There I was in New York City after an amazing week of classes, adventure, and transformation.
I was feeling really good about myself, strutting my stuff, feeling alive, excited about life, and excited about the future.
Walking the streets of New York, with headphones in but the sounds of the city still surrounding me, a smile on my face, and sunshine on my skin—it was a good day.
No. It was an extraordinary day.
And then it happened.
Walking by a storefront mirror, I caught a glimpse of myself and it was like I’d been socked in the gut.
I didn’t like what I saw. In fact, I hated it. I hated it so much that I went down a downward spiral of hate and disgust that sent me into the depths of despair.
The gripping insanity of negative self-talk took me completely out of being present and into a hellhole of emotions that I had no idea how to crawl myself out of.
You see, most of my life was predicated on how I saw myself when I looked in the mirror.
On a good day, it was like I was on top of the world.
On a bad day, I couldn’t even lift my head up. It was like my whole world was falling apart.
Anxiety, shaking, depression, shame, insecurity, hollowness, emptiness—it felt like I was losing all hope of self-love and I had no idea how to peel myself out of the giant abyss of darkness and shame I had built around the idea that my body would never fit itself into the unrealistic expectations I had created for it.
It ruined me.
Or so my melodramatic, emotional roller-coaster of insanity told me.
At the time, I thought I was in the minority as I suffered silently from an internal dialogue that plagued my waking hours, gripped my stomach, and had me hiding, wallowing, overeating, and feeling ashamed. It took me 20 years to pry myself out from underneath the shame.
What I realized after exploring this topic was that hundreds of thousands, even millions of people suffer from this excruciating negative self-talk that paralyzes them.
But here’s the thing: this is something that most people don’t talk about. And yet they suffer. They ruminate. It paralyzes them. They hide. They create internal stories that keep them from ever having any shred of true happiness. All because of a reflection.
I spent years believing that the reflection I saw was the actual representation of what I looked like, and it nearly killed me. It destroyed my self-esteem, and it made me think I wasn’t enough.
One day, I’d look in the mirror and see this beautiful, strong, intelligent, determined, sexy woman.
The next day , I would look and see hideous, ugly, fat, compulsive, weak, insecure shell of a being—and in that moment, through the filter of those judgments, I had no confidence, no faith in knowing I could have or be or do anything I wanted.
It was that insecure woman who was in a relationship with an abusive alcoholic. That woman who would make poor choices: staying up all night drinking too much booze, waiting for someone to temporarily satiate my obvious lack of self-esteem. I’d get a hit of dopamine from flirting with some other lonely bloke sitting in a bar who was also looking to numb the lack of security that comes from knowing you are enough.
So instead of dreaming of my future and truly creating the world I knew was possible, I spent endless hours searching, seeking, and desperate for something that would temporarily satiate my need to feel like I was enough.
And for many split seconds in time I would feel like I was enough, but then it would fade away, and the all-too-familiar depression would return. Left to my own devices, I would invade any shred of self-assuredness I’d felt.
The truth is, I was never taught to find the depth of self-love and appreciation inside of me. I was never taught to trust myself. I thought that you were either born with the self-esteem gene or you weren’t. But what I now know is that self-esteem is a learned trait, achieved through hours and hours of training and practice—taking care of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Just like becoming a gold medalist in the Olympics, you don’t get there by hoping it will happen. You get there by training both your body and your mind to become the best you can be.
In this sea of separation, isolation, emojis, and false connections through digital, photoshopped images, social media, and the plethora of marketing and messaging that gives people a false sense of happiness…people’s egos are fragile.
And what I know about myself, when I feel fragile and I take a look in the mirror, is that I don’t see my beauty. I see the flaws, the insecurities, the one too many bites of cake, or the choice not to get out in nature, take a hot bath, or otherwise nurture my soul.
When I start to believe that the reflection I see is the actual representation, it is a huge mistake.
That reflection has been known to ruin days and even marriages, to make a good day turn upside down.
The good news: it doesn’t have to last.
Whether it’s how you see yourself on camera, in a photo, on a video, or in the mirror, judgment can wreak havoc on any situation, so it’s good to have a sense of humor and a few tools in your back pocket.
One of my favorite things to do is to recognize that the mirror is not a true reflection of self. Think about it: how many people do you know who look in the mirror and actually see themselves? Most people look in the mirror and see a version of themselves through the eyes of judgment. So how do you change it?
Here are some practical steps to start seeing a different reality:
Step 1. Stop judging yourself. Literally. You don’t need to talk about it, take it to therapy, process it, or figure out where it came from. You just need to stop it.
Step 2. Stop thinking that what you see in the mirror is real. The mirror reflects judgments, not reality. So you can start to ask for all the judgments in the mirror to go away.
Step 3. Recognize that judgment is just a choice. Judgments are a lie. They are not real, and if you are truly going to create the body, business, and life of your dreams, stop buying judgments as real. Judgments are a distraction and they are definitely not relevant to the creation of your future.
Step 4. Surround yourself with people who uplift you, who inspire you to become a better version of yourself every day. You want to change your life, change who you spend time with. Stop thinking that you owe anyone anything. Add the word “No” into your daily vocabulary and don’t be afraid to use it. Value your time and stop spending it with people who aren’t adding to the joy of living.
Step 5. Get out in nature, hug a tree, take a bath, and find at least 10 minutes every day to identify real, honest reasons you are grateful for you. When you find gratitude, it uplifts your spirit and allows more energy to come your way.
This journey isn’t perfect, but what makes it all worthwhile is knowing you are in charge of your own destiny. And if you don’t like what’s showing up, change it. Change your perspective, and your life changes.
So the next time you have the urge to check yourself out in the mirror, remember, if you don’t like what you see, what you see isn’t real. You might just be looking a representation of judgments—yours or someone else’s. So take a step back, take a deep breath, find the joy in your being, and start to celebrate your amazing self.
We weren’t born to look or be like anyone else but ourselves, and after all, those differences might just be the magic formula that changes the world.