External Validation. It's what Instagram is made of (note: I love IG - just sayin').
But what really fuels societies' need, or more specifically, the fitness worlds need for external validation by way of verbal affirmation, compliments, likes, shares, re-posts, etc. ?
In my own experience, the need for external validation came from a giant void in my own life. As most of you know, I spent most of my life overweight and as 'the ugly duckling' in my youth. I was made fun of and took a lot of that pain and hurt in to my adulthood. My parent's divorce took a toll on me and later, the death of my Father. Those life experiences combined left me needing something.
I first began filling this 'void' with food in my youth. Later, it became alcohol and male attention. And then when I made my commitment to health, I found I could control absolutely everything I ate and did in the gym on a daily basis and low and behold - I began receiving that glorified external validation.
I began to THRIVE on this validation. So much so that it became an obsession. Posting photos of my body, my 'hardcore' prep food, my workouts, my waist measurements- you name it - all in the name of a compliment. I checked my likes, shares and re-posts incessantly and I loved the feeling of being what I thought was 'elite.' But I wasn't really. I was just a girl who was restricted who followed a plan and learned to live through compliments.
What this did was completely alienate me from my family and friends. I was so focused on what others' thought of me and even dressed the part to get MORE validation. Always seeking.
But what I was really seeking - was to fill that void that I could not explain nor see.
When all came crashing down around me in the midst of an eating disorder and body dysmorphia, I began to slowly realize that I was empty inside. What was I living for....for other people's compliments? What kind of life is that?
What about living for things like the deep intrinsic fulfillment of succeeding in work? Or the way my heart felt when I gave back to my community or those in need? What about the deep spiritual connection I have to my Faith that is literally my entire purpose on this planet? What about the drive I felt when pursuing more education or the acknowledgment for my work ethic? What about living for the experiences I had with my friends and family outside of my iphone and social media?
THOSE are things I should have been focused on. But the problem was that I was so broken inside, that I couldn't see those things. I could't feel them - or much of anything for that fact.
After a lot of deep work (that will be another post), I finally found love for ME again that had zero to do with my external. And I could honestly care less what others' opinions are of me. If I can inspire with my story - wonderful! But if I am looked down upon for sharing - doesn't phase me. This is me - and it took me a long time to stand in my worth and love me for who I am.
Some of the ways I found fulfillment outside of external validation and highly recommend:
GIVE! Giving back via donating your time, energy or resources has been shown to increase your overall fulfillment and JOY in life. People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being and happiness. Giving back also helps people to feel less isolated and more connected to the world around them outside of our own 'bubble' we live in on social media or in our work cubicle. There are SO many amazing volunteer organizations out there to be involved in from animal welfare to children to curing diseases to helping combat veterans - find something that you are passionate about and that drives you! Not sure where to start? Check out Volunteer Match to find local organizations near you that are aligned with your passions!
Spiritual Connection I know plenty of people who do not wish to be affiliated with any world religion but are still deeply connected to something greater than themselves. Whether it be a connection with the earth and nature, a connection to themselves through meditation or a personal relationship with their own deity, this connection helps us to be more connected to ourselves. A deeper connection with ourselves always leads to deeper relationships with others which is one of the most fulfilling aspects of our lives: relationships. Check out these 10 Apps that can help propel or drive interest in a spiritual practice. Get out in nature and spend some time focused in silence on everything from the sun to the breeze to the water. Go with friends to religious services and explore what is out there. And above all - create your own personal relationship with your spirituality.
Career Progression If you are feeling stuck in your career or don't have a clear plan of progression in front of you, consider your options (there are SO many options out there!) With any kind of progression, there is always a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment. Not to mention the DRIVE to do more and go further! Acknowledgement for your hard work, dedication, drive and focus can truly elevate positive hormones like dopamine and increase your overall happiness. Check out the Switch app that acts like your own personal career coach to help you find your dream job via a 52 question assessment as well as a job search tool. I am also a huge fan of flexjobs.com for some incredible (and balanced!) career opportunities!
STRENGTH! Want to FEEL fulfilled (literally) by challenging your body and finding out what it can DO instead of focusing on what it looks like? Welcome to the world of strength training! Just like the career progression above, progressing in weights via strength training is a confidence booster like no other. Whether you are doing normal hypertrophy, power, crossfit, bodyweight, yoga, gymnastics-style or whatever drives you - track your progression and feel EMPOWERED! Not sure where to start? Check out the Classpass app and try multiple styles to find your right fit. Don't be afraid to walk in to a gym and ask for a free class or week to check out each different style, talk to trainers and find what moves you!
Nurture Your Talents Love to paint, sing, creative writing, play a musical instrument, cook and so many other incredible talents? Make space in your week to ensure you are devoting time to your talent! Focusing on your talents and passions brings you an overall sense of joy and fulfillment AND helps strengthen your cognitive ability. If you want to further explore new potential talents and passions, check out local cooking classes, improv acting courses, music lessons, paddle board yoga and more using an app like Dabble to explore what is available in your city!
There is a big ol' world out there full of so many incredible things that can bring you so much happiness and JOY! And guess what? They have ZERO to do with your external being. And the best part? They give you such better and longer lasting feels than any external validation seeking ever could.