Self-Confidence Series: The Mental Shift for Physical Self-Confidence

For most people, physical self-confidence is rooted in the external comparative. We compare our bodies and our looks to our friends, our peers, other people at the bar, models on Instagram, celebrities, athletes, our previous selves, and really anyone who’s getting more attention than we are. We all have our own version of the perfect body in our head that is some amalgamation based on pictures and people we’ve seen, and compare ourselves to it only to realize “Wow I’m nowhere close.” The truth is, we will never have that perfect body, so the goal of achieving it is forever self-defeating.

Being physically self-confident is way more of a mental game than a physical one, which is why so many people have trouble with it. We talked before on how self-confidence is about proving to yourself that you can achieve the goals you set. When it comes to physical self-confidence, we usually start out with a goal similar to “I want to be more attractive” which is a TERRIBLE goal by our SAAM standards we laid out in our first piece; attractiveness is wildly hard to define, it’s almost impossible to measure, making it incredibly hard to attain, and there are about 1000 ways we think we can act on it, most of which won’t work or are simply destructive. Worst of all, how can we even gauge how attractive we are when it’s impossible to know what other people truly think about us? Gaining a pure, long-lasting sense of physical self-confidence has very little to do with how many girls tell us we’re hot, how flat our stomach is, or how much we can lift. Pinning confidence on these things is a great way to achieve short term bouts of confidence but is an even better way to lose it should we not meet those goals every time.

Basing how confident we are on comparative physical markers is also a tricky game to play because we are constantly moving our own goal posts. We want to lose 5 pounds, then 10, then we want a flatter stomach, then we want to see 2 abs, then 4, then 6 because that’s what attractive people have right? We want to lift as much as someone else at the gym or get through a workout faster than that other guy because if we do, we’ve won and feel superior. But there will always be someone that has better abs, someone stronger, someone faster. So as we continue to compare to others, we shoot ourselves down for not being good enough; for not being as attractive as that other dude at the bar or as strong as the other guys at the gym. The cycle is endless, even if we do beat someone else at lift or workout and get that small hit of self-confidence, the perception we have of our bodies doesn’t seem to change much.

I would know, in college (about 7 years ago), I was 176 lbs standing at a colossal 5’7” with some decent man boobs, could barely lift anything, and never took my shirt off in public. Last year, I was 155 lbs, could finally see 2 abs (ish), I could deadlift ~150% my bodyweight, and squat ~135% of my weight, a nice improvement if I do say so myself. I would have crushed my college counterpart in any physical contest other than digesting cheese (which I can no longer do). Regardless of this fact, I still felt terrible about my physical appearance and performance because I didn’t feel like I was as attractive or strong enough compared to my peers and still didn't feel good with my shirt off. Then I had a realization, if my college self saw me then and heard my terrible self talk about how other people still looked better or progressed faster, he’d slap me across the face, tell me to be thankful for my health and be proud of the progress I’ve made. This is where my long-term solution to physical self-confidence came in. I realized that if I was ever going to be confident with my body, my outlook needed to change.

Building a long-lasting sense of physical self-confidence has very little to do with how much you can lift, how tall you are, or what weight you see staring back at you from the scale. Physical self-confidence starts with acceptance. Accepting that what you see in the mirror is your body. It will never be anyone else’s body, but also, no one else will ever have yours. You are allowed to be fat and happy, as long as you’re healthy. Accepting that you look the way you do and that you have the power to improve it FOR YOURSELF is the big takeaway here.

The reason why you workout and eat right is just as, if not more, important than actually doing it. If you are working out every day because it makes you feel good, and you eat right because it gives you more energy and makes you feel healthier, you’re on the right track. True physical self-confidence is derived from achieving and working on internal goals and becoming a healthier version of yourself; setting the improvement of your physical health as the mission and then outlining specific markers of progress as defined goals. These goals need to be self-centered, positive, and achievable. As an example, I have listed some of my goals for the past year and some of the more specific checks I use to see if I am making progress or achieving those goals:

  • I want to have enough energy to enjoy each day

    • Did I finish my to-do list today? (Yes/No)

    • Was I dragging for the majority of my day? (Yes/No)

    • Did I meet my nutrition needs? (I track macros through the MyFitnessPal app)

    • Did I feel like I had enough energy for my workout? (Yes/No)

    • How much sleep did I get? (Target of 8 hours)

  • I want to maintain a healthy body composition

    • Is my current weight and body fat % trending towards my goal? (I track body comp trends through a Fitbit scale)

  • I want to fit in the clothes I have

    • Did my pants and shirts fit the way I wanted them to today? (Yes/No)

  • I want to be stronger to compete better at sports and functional activities

    • Are my lifts trending upwards, are they stagnant, or are they declining? (I use Zen Planner to track 1 rep maxs for all my lifts)

    • Did I do as well as I expected in my interval training workout? (Yes/No)

  • I want to stay injury free

    • Did I prep enough for my workout to not injure myself during? (Yes/No)

    • Did I go to yoga this morning? (Yes/No)

All of these goals are specific, attainable, actionable, and measurable. None of these goals are based around anyone else, and none of them are rooted in vanity. As a result of setting these goals, I go to the gym ~4 times a week, I eat reasonably well, and I try to maintain an active lifestyle. None of my goals and their more detailed gate-checks are complicated or confusing. They are all very attainable within 16 waking hours, and all provide a sense of confidence that I’m doing something good FOR MYSELF by the end of the day. Since my mental shift and decision to try and focus on being healthy for myself, rather than “being more attractive to others” I am now 147lbs, can see 4 abs (ish), can deadlift over 2x my bodyweight, can squat 150% of my weight, have very little trouble taking off my shirt at the beach, and simply feel good about the body I’m in. Of course I fall off every now and then, and sometimes I don’t feel confident about my physical appearance, but refocusing on my goals is always a good way to get back to a healthy state of confidence.

In the end, building physical self-confidence is about improving yourself for the right reasons. When you do that, the “being more attractive” part takes care of itself.

Make your goals, make them attainable, but most importantly make them for yourself.

Then, go after them.

What are your personal physical goals and why? Leave a comment down below and share with us and your peers.