Updated: Sep 16, 2019
By Michael Scott
For the vast majority of my life I have been unhappy with my physical appearance. I know exactly when it started as well.
12 years old - my first day at a new secondary school was the first time I was made aware of my physical appearance. Before then I was just Michael. Now I was the tall, skinny new kid with an unkempt hair style and a protruding bottom lip caused by my under-bite. I was targeted instantly. ‘Lipper’ was the chosen moniker for me and I spent the next 4 years of secondary school being bullied both verbally and physically purely because of the way I looked. This is what caused me to have no self esteem, no self confidence, very few friends, as who wants to hang out with the kid being ostracised? I’m not saying I had the worst treatment of all the other kids in my year but it was close.
I don’t think there are more than a dozen pictures of me that exist between the ages of 12 and 25. I hid from the camera because all I saw when looking at pictures of myself was my lip and my worthless self. I didn’t want any record of it. Ever.
I left school at 16 because I hated it, I moved straight into work but my lack of confidence and self worth bled into my work life. I was pushed around, belittled, ignored. Why wouldn’t they? What did I have to offer, I was just this awkward kid who was rubbish at social interaction, who picked the wrong battles was and terrified of confrontation. I couldn’t ever stand up for myself, no matter how wrongly I was treated it left me feeling lazy, unmotivated and comforting myself by spending my wages in nightclubs and on fast food.
Feeling so bad about myself I had few real friends and I became very insular and this affected my work and personal life even more. I had a few bouts of depression and spent many, many many years feeling very sorry for myself.
As much as I wanted to be proactive, get stuff done, I couldn’t change. I couldn’t get off the sofa, literally. I was physically unable to move myself off the sofa, I would sit for hours and hours, wasting time watching telly, knowing there were jobs to be done, the washing up, make dinner, hoover, I wanted to do them. I would sit for hours getting angry at myself for not having done the jobs, yet I still sat there. This caused major issues in my relationship, I was lazy, ungrateful, unhelpful, forgetful. Who would want to stay with someone like that? I couldn’t understand it why I was like this, I wanted to do all these things but why couldn’t I?
I can’t describe the frustration I felt at being this worthless human being, unable to change and destined to live a miserable lonely life.
For my whole life from 12 years old on wards I wanted to be someone else. I desperately wanted to become the man I aspired to be, but I couldn’t. The man I wanted to be was confident, didn’t care about what other people thought of his looks/style/interests. He was generous, he did housework, he had a career, he was a good father, he made others around him feel good about themselves. He was basically everything I wasn’t. This desire and the subsequent inability to act made my depression even worse.
I spent my life not talking about this with anyone. I didn’t know anything was wrong with me and to those around me I was just an unhelpful/unmotivated person, I was a typical lazy bloke. This deepened my depression and I continued to just bottle it all up. I was constantly being told I was lazy/useless/selfish and because I knew no better, I believed that was the truth, that this was just who I was. I grew a beard to hide my face (luckily it turned out I suit a beard and then it actually became fashionable to have one, which was a bonus!) but I didn’t know I actually had a problem until I finally asked for help, and I learnt about a technique that has quite literally changed who I am.
I rewrote my brain.
I met with Jackie for some hypnotherapy, she explained to me how my brain works. She explained that my brain works via neural pathways, my thoughts are like an electrical charge running from one part of my brain to another. Like all such systems, my thoughts takes the path of least resistance. This works for all thought, emotion and feeling. My brain has well established pathways, for example - every time I think about bacon, I think ‘I love bacon’ my brain uses the same path to complete the thought, and it is the fastest, least resistant path my brain knows when it sees bacon. Therefore, I love bacon! Every time I see bacon, I have this same thought and that path becomes more and more established.
The same is true in all things in your mind, and in my mind the most well worn path was the path my brain took whenever I saw myself in the mirror or in a photo. It went straight to my physical appearance - In a world of pathways, this was a motorway - that motorway lead onto other established paths that reminded me I was unattractive, weak, a pushover, a failure.
So I was set a task, every time I looked in the mirror I had to take in the whole image, not just my lip and I had to tell myself I was attractive. Such was my desperation to change I fully committed. I would point at myself and say ‘hey handsome’ or I’d wink cheesily and flex some muscles. I felt incredibly stupid, often I’d be laughing at myself for doing it or telling myself I was just being ridiculous. Negative thoughts bounced around my head whilst I was trying to be positive. For nearly a fortnight I kept this up, after every shower, after cleaning my teeth, whilst getting dressed, if I saw myself in the mirror I forced myself to think ‘I look good’ and unbelievably, it started to work.
I started to see angles I liked, I sometimes caught myself thinking I looked good! That then caused a weird confusion in my mind as this new pathway, of thinking I was attractive, was starting to overwrite the old ugly pathway, and that was so well established that it wasn’t going to go without a fight.
Happily, it didn’t fight for long. It couldn’t stand up to the near constant barrage of positive thoughts that were getting up a full head of steam. The more I got comfortable complimenting myself the more impact they had, till I had ‘the’ epiphany moment. I was looking in the mirror as normal but my brain quite literally said ‘damn, I’m hot!’ and it wasn’t forced or awkward or followed by an immediate battle with a negative thought. It was a genuine confident positive thought and it felt f***ing fantastic. It was the new pathway that I had spent weeks building and it was finally open for business.
The process isn’t over, I still have bad days like everyone else and the old ugly pathway hasn’t, and I don’t believe will ever, completely vanish. The good news is that my go to thought when I see myself now isn’t negative, upsetting or self defeating. I like what I see in the mirror, I believe I am attractive. The important word there is believe, I don’t think it, I believe it.
In the two or so years since I did this experiment my self confidence has grown massively.
I now cook healthy food all the time, I don’t buy fast food at all. I have lost weight. My housework is always (ish) done on time and I’ve become house proud, my personal life has improved massively, I’m comfortable in my own skin and this shows in the way I'm treated at work and out meeting new people. Each of these things took a little while to get going but like any new skill, the first time you try it you get bits wrong and it takes a long time, but the more you do it the faster you get at it. So now when I want to change the way I think about something it’s a much faster and easier process and it’s quite literally changing my world.
Two years ago, I wouldn’t even have taken the pictures of me being silly, let alone be comfortable sharing them. That is how much I have changed, I have accepted who I am I really don’t care what others think, I’m happy to show the real me.
So, I’d like to set you a little challenge. You can decide how little or big you want the challenge to be but I want you to pick something you have always told yourself you don't like about yourself, it could be your hair colour, your nose, whatever, and for the next two weeks I want you to tell yourself you like whatever you have decided to focus on. Get crazy with it, make yourself laugh as you do it, pull cheesy faces but keep doing it. Be mindful that your existing negative pathways will still crop up and don’t let yourself feel discouraged when they do, just acknowledge that they are there and remind yourself that you are building a new path. Then in a couple of weeks of consistent badgering your brain will finally overwrite that old way of thinking and you’ll free yourself to grow, because once you realise it does work you can apply it to virtually anything.
I’m not going to say something cheesy like ‘if I can do it then anyone can’ but i will just say- try it.