” Could all of a sudden see it. It's like, “I, too, had all these rules that I was carrying in me about what should be happening and what needed to happen.” They were this kind, intelligent group was trying to pry these self-limiting beliefs away from me, and I could feel myself clinging to them, even though I, on some level, knew what was happening. But thankfully, after that group, which was so interesting, I was able to take some time and journal and be like, “Yeah, they're right.” But having those ideas challenged is difficult, but it's important. And that's the way it is, right?
We all have these ideas that are just so deeply ingrained. They are baked in, and they feel so true that we can't even see them. We're like little fishes swimming around in tanks full of water that we have no idea is even there because it's the water that we swim in, right? It just feels like the truth. We're so close to these ideas that we cannot even tell that they are our truth, our specific, unique truth that is not actually true for a lot of other people. Other people can look at us and see that we're doing something that is not in our best interests. But we're just wrapped around these ideas. We’re intertwined with them without even realizing it. This is the power of self-limiting beliefs. I just wanted to share that because this, again, is true for everyone. We all have them. I wanted to come clean about mine, just so we can all be authentic.
Let's talk about this, then. Because the problem with self-limiting beliefs is that we cannot see them very easily ourselves. Figuring out how to ferret them out, like coaxing a little animal out of the cave. Who are you? That's, again, a lot of the work. I think that that is one of the benefits of doing a group experience where you have people challenging you or having relationships with people who love you enough to be honest with you.
Also, what can be very helpful about sometimes being in therapy, or I think, more commonly, life coaching with people like me, who have a more active approach, I don't think it's super helpful to just sit there and free associate to somebody who agrees with everything that you say because you don't get that feedback. You have to have a relationship with a therapist or a coach who cares about you enough and is active enough to challenge you and say, “Really?” Not like a checked-out one who just lets you go on and on, but a good therapist, a good coach will challenge you, and sometimes, that feels uncomfortable.
I have been in that situation. I'm like, “What do you mean I'm not 100% right about everything? How dare you?” So I know, I know. But at some point, it's like we have to have this mirror held up to us so that we can take a look and really see what we are telling ourselves about particular situations, what we are telling ourselves about ourselves, and then have the opportunity just to think through whether or not these things are actually, factually true. I do this all the time with clients, just to help them gain that self-awareness around the beliefs that they're holding on to because you have to know they're there.
Let's talk about examples of self-limiting core beliefs. And here's some examples of things that I have heard people say to me with absolute sincerity and straight faces. I have said some of these things, and I'm sure that you have, too. Things like, “I don't have enough time. I can't possibly do that.” Or “I cannot advance in my career unless I go back to school and get this very expensive degree. Impossible. There's no other way.” “There aren't opportunities for me to fill in the blank, meet someone, get a job, buy a house, whatever it is, in the town that I live in. Impossible. It cannot be done.” “All the good partners are taken.” Does that one resonate with any of you out there? “All the good ones are already gone. I can't trust anyone.” There's another good one.
Here's one that can sneakily mess people up: “If I find the perfect person, then I will not have a disappointing relationship.” Or “If I had the perfect job, I wouldn't feel this way anymore.” Or “If I lived in this different place, then I would have all these different results. Everything that is not happening the way that I want it to is because of these circumstances. And if I change these circumstances, which I can't, because let me tell you all the reasons why. But if I could, then everything would be different for me. I would feel happier.”
If you think back to the Love Your Body podcast I did a while ago with my colleague, Stephanie, we talked a lot about that really insidious, self-limiting belief that a lot of people carry around, “I will be happy when I am a certain weight, or a certain clothing size, or when I look a certain way, or when this thing happens in my life, or when I have a partner or what. Whatever it is, then I will be happy. But until that happens, I cannot be happy.” These are really difficult beliefs to get out. And they can be big beliefs, like the ones that I shared. They can also be small beliefs that are just creating garden variety annoyances, but enough of them that it can start to feel stifling.
I've talked to people, “I can't cook if all of the dishes aren't done and put away, and my kitchen is perfectly clean. Therefore, I never cook. Therefore, I eat microwaved burritos pretty much every day of the week.” It's like the beliefs that are attached to why they can or can't do things like the rules. Really, really interesting. It may be worth if you wanted to, pausing me for a second and just taking a second to scribble down any thoughts that have just popped up to you, as I've been sharing some of my self-limiting beliefs or some of the things that I've had people say. There are many, many more. We can come up with hundreds of them if we had the time. But if any come to mind, just make a note.
How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
Sometimes, many times, again, it's not that easy to be aware of them. And that is the first step in overcoming self-limiting beliefs is that you do have to be aware of them. Step one is, “I am aware of you. I see you, self-limiting belief.” Then, that's step two, is understanding their function. And that can be really interesting because oftentimes, these self-limiting beliefs, they seem like they're just ridiculous when we look at them, when we can get them out in the open in the cold light of day. It's like, “That is not true.”
Do not underestimate the power of a self-limiting belief because they are often very, very functional. They are serving a purpose in your life that you don't even know about yet. And that takes some exploration in order to figure out too, and not try to shut them down with some positive pep talk. But let's say, “Okay, let's get to know you. Why are you here? How do you make sense? Where did you come from?” Like really having a relationship with it. Because that is actually like the first step in practicing having a different kind of relationship with yourself is not being mad at yourself for having self-limiting beliefs, not being mad at that belief.
It's like just this much more compassionate like, “Okay, I see you. I know you're there. How do you make sense?” It's just like this totally different way of approaching yourself and just having respect for the fact that they have been serving a purpose. Oftentimes, they're very protective, to be completely honest with you. So we have to do some of that work.
Once it is making sense, then it becomes much more easy to shift into a different way of being with yourself, one that is potentially more open, more reality-based, and more empowering, moving towards that self-compassionate growth mindset that really helps you feel comfortable enough to take risks or take chances and helps you grow and develop instead of beating yourself up for it. Also, I think that really helps make you feel much more secure in relationships, which then, when you have a secure relationship that is reinforced that you are having secure relationships, and that tends to build on itself, too.
Identifying Your Limiting Beliefs
So let's talk first, just a little bit about that step one. How do you know they’re there? Because it is really like luring a wild animal out of a game. So here are just a few tips to help you, like the rustle in the bushes. Like, “Oh, there's a self-limiting belief over there.” Because again, they can be so, so easy to miss. But first of all, and this is one for me that I'm like, “Okay, self-limiting belief just got poked.” If you find yourself arguing with or getting defensive with someone who you haven't just been complaining to about something, and they have given you advice, or “What about this? Or try to approach it this way?” And you're like, “No, that won't work. Here are all the reasons why that won't work.”
They have just poked you in a self-limiting belief of some kind. They see possibilities for you that either you can't see or that feel impossible for you. Because why? And this is the work of figuring out what that is like, asking yourself, “What is the reason that I am so passionately convinced that this won't work?” And I'm not saying that you have to take everybody else's advice. Maybe it's bad advice. Maybe it actually won't work. But if this is a pattern for you, this is just evidence that it may be a self-limiting belief at the core.
For me, like my business group, I shared that my problem, this pain point was just a super slow progress on this huge project that we've been working on internally that has taken the better part of a year. This has just been a monster. And I've been frustrated with it. Some of the feedback I got from my coaching group was around, maybe my standards are too high. Maybe I am trying to do too much. Maybe I'm not delegating enough, and so, took that in. But I was like, “No, it has to be really good. And let me tell you why it really, really actually needs to be really good. And let me tell you why we're doing it this way. Because these are all the reasons why this makes sense.”
What I had so much trouble taking in was this idea that they were trying to share with me that maybe it's not bad to have high standards. I am a recovering perfectionist. So believe it or not, I am attached to my high standards. But that, maybe all of these negative outcomes that I had been envisioning, if it wasn't really good, if it wasn't perfect, maybe those weren't all realistic fears. And maybe there actually was a way to do this a little bit faster, or to do it in stages, or to kind of prioritize more important parts of the work just to get this out there, and then go back and continue working on it over time in an organized way.
That's what I needed to journal through because I have this core idea, this self-limiting belief that things really do have to be like to some, very, very high standard, and that it's actually not okay for me to be slack about things or not do my very best. This would always happen to me in school. I would over-study. I would over-prepare. I would work too hard on papers. And then, I finally had to be like, “No, I am a B student. It is perfectly acceptable to get a B. I can get a B and be just fine. Lots of people get Bs.” And it helped me actually step back enough that not only did I feel less stressed out, and I got more done, I did what I thought was B-level work on my papers, and I still got A's.
That was the thing that I had to be reminded of by this group is that when I feel like I'm doing 80, or 90% of a good job, it is actually a good job. But my core belief tells me that it is not good enough. And that makes me do extra stuff and get obsessive about things that maybe I don't need to be doing. So that is what I needed to hear. But the initial reaction to that was a lot of like, “No, you don't understand. Let me tell you.”
If you notice that happening inside of you, I would just like you to note it, and then just spend some time being like, “What ideas am I so passionately defending right now? And are those actually true? What would it mean if they weren't true, if I could actually get this project out the door much more easily than I have been telling myself is possible?” Or like the artist that I was telling you about, like, if she were to tell you about the struggles that she has, and you are to say, “You know what, this is a great opportunity. Use this time. Build up your portfolio. See about getting representation. Do some networking. Get listed on some freelancer sites,” like this is all very reasonable advice, right?
But I imagine that she would say, “No, that will never work because I don't know some of these new digital design programs. And that is what they're looking for. So I am never going to get one of these jobs. So I have to go back to school and get a second master's degree in graphic design. And that's going to cost 10s and 1000s of dollars and several years. So thanks for the advice, but no.” That's what she would say. When we really unpack this and look at like, okay, so, the core belief is that the way you are operating now isn't good enough, and you need to do extensive additional education to make anything happen, this person has been quite successful without any of that, and many people in her field have been quite successful without those things. So it's possible that success is in the realm of possibility, right? Possible possibilities.
Let's just take a look about function for a second. Because if that were true, if she could actually just start making her art, and putting herself out there, and seeing what would happen, that would be incredibly vulnerable. I think me overdoing things is also managing my anxiety about not quite being good enough, right? If I put something major out the door that I feel is like 80 or 90% good enough, I have all this anxiety about, “Oh, it's not good enough.” So, me, like, “No, it has to be better,” I am protecting myself in those moments. I am obstructing all possible progress, but I am making myself feel better.
There's an emotional function for these things. It's often around vulnerability, anxiety. There's this very protective function to a lot of our self-limiting internal beliefs. So that's one thing to pay attention to, like, “Who are you fighting with and why?” So there's that.
Another indication that you have a powerful self-limiting belief in your life is any thought or idea that leads to inhibition, paralysis, inaction, feeling trapped, feeling like you can't move forward. Because when we feel that way, when we're not trying things, or we feel like we can't make a decision, when we crack that open, there are often all these reasons why, why I can’t, why this won't work. When we are in that space of paralysis and inaction, we're often actively talking ourselves out of doing things or narrating to ourselves all of the negative outcomes or all the reasons why it won't work.
Here's an example that I think, again, we can all relate to, the not taking action category of, “I can't exercise regularly because I don't have enough time. I can't do it. I'm too busy. Cannot do it. So I don't. I would like to, but it's impossible just by virtue of my circumstances.” So we are not taking positive action. And this is a simple example. But who hasn't said that to themselves, right? But when we look at what that's doing for us, and we also look at a more reality-based idea, which is, here's a new one, that when I actually first heard this idea, it was like, “Oh, my God, I felt struck by lightning, actually.”
Because the idea is, the truth is that you and me and everybody else on this entire planet, including the most insanely productive, disruptive people in the history of the world, like Elon Musk, writers, musicians, inspirational leaders, everyone has, ready? 1440 minutes a day to do with as they will. We all have exactly the same number of minutes allotted to us on a day. And the only difference is that we are making different choices about how we spend that time. Sometimes, we are in circumstances that have been shaped by choices that we made a while ago that are now impacting how we are spending our time. But 1440 minutes are all of ours.
I read somewhere that Vladimir Putin, who I am guessing is a fairly productive person, for better or for worse, spends something like three hours a day exercising, like every day. So, how you choose to spend that time may be different. But what would change for you if you just begin challenging that idea of “I don't have enough time,” with this new idea, which is actually, “I have exactly as much time as literally everyone else in the world, including Vlad, and I am prioritizing spending my time doing other things besides exercising.” When you do that, it's an interesting dynamic. Because the power totally shifts when you change that language from, “I can't,” to, “I am making different choices. And here are the reasons why.”
You could still totally decide not to exercise. “I would actually rather not exercise. I do not feel like exercising. I don't enjoy exercising. I don't want to. I would rather do something different.” But when we shift away from that self-limiting idea that tells us we cannot, “It is literally impossible, you cannot do that,” into a new idea, “You could if you wanted to.” All of a sudden, the spotlight of personal responsibility is back on ‘lil old us. And that is anxiety-provoking because you're like, “Crap, I guess I could exercise if I wanted to. And I don't want to. So, what does that mean about me?” So again, that's the function of all these rules and limitations, right? It's protecting ourselves in some way from the reality of our own freedom, which is not always comfortable. It isn’t. Empowering, but not comfortable. So that's a big one.
Lastly, one other ringer that you have just stumbled upon a really strong, juicy self-limiting core belief that is doing all kinds of things in your life is pretty much any idea that makes you feel really bad about yourself. If you were just listening to what I was describing above, around: “Yeah, I actually don't want to exercise.” If, for you, that turned into this, “Oh my god, I'm not exercising. I could be. I should be. I have as much time as anybody else. What's wrong with me that I'm not doing that? Other people exercise. And clearly, they are superior humans because I'm not doing that. I should make it a priority. I'm terrible.”
If it turns into that for you, that is a really powerful core belief of, I think, the worst kind, these self-limiting core beliefs that tell us about who we are and that who we are is not as worthy, or capable, or able to do things. That's the worst. Because when it turns into calling yourself names, and, “I'm a failure. I'm miserable. I have no motivation. I have no willpower, and I never will.” It just turns into this spiral of just bad feelings. Can you down the drain of just, there's so much to unpack here.
One thing that I work with my clients around a lot is identifying these kinds of thoughts that lead to this emotional spiral that just makes people feel like collapsing, right, when you're in the grips of that internal dialogue, just laying on the floor. To understand really consciously the inner narrative that is driving that, then they have the opportunity to intentionally and deliberately learn how to treat themselves with more kindness, like more of a friend. It takes energy.
To actively create a more helpful internal dialogue, which is, “Maybe there are reasons why I am not exercising. Part of me believes that I want to and that I should but, I know, from listening to Dr. Lisa's podcasts that we have many different parts of ourselves, and there are such things as overt goals that we are aware of. And there are also covert goals that we are not aware of, and just maybe, I have actually been achieving a covert goal through not exercising, which is actually the fact that I feel tired. I feel like I need to rest, sometimes. I feel like I just need to stop and just rest. Maybe I actually do need to be compassionate with myself for my need for nurturing, and quiet time, and rest. Maybe that's valid. Maybe there's a different relationship that I can have with that need, where maybe some of these things can coexist. Maybe I can get that rest, and comfort, and nurturing, and relaxation and just feeling calm for once, and also find a way to take care of my body, which needs me to move around a little bit sometimes.”
Again, there is so, so much to unpack here. This is a huge topic. These ideas go very deep. Sometimes, highly entrenched, self-limiting beliefs can have roots in our earliest childhood experiences. And sometimes not. Sometimes, they are actually much easier to change than you would think they are once you know that they're there, and you have some new skills and strategies for working with them differently, and managing them differently.
Just want to challenge one core belief that may be may be percolating inside of you, which is that, “Okay, now I have listened to this podcast, and I should be able to know how to do this from this day forward.” I would just like to say very, very authentically, that that is not how this works. People can and do often spend quite a bit of time in therapy and life coaching unpacking this, developing the self-awareness, these core beliefs, figuring out their functions, figuring out how to deal with them differently, and it's not easy work.
It is very, very valuable work. Because once you really identify those and figure out what to do with them a little bit differently, so many things can open up for you. I've seen people really just feel like they break free from paralysis. They see it, doors that are open to them that they literally did not see before, or if they did see would never have dared walk through. And they can really begin to try things and start learning and growing, and as a result, have new experiences that confirm these new ideas and prove against those old core beliefs that they had been harboring.
So once you get these juices flowing and start growing again, it's very common to have all kinds of new evidence that support the new, more reality-based, more compassionate ideas. Because when you try things, you'll find that is often the case is that things actually do work out, and they're not as hard as you thought they would be. And you can do so many things.
We're going to glide to a halt, park this conversation. Thank you for staying with me, and I hope that these ideas were helpful to you. I hope that they gave you some direction and maybe even some things to continue thinking about or journaling about until we meet again next week for another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Until then, here's more Nightmare St. Julian. I like these guys.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Music Credits: “Thaw” by Bnny
Love Your Body
How to love your body? It sounds like it should be the simplest thing in the world: to have gratitude and appreciation for the miracle of your physical body. It automatically and without any input or direction from you… keeps your heart beating, keeps breathing while you sleep, makes you sweat when you’re too hot, digests your food, and locomotes you from one place to another. It can even participate in making another human. It is truly a miracle and whether or not it’s in good working order is the undeniable foundation of everything else in your whole life.
When it comes to your body, there is so much to love!
Why Do I Hate My Body??
I’m well aware from many years as a therapist and fellow human that’s not always the way we feel about our bodies, is it? Even though it’s a fantastic engine of life that supports everything you do, it’s easy to get kinda judgy about the way your body looks or whether or not it’s as “good” or worthy of love and respect as someone else’s body, and through this weird emotional logic that tells us that certain bodies are better than other bodies, that the people in possession of enviable bodies are more intrinsically valuable humans.
It sounds so insane when you put it all down on paper like that but… that’s what we are often socialized to do: judge bodies by the ever-changing scoring rubric of the current zeitgeist. (Lisa pauses typing to double-check her reflection, and yes, the hair is parted down the center and not to the left. Giving myself a point!)
Hairstyles are one thing, but when it comes to how our bodies actually look — their shape, proportions, fat-to-height ratio, and how these shapes, proportions, and ratios compare to those of a difficult to attain cultural “ideal…” that’s when we can start slipping sideways into something yucky.
Being unhappy with your body because it doesn’t look like one of the “good” ones. Being angry with your body for not responding to your efforts to diet, restrict, or exercise it into physical compliance. Worse yet, you might even start hating your body and being consumed with worry and thoughts related to what you’re eating or how much you’re exercising.
When it gets really bad, people can even start to feel really down on themselves, struggling with low self-esteem, and finding it difficult to accept themselves or feel happy — all because their bodies (which work perfectly well, by the way) don’t look a certain way.
This is a trap, folks. One that lots of people, particularly women, stumble into. Sometimes even before middle school is over, they’ve been indoctrinated into believing that people with different bodies have different levels of status and respect in this world, and that, in order to have love, happiness or success, they darn well better look like they’re “supposed to” (or kill themselves trying). Let’s not!
Loving Your Body: It Can Start Today
In the words of the late, great Monty Python: “And now for something completely different!”
Enter my guest on today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast: My Growing Self colleague Stephanie O. Stephanie is a therapist on the team who specializes in relationships — the ones we have with other people, but also the kind of relationship that you have with yourself. She helps many clients with things like self-esteem and how to have healthy partnerships, but she has special insight into helping people with body image and how to love themselves.
Health at Any Size
Stephanie practices “Health at Any Size” ideas in therapy, and walks with her clients step by step through the process of examining beliefs about bodies, learning how to reject unhelpful cultural ideas about the value of our bodies, and then move towards body image acceptance. Over time, she can help her clients have genuine gratitude and appreciation for their amazing bodies, and even learn how to love their bodies too.
She is joining me on today’s episode of the podcast to share her empowering “how to love your body” ideas with you. If you sometimes feel like you hate your body, I hope that you listen. Grab a pen — Stephanie’s sharing a ton of ideas that I hope you write down and start using today!
You can listen to this episode right here on growingself.com or access it through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show while you’re there! If you have follow-up questions or comments for Stephanie on this topic, please let us know in the comments below so Stephanie or I can respond. Show notes and episode transcript are below.
Love Your Body Podcast: Show Notes & Episode Highlights
Stephanie’s Journey to Health at Every Size
Many people are obsessed with their body weight and size. Some obsessive tendencies can manifest in extreme diets or passive thoughts. But some might even bleed into other aspects of their lives, such as low self-esteem and sexuality.
When she was a college freshman, Stephanie learned about eating disorders in her Psych 101 class. She was shocked to find that signs of anorexia applied to her and almost all the women she knew. That’s why she thought it would be interesting to work with people with eating disorders in grad school.
During that time, she was introduced to the concept of Health at Every Size. Since then, Stephanie has sought to incorporate this in her work as a therapist and life coach.
Why Do I Hate My Body?
Most of us now know that it’s no longer cool to hate our bodies. Body acceptance is in! However, we still tend to think negatively about our bodies, often in overt ways. It starts off with seemingly benign thoughts like, “I should eat healthier.”
But then, this may turn into an obsession with cutting down on calories. Stephanie explains: “Underneath it, the goal underneath is really to actually be thinner because we equate so much of health and size together.” In addition, we tend to conflate health and morality.
Because of the sneaky way we obsessively think of our bodies, many of us also treat our ideal bodies as the prerequisite to happiness. You’ve probably had these beliefs at one point in your life:
When I hit my ideal weight, I can finally get my crush to notice me.
If I become thinner, then I can wear the clothes I want.
Once I get my body goals, I’ll finally be happier.
We become so engrossed in “that day.” But Cheri Huber reminds us: “That day does not exist, and it only exists in your mind. Its reason is to torture you.”
The misconception that you’ll be happy in the future when you achieve the “perfect body” holds you back from living the life you want. The truth is, you can’t be happy in the future if you aren’t happy now. So, learn how to love yourself now.
The Path to Radical Self-Acceptance
If you are struggling with loving your body, practice self-compassion. It’s not a “you” problem. Rather, it’s a larger societal problem.
Society has perpetuated unrealistic beauty standards through the media and beauty industry. It has become so pervasive that it’s rare for someone to be completely satisfied with their body. In our society, we are conditioned to think we’re doing bad when we aren’t a “normal” weight. Thus, we should constantly try to work toward that unattainable standard.
Stephanie usually starts the process of body acceptance by encouraging them to consume more size-inclusive media. These can come in the form of:
Instagram accounts to follow,
podcasts to listen to, and
television shows to watch.
She shares, “Because if we do this work, and we continue to just see all the same input all the time, it's almost impossible to challenge that.”
From there, they would work on challenging societal norms and standards by paying attention to how much value we put on size and weight.
It’s also important to deconstruct the messages we’ve been given. For so long, we’ve been led to believe that being fat is unhealthy and being thin is good. However, there is no significant correlation between health and size. Learning to question these beliefs is crucial to radical self-acceptance.
How to Accept Your Body
Finding the reason why you want to change your mindset and body perceptions is an important part of loving your body. Whether you want to stop counting your calorie intake or you just want to feel better in your skin, determining this gives you a purpose.
Another good way to start your journey is to get rid of your scale. Thinking rationally, it serves no real purpose. It’s just there. But it doesn’t need to be.
Body neutrality can also be a powerful thing. Stephanie describes it as:
Not loving or hating your body.
Not valuing your body using terms such as “fat” or “thin.”
Simply acknowledging what you look like.
Some people are resistant to this idea because they feel like they’ll let themselves go. If you ever feel that nagging fear about getting fat, then ask yourself, “What does getting fat mean to me?”
Perhaps, you’re unconsciously linking being fat to lovability and worthiness. In that case, you have to remember that fat ≠ bad. Many people have harmed their bodies by trying to fight their natural state.
Health at Every Size
Society tends to attribute health and wellness as a personal responsibility. In reality, it’s widespread problems, such as marginalization and racism, that are huge health hazards. By sweeping these under the rug and blaming it on people’s laziness, we allow the unjust components of our society to proliferate.
Thus, the best way to improve our population’s health is to create a fair world without inequity. Just as Stephanie says, “We know that different cultures and ethnicities have different sizes. People come in all different shapes and sizes.”
Yet, research on obesity in white people is being applied as a worldwide standard. Moreover, most of this research does not factor in fitness, further spreading misinformation that weight and health are intricately linked.
Love Your Body Now
If you’re struggling to love your body, the key is not losing weight. It’s appreciating your body for the things it does for you. Try saying these phrases to yourself and see what comes up:
I love my legs because they take me to new places.
I love my ears because they allow me to hear beautiful music.
I love my tummy because it protects my vital organs.
For Stephanie, loving your body simply means taking care of it. Alongside body acceptance, some other ways to love your body are intuitive eating and joyful movement.
“So that's the home run message. How can you live the life you want right now in the body you have right now, given your current situation, not that invisible finish, not that imaginary future day. But how can I be the healthiest I can right now in the body that I have right now?”
Remember that your body is worth loving and taking care of. Always was, always will be.
The music in this episode is Thaw by Bnny from their debut album “Everything”. You can support them and their work by visiting their website. Each portion of the music used in this episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Please refer to copyright.gov for more information.
Enjoy the Podcast?
Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about body image and acceptance? How do you think these insights can help you love your body and give it the care it deserves? Tell us by commenting on this episode. Subscribe to us now to discover more episodes on living a life full of love, happiness, and success.
[Intro song: Thaw by Bnny]
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. The band is Bnny with the song Thaw. It's a haunting song with a raw message, and that is intentional because we're going there today. Today, we're talking about you and your relationship with your body.
It can be hard to love your body. How do you feel about your body? If you're like a lot of people, especially women, you don't like what you see in the mirror. You wish your body looked different, and a lot of people, especially women, get tricked into believing that if only you could attain this physical ideal of beauty that is unrealistic for like 99.999% of all humans. But if you could, then finally, you would get the love, the happiness, and success that you always wanted.
This is a trap. We need to talk about it. Too many of us are socialized into basing our worth on the way we look. We spend way too much time thinking about how we can force our body to be different and get super vigilant about what we're eating or weighing ourselves. Or even taking this “healthy lifestyle” to an extreme that is not actually good for anyone, especially mentally and emotionally or physically, for that matter.
If any of what I'm saying is feeling familiar and on point for you, I want you to get ready for a breath of fresh air. Today, I'm so pleased to be visiting with my colleague here at Growing Self, Stephanie O. She is a marriage and family therapist but she also has a real passion for helping people, especially women, liberate themselves from these really destructive and toxic ideas about self-worth, and particularly, self-worth based on the way you should look.
Stephanie is here today to talk with us about how to practice health at any size, how to shift away from self-hatred and towards self-acceptance, and maybe even into loving your body the way it deserves to be loved. Thank you, Stephanie, for being here with me today.
Stephanie Oliver: Thank you so much, Lisa, for having me. I'm really excited to talk about this and share this with people and curious what other people think and have to say as well.
Stephanie’s Journey to Health at Every Size
Dr. Lisa: Yes. Well, we're going to have a good talk, and I'm just happy to be here because I like talking to you anyway. This is a particularly important topic because I think so many people, and I do not want to gender stereotype because I think a lot of different people struggle with this, feel a lot of shame, anxiety, discomfort around their body, the way their body looks, lots of messages like what kind of body they should have, their body is different.
Then, we also get these messages like love your body, and that's pretty much when people just feel like laying down and taking a very long nap.
Stephanie: Yeah, and I think the moral of that is that we spend way too much time thinking about our bodies in general, whether it's complete shame and self-hate of our bodies to just wanting to change it in some way, or wishing that it was different, or even more passive thoughts throughout the day like, “Should I or shouldn't I eat this? Or should I or shouldn't I look differently?” It just takes up way too much of our time and our brain power.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. You've been working with clients around this for a while. Can I ask you? I'm curious to know. How did you get interested in this, I think, fascinating subset of our profession?
Stephanie: Yeah, so I think I can pin it back to actually when I was 18. I was a freshman in college, I was in Psych 101, and we were learning about eating disorders. I saw the diagnostic criteria for anorexia. It was restricting calorie intake, dissatisfied with the way that you look, fear of becoming fat. I was like, “Wait, isn't that everybody?”
I hadn't really known any woman to not possess some of those characteristics, including me. I thought, “Well, this is a classified mental illness, so there's got to be more to the story than this, that it gives so many people experiences.” I just kind of filed it away in the back of my mind until I went to grad school and thought, “Oh, maybe I'll work with people with eating disorders. That could be quite interesting.”
I got exposed to this concept of Health at Every Size, which some people will be familiar with. It's basically an entirely new way of thinking about health, and size, and body acceptance, and the way that we think about weight and health in our society. It made so much sense to me, and I just went from there. I thought, “How can I incorporate this as a marriage and family therapist? How could I not perpetuate weight and size stigma, but instead, continue to challenge it since this is such a common presenting problem as a therapist? A lot of people come seeking help with weight, and size, and body image issues.”
Why Do I Hate My Body?
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well it impacts so many different parts of life too and relationships and sexuality, there are so many different things attached. I'm wondering, for somebody listening to this who's like, “I'm really glad I'm listening to this podcast right now. I'm ready to learn,” what are some things that you would imagine might be true for them that maybe you've heard from some of your clients previously around? What starts to happen when people are thinking about their bodies a lot?
Stephanie: Well, I think, this day and age, it can actually be quite sneaky. I think before maybe when we were growing up, it was a lot more overt like, “Oh, I wish I had thinner legs, or bigger boobs, or a flatter stomach.” Now, I think it can sneak in a variety of ways because a lot of us would like to consider ourselves very… We know it's not cool anymore to hate your body, right? Body acceptance is in.
I think that sometimes it sneaks in. It starts out as a pursuit of health. “I want to be healthier,” and then, you start thinking like, “Okay. Well, I want to be healthier. I've got to burn more calories.” It just kind of spirals from there, right? Underneath it, the goal underneath is really to actually be thinner because we equate so much of health and size together, right?
I think that it can sneak in in a bunch of different ways. I think with all of the images that we're exposed to online in terms of clean and healthy eating, and vegan diets, and gluten-free diets, and things like that, which can be really helpful for people and can be really important for people, can also turn into starting to obsess a little bit too much about what we're eating and how we're eating.
Stephanie: The other thing I think people will be familiar with is just conflating health and morality, right? Like what you were just saying, “I'm a good person because I keep healthy,” or “I'm a bad person because I didn't exercise today,” or even judging that in others. I think, too, not just oneself but making judgments on other people.
I think, to just having this sense, and this is for all of my clients, I think, having this sense that there's a magical day in the future where everything is going to be exactly the way that they want it, “I'm going to be the exact weight that I want. My life is going to be the exact way that I want.” That day does not exist, first of all.
Dr. Lisa: Do you have to say it out loud? Come on! No, I'm just kidding. It's like, “When I attain this thing, then all these other good things will happen.”
Stephanie: “When I'm this weight, I will have the partner that I want. I'll be able to wear the clothes I want. I'll be happy.” My favorite quote from one of my favorite authors, Cheri Huber, who's a Buddhist writer, she says, “That day does not exist, and it only exists in your mind. Its reason is to torture you.” Right?
Dr. Lisa: What an awesome quote.
Stephanie: I won't talk about solutions yet, but I feel like that day does exist in so many people's minds. It prevents us from accepting who we are now, living the life we want now because we think, “Oh, one day, I'll be this way.”
I think another thing too is thinking that “At one point, when I was a different weight, or when I looked differently, I was happy.” I think that's a big myth that people carry with them. I have my clients find a picture of themselves at a time when they thought, “Okay, I like the way I am and this picture.” I have them look at the picture, and I say, “Well, were you happy, and were you pleased with your body at that point?”
Most everyone always says, “I wasn't really happy then either. I also hated my body then, even though I'm looking back at it now, and I think I look good now looking back on it. But at the time, I still was so self-critical and still wasn't happy and comfortable with my body at that point.” I think those are things that most people can relate to.
The Path to Radical Self-Acceptance
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and that's huge. This is just so interesting. It's like there's this, I don't know, maybe it's conscious, maybe it's subconscious, this very powerful association. That “I need to make my body look a certain way or become this…” There's character, and morals, and virtue all tied up in it. “And if only I can do these things, then all these doors will open. I will feel good, and people will like me. I will feel loved. I will feel confident. All of these things.”
This makes a lot of sense to me. This turns into almost this motivation to really being focused on your body because it's a vehicle. It's sort of like a symbol for all of these other things. That if we could only torture it into submission.
Stephanie: Yeah, it's the one you can only control, which you really can't that much. But we think we can. I think it's important for people to realize too that it's not really their fault if they think this way, right? We think this way, it's not a personal problem. It's a larger societal problem that was really put on us by unrealistic expectations by the beauty industry, by so many different things we were exposed to. Then, we continue to perpetuate it.
There are estimates but I think 85% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies, and I'm sure it's more. I haven't really met somebody in my life that hasn't, at one point, brought up some type of dissatisfaction with the way that they look. It's very pervasive.
Dr. Lisa: Well, can we just talk a little bit more? You mentioned, what I heard in there is we're taught to believe these things about ourselves that aren't true, and you just kind of alluded to culture. If you had to articulate what you think women and men are taught, and sometimes it's about men and their own bodies. I think that men are also taught about women's bodies and what that is. How would you articulate the messages that we inherit from these larger systems and take on board sometimes without even realizing it?
Stephanie: I think the messages are, “You better be a ‘normal' weight, and if you're not, then you sure as heck better be trying to achieve a normal weight. It's not okay to just be complacent or be okay with the way you look. You need to be trying to achieve that norm.” I think that's broad enough to apply to men and women.
Dr. Lisa: If you don't look like this fairly unattainable representation of physical humanity, which is hard, you need to feel bad about that and guilty and be working really hard to make that be different, or you're a bad person.
Stephanie: Yes. Yeah. Lindy West, who's a famous fat activist says, “Okay, you're fat, but you better be a fat person that's trying to be thin. That's sort of like okay, but it's not okay to just be okay with it.”
Dr. Lisa: Wow, but I bet you have a different idea that maybe it is okay.
Stephanie: I do.
Dr. Lisa: Tell me more about that part. What's the alternate? Well, I shouldn't say because I love doing these podcasts and kind of talking about ideas and things that would be helpful for people, but I always feel so cautious and feel myself saying this over and over again.
There is a process. There is an arc of growth from coming in and talking with somebody like Stephanie, and that's where you are. It's like with these messages and these things still very true and that there is a process that builds over time to be able to incorporate different ideas and stories.
That's what I'm asking you about, is different ideas and stories. But my disclaimer is that it takes a while to get there. Because it's like another thing for people to judge themselves about, right? If they're like, “Stephanie dropped some great ideas.” Like, “Here's a better way to think,” and you're like, “I can't do that yet. I just want to make that.”
Stephanie: …and the shame cycle is just…
Dr. Lisa: Right? Okay, so with that in mind, where do you gently move people towards instead and I'm wondering what the process looks like in your work with clients?
Stephanie: Well, I tend to start by exposing people to other types of input than the input that they're getting. I recommend people to more size-acceptance types of media, people they can follow on Instagram, or podcasts that they can listen to, or TV shows that they can even watch. That's my first approach to it because if we do this work, and we continue to just see all the same input all the time, it's almost impossible to challenge that.
Then, the other thing I do, which feels pretty safe to people, is work on the way that they view others first, challenging societal norms around this, so questioning things. I always tell people, “Just start to pay attention to how many of your conversations with your friends are around size and weight, positive or negative,” because I'm pretty radical. I don't think we should compliment each other on our bodies either, but just how much value is put on the way someone looks, your conversations with your family.
People are pretty surprised to just slow down that awareness and realize, “Oh, it's a lot.” It's a lot. We talk about our looks a lot. The other thing I slide in is starting to understand that the relationship between health and size is not what we think it is. We think fat is unhealthy, thin is healthy. We have to start understanding that that has been fed to us over a long period of time, and it's not the whole story. There's science, there's research to back this up as well. It's not just an opinion, right?
Getting people to start to deconstruct the messages that we've been given and how true they actually are can give people, give all of us a sense of purpose in terms of “Oh, I'm going to challenge this. I'm not just going to believe what I've been told about my weight and size. I went to the doctor, and the doctor said I was overweight. That doesn't feel like… I don't understand. How could that be?” Right? And not just accepting that right away and understanding that there's a bigger story around all sorts of things, and I don't know how much we want to get into it but that there's more to it than that, and we can really challenge it.
One of my clients was saying that she complimented a friend and said, “Oh, you're looking so thin,” and the friend was like, “I actually got diagnosed with cancer a year ago, and I'm sick.” That was her wake-up call. “Oh my God, I was just assuming that this was a positive thing. She had lost weight but she was sick.” Things like that that we can work on, just rethinking our common narrative can be really liberating for people because it's harder to just turn inward and then live by that. But it's easier to start questioning society itself, which is where the problem comes from anyway.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I could see that. It feels helpful and, in some ways, easier to see that narrative and be able to challenge it around “Wow, I am complimenting people on their looks, assuming positive things about others by virtue of the way they look that may or may not be true,” and just really being exposed to different ideas, different kinds of information that shape our perceptions of reality.
How to Accept Your Body
Stephanie: Absolutely. Some other things to start thinking about in terms of change, I'm really interested in people not wasting any more of their lives, in general, on whatever the thing it is, that thing they have, maybe. We waste an awful lot of our time on this. I know I don't want to be on my deathbed thinking about how I wasted time about my weight or the way I looked and things like that. Finding that reason why you want to start changing your thinking is really important for a lot of my clients.
For some people, it's like, “I want to be able to look in the mirror again,” or for some people, it's “I want to stop obsessing. I want to stop counting calories and weighing myself all the time. It's exhausting.” By the way, that's another thing you can do, is get rid of your scale immediately. There's no reason why we need to have scales in our house. I tell people they can bury it in the backyard because you can always dig it back up again if you feel like you need it. But I do have clients that have literally buried their scales because it doesn't need to be there.
It's a question, “Why is that there? Why am I tracking every pound?” Really questioning how much time is this taking. In that vein, I think working on this idea of body neutrality can be really powerful for people. “I'm not going to love my body; I'm not going to hate it. I'm just going to accept. I'm going to look in the mirror and be like, ‘Okay, this is what I look like.'” And trying not to value it at all in terms of “I look great, or I look fat, or I look thin, or there's a bulge here or whatever.” Just acknowledging it as a fact almost like, “This is what I look like.” People could start there themselves. That could be a really interesting process as well.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and this idea that you need to jump into this, “I love and appreciate my body exactly as it is.” It feels like too big of a step and just to experiment with “This is my body.” You're almost describing it as like a very mindful way without interpretation, or judgment, or values. It is just what it is.
Stephanie: This is extremely scary for people. That isn't easy. When we have a belief system over time that tells us, “No, if I do that, I'm going to let myself slip. I need to constantly be pushing myself, and I can't let go. I can't let myself slip. That's a really scary thing because if I'm okay with my body, then what if I get fat? What if I gain weight?” for some people, that fear is all-encompassing.
Dr. Lisa: What do you do with that? “Stephanie, I can't. If I don't hate myself, if I don't judge myself, if I don't yell at myself every time I look in the mirror, then I'm going to stop trying, and then I will be fat and what does that mean?”
Stephanie: What would happen if you were fat? What would happen if you gained weight? There's an assumption that fat is bad, right? It's not necessarily. A lot of people are fighting their body's natural state quite intensely to prevent it from being at the weight it wants to be. A lot of clients that I have have gotten to a point where they're like, “What if I just let myself be fat? There's a good chance that I'm never going to look any different than I have my whole life. So maybe it's time to just be okay with it, right?”
I think that weight fluctuation, too, has really been linked to a lot of health problems so the more we diet, and we know diets don't work. 99% of people gain back all or more of the weight after two years of losing it on a diet, right? They're unsustainable, and they're unattainable. So that weight fluctuation can actually be really harmful for health. Pointing things out like that to them can sometimes be useful. But I think questioning like, “Well, okay, so you'd be fat, and? What does that mean to you?” Then, we can pull out some of people's own stigma and biases.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What does it mean? Our virtue? Lovability? Worthiness? Yeah. I want to go back to a point that you said. It was actually on my mind earlier today, and I'll tell you why. You mentioned a minute ago that people are often fighting viciously with themselves to try to not be the weight that their body naturally wants to be. I might have even, was it just last night? It might have been.
Health at Every Size
I came across this article that I read because I was thinking, “I'm going to be talking to Stephanie about body image and weight.” I have to share the link with you. It was a new article from a science journalist who's going through a lot of the research. The punchline is that there has always been, even among medical professionals, this theory about what creates obesity, but I've certainly heard before, which is calories in calories out.
If you are consuming more calories than you burn, it gets stored as fat. It's sort of like thermodynamics, right? It sounds very reasonable. That is actually not true and that genetic variations, there have been experiments with mice, that a mouse with a certain genetic imprint, their bodies do different things with insulin production. In experiments, you can actually feed one of these mice half as much as a sort of standard-issue mouse diet, whatever that is, and they will still gain weight.
Their body just simply does different things with energy and energy storage and that there's a high degree of just natural variability in humans. The discussion is that people who do maybe struggle with obesity or overweight are not eating more than regular people. They're not doing anything bad to create this. It's just their bodies.
Stephanie: Yes. We have never been able to find any evidence that shows that fat people eat more than thin people. We've never. People try to prove it all the time, and it doesn't work. That article that you're citing right now is actually a pretty famous piece of research. It's not new. Maybe this one is new.
Dr. Lisa: The article came out, or at least I saw it recently.
Stephanie: The research is older, and people went through a lot of efforts to keep that message from the public because still, this moral sense of “We can't let people know because then, they'll think it's okay, right?”
Dr. Lisa: “They'll bury their scales in their backyard. The anarchy.”
Stephanie: Yes, yes. Just so much of it is not at all our nutrition, what we put in our bodies. So much of weight is based on genes, genetics, socioeconomic status, our relationships, our friendships, our fitness. Fitness is the biggest personal predictor, the biggest thing you can control to keep your health up.
Nutrition plays an important but very, very small part in it. It doesn't surprise me when I read things like this. Actually, we can't find that fat people eat any differently than thin people. There are thin people who eat tons of junk food. There are fat people that eat tons of junk food. There are fat people who eat very healthy and exercise a ton. There are thin people who eat very healthily and exercise a ton. We can't really find a difference in the…
Dr. Lisa: Behavior, yeah.
Stephanie: A strong causality.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and just to support what you're saying, I will totally share this article with you. But citing research from a hundred years ago, stuff going on in World War II that this was coming out and just never gained traction. In agriculture, it was known that certain kinds of cows or other livestock just metabolized food differently, but it just never translated to humans.
That's so important because it goes back to that idea of morality, of virtue, of good and bad, the sense that, “I should look different, and I should make myself look different. If I can't, that means something bad about me.” This anxiety that comes along with that, and what I'm hearing from you is like, “Just get off that bus!”
Stephanie: Well, that's, I think, one of the key components of Health at Every Size, is that the best way to improve the health of a population is to work towards creating a more fair and just world and reducing inequity. We have studies that show increased heart disease in immigrant populations.
We were able to sort of prove or research was able to show that the only contributing factor here is the stress on this minority population. But we're going to tell them, the information that we're going to give them from the health organizations is that they need to eat less butter, right?
It's putting a personal responsibility on someone when it's actually things like racism, and size stigma, and any type of marginalization are huge health hazards. As long as we keep it in this sphere of “It's what you eat, and how much you exercise, and if you can't maintain a weight, you're lazy,” then we kind of ignore all of these other unjust components of our society.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and how we're all, in some way, personally responsible for creating that or maintaining that. I'm so glad that you're bringing this up because there's I think a positive way that it seems like, at least, in some ways, there has been some progress. Racism is still very much a thing, internalized racism, and the amount of stress that it creates for people of color, immigrants.
I think it could be argued that discrimination of overweight people or fat-shaming is still widely accepted in a lot of ways. I think that people internalize, like we were talking about before, internalize that shame. They may experience hostility, or nasty comments, or lost opportunities, maybe assumptions made about them being a certain way that aren't true. The level of stress, and anxiety, and pain that causes, that's the real health consequence.
Stephanie: Absolutely, and we know that different cultures and ethnicities have different sizes. People come in all different shapes and sizes. All this research that we have on obesity and all this stuff, it's all on white people. All of the subjects in these tests are mostly for white populations. So everything is messed up, basically, is what I'm saying.
In so many of these studies that link health problems to obesity, this is an important point people should know, fitness level was not accounted for in those studies. When fitness is accounted for, there's virtually no link between weight and health. There's a lot of misinformation. People are interested in publishing things that go along with what we already believe, and it's very hard to challenge those belief systems, I think, because of how this has become such a moral issue.
Love Your Body Now
Dr. Lisa: I hear you. Okay, so if I were to synthesize very complex and nuanced ideas into a few chunks, I'm hearing you say that step one is getting familiar and understanding the stories that we are telling ourselves, stories that we've inherited just as an observer, right? Then, that second piece is really beginning to challenge them with different kinds of information. Then, the next phase really is trying to move into a practice of acceptance, of self-acceptance.
Then finally, just to ask, in your work with people, have you worked with people over the arc of this process where they are able to change their relationships with their bodies to the degree that they can say, “You know what? I love my body. I am so grateful for this body I have,” and have it be a positive thing?
Stephanie: I think that my clients who experienced success become people who some days, they love their body, some days, they don't think about it at all, some days, they may have an issue with their body creep back in again. But it's much more along just the normal experience of our relationships with our bodies and not being obsessed with it.
I think that success to me in this field is taking care of your body. That success, just taking care of it. There are a few other things that we work on like intuitive eating, and joyful movement, and along with the body acceptance piece. But I think that success in the end is like, “I've got this body. I have it. It is what it is, and here's how I'm going to take care of it.”
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and then, I would attach maybe to that too is, it's worth taking care of, maybe potentially disconnect a little bit from the way it looks and to what it does. Because what I'm thinking about right now, having gone through two pregnancies, this experience of my body just starting to do all of these things automatically for me and for this baby that were in no way connected to me looking good, but to more like very useful in terms of: “I could do all this stuff!” Just being able to transport you from here to there. The physicality of movement is appreciating your body for breathing, and digesting food, and doing things. Yeah, it's amazing.
Stephanie: I think that the people that we know that have a more positive sense of their bodies are the people who are able to say, “Oh, I love my legs because they make me run fast,” or “I love my skin because it stretches when I am pregnant. That's amazing.” Just understanding and being grateful for the functions of their body, and if we're struggling with that, the answer is not to lose weight, right?
The answer is to find things that we like or enjoy or in terms of movement and things like that that our bodies can do. That's kind of the home run message, is how can you live the life you want right now in the body you have right now, given your current situation? Not that invisible finish, not that imaginary future day, but: “How can I be the healthiest I can right now in the body that I have right now?”
Dr. Lisa: Yes, radical idea that perhaps, and this is a good message for everyone, that there is a path to being perfectly happy right now with normal ebbs and flows, where it is what it is, to find a path of gratitude and appreciation that is disconnected from your physical appearance and what that means, just being happy like, “This is it.” I love it.
Thank you so much for sharing such a positive, empowering message. I'm sure that there are a lot of people who needed to hear this. It's wonderful even for me to hear and think about.
Just to share, the last time I was pregnant, I got a doctor who started giving me a lot of crap for gaining too much weight too quickly. I started to develop so much anxiety about what I was eating, and when do I eat, what do I eat, all that stuff, and weighing myself was not good. Then, my scale broke, and that was three years ago. I never got another scale, and it's so interesting. Just that one data point that, especially women can get very weird about, it's a non-issue. It doesn't matter.
Stephanie: It's not even really measuring anything. I want to say too that there are many doctors, physicians, nutritionists, mental health professionals, dieticians even, who do follow this Health at Every Size approach. There are doctors that I know who have actually stopped weighing their patients altogether and just follow this paradigm shift, just shifting our thinking.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, that's wonderful and again, I think a message of empowerment is that if this is something that you're working towards, to advocate for that, and find a doctor who is familiar with these ideas and who practice this Health at Every Size and to find that network of support for this. Wonderful. Again, thank you so much for sharing it, and I will include if you'd like to share more information about Health at Every Size in the show notes of this episode and some other resources that we can direct people to and go from there.
Stephanie: Thank you so much, Lisa. I really enjoyed talking to you about this today.
Dr. Lisa: Me too. This is a lot of fun.
You can find links to the resources that Stephanie shared today during our talk on the post for this podcast, which is going to be growingself.com/love-your-body. Also, while you're there, be sure to cruise over to the blog. Stephanie has so generously written a number of articles on our blog related to self-esteem, healthy relationships. She has a particularly fantastic article about what to do if you feel like you're walking on eggshells with someone in a relationship and another article around body acceptance and Health at Any Size.
It is all there for you at growingself.com. Come over, check it out, and in the meantime, I will be back in touch with you next week with another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast, and let's go out with some more Bnny.
By the way, you guys, this whole album is fantastic. You should definitely check it out, Bnny. Bnny. All right, that's all for today. Over and out, my friends. I will talk to you next week. Bye-bye.
MINDFUL SELF COMPASSION: As you may know, in addition to my work here as a therapist, couples counselor and life coach, I love addressing listener questions on the Love Happiness and Success Podcast (not to mention the wonderful questions that you guys leave for me on our blog). A while ago, one brave listener reached out with a heartfelt email, sharing a bit about her life, and asking how to handle some really difficult things, like:“How do I forgive myself when I've hurt someone?”“How do I break my old patterns so that I don't do harmful things again?”“How do I stay emotionally available when I fear being hurt?”These are important questions that many people wrestle with, and I decided to tackle them on the show. We'll be discussing:
How Do I Stay Emotionally Available in Relationships?
When you're feeling fragile and emotionally reactive, it's hard to have healthy relationships. Instead, we usually fall into either losing ourselves and being dependent on another for our feelings of self-worth. (Which too often leads to emotional enmeshment and codependency). Or, we swing into self-protection, lashing out, shutting down, or breaking off relationships. The key to finding a middle path — connection, and confidence — is through loving yourself and strengthening yourself. Resource: Here's the link to the Self-Love article I mentioned. Also, an article about cultivating healthy vulnerability in relationships.At the heart of all the ideas, skills and strategies here for forgiving yourself, and using your mistakes as a launch pad for growth is the concept of mindful self-compassion. I hope you keep that idea with you, on your journey of growth and healing.Your fellow traveler,Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast
Mindful Self Compassion: How to Forgive Yourself
by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success
390 Interlocken Crescent,
Broomfield, CO 80211
Denver Tech Center
8400 East Crescent Parkway,
Greenwood Village, CO 80111
649 Remington St.,
Fort Collins, CO 80524