“Be Careful what you wish for; it may just come true”.
I’ve noticed over the years, that when I really visualise and wish for something to happen, more often than not it has come about. As a student of science – two university science-based degrees, in fact – I do understand the absurdity of this statement. But on the flipside, as a Physiotherapist who largely works with athletes, I am also hesitant to brush off the power of the mind and the power of intention in making things happen. An advocate of “hippie medicine” I am not; but a believer in the human mind, very much so.
Just last week a colleague and I gave a presentation to a group of runners about the power of visualisation, in terms of goal setting and forming one’s identity. What athletes do really well, that “normal” people do not, is to clearly establish an image in their minds’ eye of what their goals are, what their body looks and functions like, and how they will perform on race day. They stick posters on their bedroom walls, photos in their wallets and cars, have firm self-affirmations and use frequent visualisation to enable them to see the future they want to create and to assist in their pursuit of excellence.
Let’s flip that equation. How often do you see someone who has been overweight and inactive for their entire adult life, go ahead and lose 20kg, along the way learning how to maintain that loss, only to turn around and put it back on? Often, the new lifestyle has been achieved, but the person has failed in their mind’s eye to identify this new person in the mirror, who is “healthy” weight and active. They don’t recognise themselves. So they go back to their place of comfort.
Sound familiar? Nowhere is this phenomenon more important than with ED patients trying to recover. We are the ultimate masters of visualisation and affirmation – Ana makes damn sure that the little birdy on our shoulder never shuts up, providing an incessant stream of buzz words and “motivations” to become the ultimate weight loss machine. Do we recognize ourselves when we get there? Hell yes, we have been dreaming day and night of reaching that mystical land and no person on the planet is going to take it away. Hello Ana!
Only that is not you. That is Ana you are seeing in the mirror. Somewhere in the process, Ana takes over and the real You becomes a mute little birdy on the other shoulder.
During the long and arduous process of recovery, it becomes so important to bring that birdy back to life, for if you cannot see You in the mirror along the road to health, the risk is that Ana will pull you back to the land of “comfort”.
Easy to say, hard to do. How does one find a new sense of self – particularly for someone like me, who lost that sense of self at around 12 and then had to try to find an adult identity at age 22? We use the same tools that we learnt so well during the Ana years. Flip that bitch on it’s head. When it comes to the power of the mind, no-one – elite athletes included – does it better than an Anorexia sufferer.
The first thing that I did was to find images of athletes who I thought were realistically about the same size frame as me (height and muscularity etc), and had beautiful, fit, lean, muscular and healthy bodies. The more they look like you (a healthy version of you….), the better. Then I wrote out quotes and powerful affirmations for me, as simple as “I am an athlete”, “I am strong”, “I am beautiful”. I needed to be healthy to finish my first Ironman, so I included photos of glowing Ironman finishers as well. I plastered these words and images all around my mirror and through my training diary, as a constant reminder of where I wanted to head. I was creating an image of my future life in my all-important mind’s eye. So that when I got there I would recognise the person staring back at me in the mirror. I knew what Ana looked like; I just had to work out what I looked like.
Over the next months and years, the photos and words got updated and I started to build “me”. And then a funny thing happened. I finished my first Ironman, and the finisher photos get sent out a few weeks later. I stuck one of them up on my wall, then took a step back. It fit right in, amidst the photos I had put up there to visualise my future with. I had to smile.
The transformation didn’t happen overnight, and I still don’t love what I see in the mirror. I still spend countless hours talking to my Psychologist about the division between what I see, and what others in my world see (I get very confused when people tell me I’m attractive, stunning, slim etc as I do not see any of those things – it’s a work in progress). But the most important thing is I do see me in the mirror. It’s familiar, and it’s a body that can achieve amazing things, and a mind that spends most of its days helping people with their health, and that is a beautiful thing.
I will never stop doing this process, as it has bode me well during my recovery years and so long as I am doing my life’s dance on this epic planet, I will never stop trying to achieve amazing things. In the future the images will change as my life evolves, and I can’t wait to see how the rest of my life unfolds.
Bring it on.
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.”
– Erma Bombeck