Replacing Negative Thoughts With Positive Motivation
If a friend who knows you are trying to lose weight continually offered you cake, cookies and ice cream, you may start reevaluating that friendship. Dieting is hard enough without saboteurs pulling you off track at every turn. Avoiding people that are not supportive is a necessary strategy when you are struggling to change unhealthy habits. But, what if the agent of sabotage is yourself?
Your mind and body work together for good or for bad
If losing weight were simply a matter of calories-in, calories-out, everyone would be thin. The body-mind connection makes the process far more complex. Your thoughts, your self-talk, trigger chemical responses in your body. Negative thinking, berating and criticizing yourself, will hinder your best efforts at losing weight. Gaining control of your thoughts will do more to help you lose those pounds than the best diet and exercise program ever could.
Your mode of thinking is a habit
Do you cringe when you catch a glimpse of your reflection in a storefront window? Do you find yourself reaching for second and third helpings while thinking, “I’ll never lose weight so I might as well.” Do you downplay your successes — “Sure I lost a five pounds, but It’s just a drop in the bucket. I’ve still got a butt the size of Montana.” This negative thinking becomes a habit. It forces you to focus on what is wrong and ignore what is good and right. It creates stress and can even trigger a fear response, which inhibits your ability to control impulses (like that impulse to eat the entire pot of pasta.)
Retrain your brain
Years of negative thinking have strengthened the neural pathways that support these thought patterns. Negativity becomes a reflex, but with conscious effort, you can break this habit using exercises drawn from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The underlying premise of CBT is that you are not an objective observer of the world. You create meaning from information gathered through your five senses. When you look in the mirror and say, “I’m fat,” you are speaking from your own perspective. An accurate, objective assessment would sound more like this: “My BMI is 27. I would be healthier if I got it down to 24.” Recognizing that your thoughts are often distorted versions of reality is the first step in taking control of them.
Root out the negative to embrace the positive
When a negative thought springs forward, notice it, analyze it. Is it accurate? Keep a journal and record the negative thoughts that badger you throughout the day. Do these thoughts make you anxious, depressed and ready to eat a bag of potato chips? After a few days of actively noting how you talk to yourself, you will see patterns emerge. This insight into your psyche will allow you to step back and consider the rationality of your statements.
Break the pattern of negative thoughts for good
It is not enough to squash negative thoughts; you must replace them to develop new thought patterns. For each negative thought, seek out a neutral or positive one to stand in its place. If you are unhappy with your appearance, acknowledge the problem and develop solutions. If you make a mistake on the job, change, “I’m such an idiot” into, “now I know not to do that again.” You are not being a Pollyanna, casting artificial sunshine on a gloomy day. You are being realistic.
Create mental images for a lasting impression
Does your thought journal show you regularly calling yourself dumb? Create an image of that, perhaps one of yourself wearing a dunce cap. Replace that thought with, “I’m actually quite bright,” and create an image of yourself to represent intelligence — maybe envision yourself in a cap and gown giving a commencement speech. Link these two images together in your mind so that eventually, every time you call yourself dumb, the image of you leading a group of college graduates will appear.
Practice, practice, practice
It will take time to reverse negative thought patterns, but it can be done. You need to continually be on guard for negative thoughts and be ready to replace them with positive, solution-based thinking. Over time, you will find positive thoughts begin to rise naturally, and your own self-talk will become a supportive ally in your quest to lose weight.