It comes out of nowhere.
Like bubbles at the bottom of a boiling pot of water, performance anxiety forms in deep, seemingly untouchable places in the very base of you and well up in strange and unpredictable ways. It is an energy of excess (excess thought, excess worry, excess sense of helplessness) that will not be suppressed and cannot be ignored. I’m not talking about major league ball players, first chair violinists and comedians who put it all out there, masterfully harnessing that energy and riding that wave of stress with a magnificent outcome.
I’m talking about walking into a gym.
To be clear – it is not necessary to have a gym membership to meet your weekly minimums for exercise. It is also not necessary to look like a Sports Illustrated model, or olympic level athlete to be healthy. You can adequately meet the recommended levels of activity to maintain fitness with at home equipment and an active lifestyle.
Your feelings are real, make no mistake.
As a nearly 6′ tall woman with sturdy Iowa farm-stock genetics, I have lived for a half century with sometimes near debilitating self-consciousness about my size. As early as Kindergarten, I recollect being the month-after-month tallest student marked on the wall. I remember a child in a dressing room looking under the door that I had just closed telling his mom, “Mom! There’s a man next to us.” Trying to find shoes and clothing while residing in South East Asia has not helped, but there is one thing that has kept me from truly being eclipsed by self consciousness.
Acknowledge and leverage those feelings
Early on in my career as an ACE certified personal trainer I attended a large fitness convention for professionals and I remember thinking, “I’m the fattest person in this room.” I have no idea if this was true, but it doesn’t really matter. The thought eclipsed my experience in that session. During the break a random woman, whom I’ll surely never meet again, asked me if I was enjoying the convention. Overcome with staggering emotion, I couldn’t answer her as I began to cry. In a very brief exchange I told her how I was feeling. This woman took my hand and said, “Listen. Do you think you could ever show compassion to your clients if you had no idea what it is like to feel like the fattest person in the room? Do you think someone who has never smoked and quit can really help smokers quit? Do you think that people who are born rich can ever really help those struggling with finances? Are you kidding me? Your empathy will go a lot farther than skinny genetics will when you find who you want to work with.” Then she let go of my hand, stood up and said “I have to get to my next session, but, one more thing.” I looked up at her and dried my tears. “By the way, stop judging the skinny girls. Everyone struggles with something.”
No One Really Cares
Really, they don’t. Let me tell you exactly how I feel when I see an obese person in the gym. I think… nothing. Let me tell you how I feel when I see a skinny dude lifting less weight than I can lift. I think…nothing. Sure – I’ll be thinking things if they’re talking loudly on their phone or not putting their weights away after using them. I’ll be thinking things if they are hostile to the gym staff or irresponsible with the equipment. But of their bodies and their performance? Nothing. And, my guess is they’re not thinking much about me. We are just sharing a space.
You’re already perfect. Get over it.
I understand. This is not helpful. It is not enough for me to tell you to put your feelings aside and get yourself to the gym. You are going to have to come to this realization yourself. Those fit people in there…with their rippling muscles and zero detectable fat…their coordination and precision when executing complicated exercises…their perfectly fitting clothes and faint whiff of Axe body spray…? They had their early days too.
While this might not be enough to get you into the gym today, this is the frame of mind I am hoping you come away with eventually. You are perfect right now – with your belly edging over the waistband of your tights, your confusion over how to use the machines and your really real fear of being judged…you are okay.
Re-read the note from Ram Dass about looking at trees and just allowing them to be. Start with the tree in the mirror. You and your body are perfect. Train it more and nourish it differently and you will change – 100% guaranteed or your body back.