Just like muscles, a healthy mindset needs training too

Today’s post involves a little navel-gazing. But I’m sharing anyways because I think it will resonate with many of you and I’m curious to know how you deal with that little nay-sayer in your heads…

A few weeks back, a woman whose physique, education and training philosophy I greatly admire paid me a compliment in the gym.

Looking strong! Your back definition is great! Such fantastic progress! Keep it up!

The back in question. The back that can do 3 sets of 10 bent over rows at 50 pounds a side. The back that needed to just shut up and say ‘thank you’


Instead of standing up straight, smiling at her and saying “Thanks for noticing. I’ve been working really hard!” (which is how we should always respond to a sincere compliment), I shrugged my shoulders and replied,

I try. But it’s not as easy at my age as it used to be… You know, two steps forward, one step back… Harder to keep the midsection tight…Have to be careful of injuries, you know…

(or something to that effect; I’ve forgotten my exact words, but you get the picture).

She offered a few more words of encouragement before moving on, clearly a bit taken aback at my response.

As was I.

In shrugging off her encouraging remarks, I surely made her think I questioned her sincerity. (And I’m betting she’ll never take the time to compliment me again. ..)

I’m not unfamiliar with women responding inappropriately to compliments about progress they’ve made in the gym .

All too frequently a female client or class participant says something similar to the words of encouragement I’ve bestowed on them. And it always makes me feel sad to realize that despite all the fabulous changes they’ve made to their outside, their mindset still hasn’t caught up.


I spent the next few days pondering. Curious about why I’d responded the way I did. Wondering where those words came from and why I felt the need to belittle her observations and undermine the compliment.

I came to the conclusion that mindset habits are just as quickly undermined as exercise and nutrition habits. Just as it’s all too easy to skip a week at the gym or slip into the pattern of having dessert nightly, it’s also pretty simple to let negative thoughts creep in.

Just because we’ve managed to extinguish a bad habit (or cultivate a new, healthier one), doesn’t mean that it won’t re-surface (or get forgotten) at a later date. And that as with fitness and healthy eating, we need to re-commit to a mindset that celebrates the lifestyle changes we’ve made. Each and every day.

It’s been a long time since that negative little voice in my head last cropped up. Here’s hoping, that with vigilance, it’ll be an even longer time before I hear from it again.

In the meantime, I’m doing what I do whenever my exercise and nutrition routines lapse; practice, practice, practice!


Do you have difficulty accepting compliments about your physique?

Does your mindset lag behind your fitness and nutrition accomplishments?



  1. I recall the first time I paid a compliment to a woman and she simple replied, “Thank you!”
    I was so startled as I’m used to the same response that I give, you know…deflecting from the
    compliment by saying something negative about some other aspect of my body. I’m trying
    my best to reply, “Thanks, so nice of you to say so.”
    We live, we learn.

    • Elaine, I know the feeling. I’ve had the same thing happen and it really does open your eyes to what typical behaviour is. Let’s keep practicing our gratitude responses 🙂

  2. This is a common response from women and one I am trying hard to work on. Learning to take a compliment and not feel the need to depreciate it. It is as though I feel the other person will think I am vain I simply respond “thank you, you just made my day” And that is the response that I am training my brain for. Because it is really nice when someone gives a compliment. Why not let the other person feel good about giving it too 🙂
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  3. Funny thing is, my husband can’t accept a compliment, either. It can get really annoying. I know when I was a kid, the worst thing you could accuse somebody of doing was bragging. And as a teen, heaven forbid, I should like a picture of myself. My husband really hates the way he photographs – and he really takes a very nice picture. It’s like this cultural terror we have of feeling good about ourselves or something. So thanks for reminding me that we need to keep complimenting each other and being thankful for the compliments we do receive.
    Anne Louise Bannon recently posted…Stray Thoughts: How to Write a ReviewMy Profile

    • Anne Louise, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. If we acknowledge that we feel good about ourselves, something terrible might happen. Like we might decide that we’re actually happy 😉

      Practice, practice, practice, right?

  4. I trained myself probably 20 years ago to say “thank you” to compliments and stop there. I too used to go on and on about why I didn’t really deserve the compliment. I hear so many women back away from taking a compliment. I’ve worked on a friend of mine for years on this. Now when I give her a compliment she gets a look on her face like I’m crazy (not entirely unfounded) then catches herself and smiles and says “thank you”. She says it never feels right to her though. Too many years of Catholic school is the reason she cites!
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  5. Ugh. Weaseling out of a compliment seems like such a natural reaction — are we raised that way? do we learn it by watching others do it? I try really hard to accept compliments graciously but I still have to silence that voice in my head.
    Coco recently posted…Respecting FearMy Profile

    • I think it’s cultural. Certainly men don’t do it (or not to the same extent). I had a conversation with a friend this morning and she wonders if it’s partly to do with not wanting to appear vain. I’m not sure, but it feels awful when I compliment others and they shrug it off…

  6. ahh I may rock this too much?
    but it is all in the name of raising a healthy girl 🙂 or so I claim anyway.
    CARLA recently posted…Repetition is the key to masteryMy Profile

    • Carla, your response resonated with me. All in the name of raising a healthy, girl who doesn’t apologize all the time!
      And for yourself as well.

      • I loved Carla’s response as well. I have an almost 13-year old daughter who I’m trying to raise to be strong, confident and non-apologetic. We do laugh that as Canadians, the word ‘sorry’ seems to come out of our mouths a little too frequently 😉

    • You DO rock it. Unapologetically! 🙂

  7. Just other day my husband said “wow your triceps are really popping” I asked him if he was making fun of me. He wasn’t…
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  8. On point as usual! I try so hard to say “thank you” when someone compliments me for… anything. I find that hanging around self disparaging people or people with poor body image can really hinder this goal!
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  9. No and No. With age (going on 62) comes SOME semblance of small wisdoms….

  10. I love this. (Found you from Carla’s blog, by the way!) My grandmother was the first person to busy my chops a little about this. Her take on it was, “When you dismiss someone’s compliment, you’re telling them that they’re wrong and just don’t know any better. It’s rude.” Honestly, I’d never thought of it that way, but that was the first time I stopped deflecting compliments. The interesting thing was that over time, as I said “Thank you,” full stop, I started to feel better about myself! Just accepting that other people thought good things about me was enough to nudge my brain more toward “Hey, maybe I really DO have nice arms,” or “Maybe I really DO look amazing in this dress.” As someone who had always put myself down, I was amazed at what a difference just saying “Thank you” made in my attitude over time.

    • Marste, thanks so much for jumping over here and sharing your thoughts! I love your grandmother’s perspective. And I know that I’ve felt slighted when a sincere compliment I’ve given has been deflected. I am being ever vigilant for these moments right now 🙂

    • I love your grandmother’s attitude!