I want to share a powerful exercise that’s been a key part of my personal growth journey. The exercise is very simple—just sit in front of a mirror and look into your own eyes for ten minutes. No matter what thoughts and sensations come up for you, see if you can hold your gaze on your reflection. See if you can breathe, keep in mind that just looking into a mirror can’t really hurt or destroy you, and ride out any intensity that arises.
I’ve had many different experiences doing this exercise. On some days, I feel a warmth in my heart and a desire to appreciate myself, and this exercise gives me a chance to show myself gratitude. At other times, I feel anger or sadness welling up inside, and I get the opportunity to become aware of and release those emotions. But no matter what I experience, it ultimately leads me to more peace and self-understanding, and I’ve seen the same effects in others I’ve recommended this to.
Here are some wonderful benefits of doing this exercise regularly:
1. Dispel Your Negative Body Image. Many of us carry around an unconscious (and often unflattering) picture of what our bodies look like as we walk through the world, and that picture affects how we behave and relate to others. If we have a mental picture of ourselves as ugly and frightening, for example, we’ll probably shy away from people, assume it would be useless to approach someone we’re attracted to, and so on.
Looking in a mirror for a while gives us a chance to see our bodies as they actually are, and let go of our often exaggerated and unrealistic mental images of ourselves. I’ve seen people break into tears while doing this exercise, as they saw how revolting they’d been making their bodies out to be, and how radically incorrect their image of themselves was.
2. Acknowledge Yourself. This exercise is a great setting for appreciating yourself and acknowledging the wonderful contributions you’re making to the world. As I think you’ll find, there’s something particularly powerful about staring yourself in the face and expressing gratitude for who you are and what you do.
Of course, for many of us, there’s also something painful about acknowledging ourselves like this, because it forces us to confront how uncomfortable we are with praising ourselves. Many of us are accustomed to belittling ourselves, making sure we don’t hog the spotlight, trying not to brag, and so on. So naturally, we often judge ourselves as “rude,” “selfish,” and so on while doing this exercise.
But if you keep doing this over time, I think you’ll find, the discomfort fades away. Jack Canfield puts it well in writing about this exercise in The Success Principles: “as you begin to act more positive and nurturing toward yourself, it is natural to have physical and emotional reactions as you release the old negative parental wounds, unrealistic expectations, and self-judgments,” but “they are only temporary and will pass after a few days of doing the exercise.”
3. Be Honest With Yourself. One thing this exercise takes away from you is the ability to hide from yourself and what you’re feeling. Many of us live our lives in constant self-distraction mode, trying to tune out our thoughts and feelings with our work, relationships, TV-watching, and so on. The last thing we want to do is be with ourselves in silence, because we’re afraid of the intense emotions that may come up.
There’s no escaping what’s going on for you, however, when you’re staring yourself in the face. If you’re feeling dissatisfied with some aspect of your life, this exercise makes you fully experience that dissatisfaction—there’s no TV, Internet or iPod to help you get away. If you’re angry at someone, and you’ve been diverting your attention from the anger most of the time, you have no choice but to be with how you’re feeling.
The upside is that, by forcing you to confront what’s really going on for you, looking in the mirror helps you consider what you can change in your life, and how you can treat yourself more kindly, to create a healthier relationship with yourself.
As you can probably tell from what I’ve written, this isn’t exactly a “Feel Good Now!” exercise that’s guaranteed to immediately perk you up. In the beginning, staring at yourself for ten minutes may be a surprisingly uncomfortable experience. It’s very different from briefly glancing at your reflection in the morning as you comb your hair. But if you stick with it, I think you’ll find it’s a powerful way to get more comfortable with and accepting of yourself.
My Recent Interview on What We Need To Know
I also want to share with you a more in-depth radio interview I did recently on What We Need to Know with Ed Morler. We explore issues like meditation techniques, finding your true calling in your career, how conscious breathing can help you stay grounded in the face of stress, and so on, more thoroughly than I have on the air before. I hope you enjoy it!