What if someone could tell you whether your marriage is headed for divorce? Psychologist John Gottman, the author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, can watch you and your spouse argue and tell within just a few minutes whether your partnership will last beyond the next five years, within 90% accuracy. By observing and cataloguing your physical and verbal cues, he and his research team can tell from a short interaction whether you and your spouse will be able to work it out, or are headed for a long walk off a short pier.
Through their impressive research on couples, Gottman and his researchers have discovered the Rule of Five: in order for humans to feel they are happy in a relationship, they need to experience at least five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. If our negative interactions start to creep up beyond this, or the positive interactions drop off, we consciously or unconsciously start to head for the nearest exit sign.
What does this have to do with your body, you may ask? Well, how many negative interactions do you have with your body each day? In a recent magazine survey, women reported an average of 13 negative thoughts about their bodies each day, and some reported 35, 50, or even 100 self-criticisms directed toward their bodies daily. (“Shocking Body-Image News: 97% of Women Will Be Cruel to Their Bodies Today” Shaun Dreisbach, Glamour Feb 2011)
Do you think the woman with 100 daily self-criticisms balances them out with 500 pleasant thoughts about her body? Yeah, right.
In fact, for most of us, if we were married to our body, our body would haul us into divorce court and demand the judge throw the book at us, for enduring endless years of physical, mental, and emotional abuse. Think of the alimony payments!
Like it or not, you can’t divorce your body. But you can change your relationship for the better. The Rule of Five suggests a practice to alter the course of your relationship with your body. Start to notice your negative thoughts about your body. Notice what triggers them and notice the stories they trigger, even the emotional response that arises alongside them. Notice how some of them are stupendously unoriginal. “You are a fat, worthless pig,” is mentioned in the Glamour study as a universally common self-directed insult---and here I thought I’d invented it in tenth grade. Notice how often self-criticisms arise. Even count them if you like… you might be surprised at how much of your mental energy during the day is directed toward criticizing yourself. Then notice if you have any positive thoughts toward your body. What? None at all? Really?
Make a list of five positive things about your body. How else are you going to start remedying the imbalance? Stretch your mind, think of nice things other people have said about your body, and add any wacky good thing about your body you can think up. My list looks like this:
1. My toenails are cute.
2. I like way my knees have funny dimples.
3. My hands remind me of my beloved grandmother.
4. My grown-up body figured out how to hula hoop, even though it was hard to keep the hoop up at first.
5. My body is like a clock I never have to wind… it takes care of me all the time without me having to think much about it. It’s pretty freaking cool.
If you have trouble making your list, ask your friends and family for help. Write down the list and stick it in you wallet, on your dashboard, on your bathroom mirror. Remind yourself of these five things (and who said you had to stop at five… keep going if you’ve got more!) until you know them by heart.
Now you’ve got two ways to bring the Rule of Five back into balance, evening out the negative with the positive. First, stop criticizing yourself so much. Go back to the “Hi” practice (from Love Your Body Blog Part 4), and try to be at least neutral toward your body instead of giving yourself a hard time. Reduce the supply of negativity. Second, when you catch yourself being negative towards your body, pull out your wallet, dig out your list of five good things about your body, and read them to yourself. Close your eyes, and repeat them. Even apologize to your body for the criticism you just flung at yourself. No one should have to live married for a lifetime to the mean girl in their head. Your body deserves better.
Be a good partner to your body. Be the partner your body deserves and longs for. Try the Rule of Five practice, and let me know how it goes.
Next post: Give the inner judge a vacation.