I went to the gym today to see what kind of prices they had. I was introduced to a well-meaning man who appeared to have a vested interest in enrolling me. However, his methods were singularly geared towards making me feel inadequate. It could be argued that I am sensitive about my body – that much is true. Nevertheless his comments were harsh, focusing on my ‘average’ body fat ratio (“Tell me, what kind of man do you want to be? Average?”) and reflecting on some perceived failure in my remarkably Spartan diet (“There must be something… pizza on the weekend? Coffee? With half & half? Well there’s your problem…”).
I felt broken down afterwards, yet left feeling a strong incentive towards ‘changing myself’ because I essentially suck, and accepting that the only place I could repair these issues was in that furnace of strutting and posturing and flexing that seems to have less to do with physical fitness and more to do with social signalling. This felt like a mixed benefit. Would it get me in the gym? Probably. Would it be fun? Likely not in the slightest.
I get his technique. It makes sense, and I am familiar with the boot-camp style of knock ’em down and build ’em up. Find a weakness and then sell the means to resolve this weakness. Even now I find myself squeezing my body to seek out some perceived flabbiness or lack of toning. This is the modus operandi of the average advertising campaign and I’m extremely aware of the shit they try to pull.
This to me appears to be entirely the wrong way to motivate others or oneself. Start with shame and you end up with a carrot-on-a-stick motivator. Additionally, all templates of shame are rooted in the child parts of ourselves, and it’s important to ask, how would we talk to a child that we wished to encourage to some form of change? As summed up nicely on a random gym’s website I found:
Think of yourself as a child, perhaps one of your own kids, who is looking to you for help getting into shape. How would you talk to them? Would you say to them “You’re fat and weak and pathetic!” and then encourage them to head off to the gym with that message bouncing around in their head? No, you’d be supportive, encouraging and positive: “You can do this!”, “Showing up is half the battle!” or “Hang in there – it gets easier!”
Self-confidence is hard to sell to, so salespeople don’t like it very much. Yet, a healthy self-esteem provides the best middleperson with which to have a relationship with ourselves. It’s the broker that helps us negotiate necessary change. If we damage that by constantly feeling inadequate, then we’ll never be content with the progress we make and never truly learn to enjoy the benefits we work so hard to achieve.