Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you: You look in the mirror one day and feel good about yourself, then you look in the mirror THE VERY NEXT DAY and feel like sh**?
If you raised your hand, hey welcome to the world of Mental Optics!
The truth is you most likely didn’t gain or lose a ton of weight in one day. You’re probably wearing the same size. But something happened in the way you view your body.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to just body image, either. It happens in the way we perceive the people around us, situations that happen to us, and the actions other people take that affect us. All of these things are tinted by our whatever-colored glasses that life has prescribed us.
Thankfully, unlike most optical prescriptions, your Mental Optics can be rewired. Think of it as exchanging your old, scratched-up glasses for an updated prescription; you’ve been seeing the world cloudy and mucked-up for a while. Your new glasses will help you see things more clearly and brightly (and hopefully stop giving you such a headache).
The way I see the world now is drastically different than how I saw it just 10 years ago. Where I used to feel like the world was against me, I’m now able to see hardships as lessons making me stronger. Where I used to feel the need to escape emotions through substances, I now see that my emotions are natural non-life-threatening signs that I’m a human being!
A lot of work has been done to get here; work that’s shifted my perspective and my default reactions. Work that – if you’re willing – is totally available to you right now! But before we toss your outdated glasses to the wind, let me explain exactly what we’re looking at (pun intended).
What exactly are Mental Optics?
Mental Optics are the ways in which our brains influence what we see in the mirror, how we feel in our bodies, and perceive others and their reactions to us. They’re the way we see the world – not facts – and they’re automatically created by the experiences we’ve had in our lives.
For a lot of us, that’s a pretty effing scary reality. Some of us have had traumas that shaped our Mental Optics into distorted fish eye lenses. If that’s what we’re seeing reality through, then we’re in for a haunted-funhouse kinda ride. Wa-waaaaaaa.
I’ve got some good news for you if you’re freaking out a bit: The lens can be altered.
Altering The Lens
The way we view the world and the reaction we have to it makes up our life. That’s all there is. We live in this world that Mental Optics have shaped.
If you’re not a fan of that default world you’re living in, however, get ready to werk. This lens you see through now doesn’t have to be your lens forever. Want rose-colored glasses? Awesome, but you gotta tint them yourself.
If you’re down for the task, let’s look at how your Mental Optics work NOW, and the one extra step it takes to alter the lens
Read The Situation
When we first perceive a situation, person or ourselves, we usually do it by default using the Mental Optics that are already in place. This can cause an array of not-so-fun perceptions like:
- I look fat today. Everyone’s going to judge me.
- I can’t believe I said that. I’m so stupid!
- That person is rude. He must hate me.
- How could she do that to me? Doesn’t she know how much that hurts me?!
These perceptions feel like constriction or imprisonment. Maybe they even bring on anxiety or depression. Basically, they make us feel badly about ourselves and stuck in that feeling.
Our initial reaction to a situation is what I call, “Reading the situation.” It’s placed in front of us and through these outdated glasses, we see a filtered version of reality; one that hurts us and keeps us in that hurt.
From this place, many of us don’t know how to move forward. We either:
- Stay here in the hurt.
- Become reactionary, lashing out at ourselves or the people who hurt us.
- “Suck it up,” holding this hurt inside so it becomes something darker (like depression, anxiety or eating disorders).
None of those reactions are healthy. They don’t lead us to the next step; they keep us in a cycle of hurt that doesn’t do anyone any good. To alter the lens, all you have to do is take one more step…
FREE The Situation
This is the step that throws off those funhouse glasses and starts shaping your pretty rose-colored ones.
“Freeing the situation” describes the way you choose to react and respond. This is where we break free from the negativity spiral and choose the life we want to live in.
It’s not a long process. All you do is:
- Acknowledge how you’re “Reading the situation.”
- Take a deep breath.
- Acknowledge what your default reaction would be.
- Take another deep breath.
- Choose how you want to respond, then do it.
Though it’s not a long process, it won’t be a piece of cake from the start. You’ve been wearing those outdated funhouse goggles for so long that seeing clearly will feel like WORK at first. It will take effort, awareness and focus. But like most things, practice makes
perfect habit (“perfect” is a bad word here on Strong Inside Out). This will become easy – natural even – the more you do it.
After practicing this for a while, you’ll find that your default starts to change. The time it takes to go through this process gets shorter, and you no longer feel the lure of the pain spiral you perpetuated with your reactions before. Soon, you’ll be Freeing the situation within seconds of Reading it!
When I’m FREEing the situation, it helps me to keep these 4 mantras in mind for the most commonly experienced Situation Readings:
Your worth is not your weight
When you look in the mirror and feel badly about how you look, that’s one thing. When you decide you are worth less as a person, that’s another.
You are not your body. You’re so much more than your shell. Determining that you as a human being are anything short of magic because of your shape is skewed.
When this happens to me (yay, body dysmorphia!), I remind myself of how I would talk to my future child if she were to have these thoughts. I would want her to feel loved and important no matter how she looks. Then, I remind myself that if he/she is worth that kind of treatment, so am I.
If that helps you, awesome! If imagining your future child (or current one) doesn’t work for you, maybe imagining a best friend or a nephew will. Maybe you’ll imagine talking to yourself as a child. Whatever works, do it. No one else has to know what you do! All they’re gonna see is your confidence going up.
Reminding yourself that you are lovable and worthy no matter what you look like simply because you are a human being with a beating heart can help bring you back to the truth of your worthiness, and then move forward with the rest of your day without the crippling body shame.
Your actions are not YOU
I have what I like to call, “post-social anxiety,” where I walk away from a situation and immediately start beating myself up for what I said or did. Do you ever feel like that? Whether or not you do, we all make mistakes sometimes which can trigger our inner bully.
When this happens, I remind myself that I’m always doing the best I can with what’s available to me. We all are, really.
Good people do sh**ty things. Smart people say stupid sh*t. It’s just a part of life, and it doesn’t mean anything about us as human beings. Accepting this truth helps me forgive myself and release the obsession around it.
Nothing is personal
When people do something that bothers me, I like to remember that nothing is personal. Not even the things that feel like they are.
No matter what anyone does, their actions are their choice. There’s nothing we can say or do to control them. All we can do is choose our reactions.
You always have a choice
The automatic reactions we have can feel like extra-strength magnets. They’re hard to break free from! But the reality is that we always have a choice. We’re never forced into any kind of reaction.
Even when horrible things happen to you, you have a choice in how you react. This does NOT mean that you sweep emotions or traumas under the rug. This means that you have the choice to let them consume you, or to feel your way through the emotion, learn from it, then move forward in the life you want to live.
You are not a victim unless you choose to be. You are the hero of your own story.
For many of us, that just comes down to Mental Optics. Most of us don’t even understand that our perception is not set in stone.
I hope this post serves as an eye-opener for you today. Because maybe you don’t have to live like you’ve been living. Maybe a more balanced, less judgy, kinder way of seeing the world and yourself is just a choice away. And that’s what true health comes down to: choosing it.
May your choices bring you closer to who you’re here to be.