I recently started working with a new athletic trainer. He is helping me correct foundational movement issues that have led to chronic injury and pain.
As part of our work, he gives me drills to practice, which I do. Diligently.
Per his suggestion, I record myself on video while doing the drills. I send him the videos to review and he gives me feedback.
In addition to sending the videos to my trainer, I also watch them.
More accurately, I force myself to watch them.
This is not easy.
Watching yourself on video helps illuminate your blind spots. You can’t see yourself when you’re executing a task. Even looking in a mirror (if you have one available) isn’t a suitable strategy, because the moment you look in the mirror you change your form and your angles.
The only way to see your blind spots is with the aid of an outside observer: a coach or trainer, or — in the absence of another person — a video camera.
Beyond the physical movements of the drills, the videos I’ve filmed lately have shown me a new blind spot:
My facial expressions.
I’m going to be honest: They are not pretty.
They are downright horrifying. Embarrassing.
In the videos, I noticed how often I look angry.
I can tell, when I watch the video, that my expression is often a reaction to the legitimate physical discomfort I feel when doing the drills. I’m working on activating muscles that have been dormant for a long time, that — even through 9 years of daily workouts — I’ve managed to avoid.
I’ve become skilled at cheating around these muscles, and now I’m pushing into the uncomfortable places.
And it’s written all over my face.
You won’t find me at a poker table anytime soon. I give it all away with my facial expressions.
The thing is: I know that smiling actually helps the nervous system relax and makes these movements easier. I know that “angry face” communicates to my nervous system that something is “wrong,” which leads to fight or flight mode and causes the body to freeze.
This is the very cycle I’ve been stuck in for years and they I’m actively trying to change.
Video can be both illuminating and horrifying at the same time.
It’s unnerving to see my expression on camera. Especially because even though I look angry, I don’t feel angry, at least not on the conscious level.
That’s the key phrase: at least not on the conscious level.
This is the realm of habit.
This is a perfect example of the principle that it’s harder to break a habit than to make a habit.
With my new awareness from the videos, I set an intention to smile as I do my drills, especially when it gets hard. Yet I still notice the angry face appearing.
This won’t be an overnight change. It’s a practice — and one I’m applying outside the gym as well. When I sit in traffic, when I’m going through my day, I constantly remind myself to smile.
I’m trying to remind my nervous system that it’s ok to relax, that it’s safe to be in the world, and that discomfort is not “wrong.”
It’s not easy to look at videos that show me my angry face. I’d like to imagine that I’m often greeting people with warm eyes and a welcoming smile.
That is clearly not what’s happening.
A good coach helps us create awareness so that we can make the unconscious conscious and work on changing those habits.
Confronting the truth about how we are showing up can bring its own discomfort and pain.
But the only way to change is to look at ourselves the way we really are, not how we imagine ourselves to be.