Change This Bad Habit, Accomplish Anything

By , SparkPeople Blogger
There are a lot of important pieces in the weight loss puzzle. Good tools for tracking nutrition and exercise, reliable information, social support to boost motivation and help you stay focused--all of these things are crucial. But even with all this, success still comes down to how well you can help yourself make good choices in the moments when those choices actually need to be made.

All of us have to cope with feelings, thoughts, impulses, and situations that can make it very hard to stay mindful, motivated, and disciplined when it’s time to actually decide what we’re going to eat and whether we’re going to get up and do some exercise. Learning how to effectively coach yourself through these challenges is crucial if you want to keep moving forward. And the first step here is paying careful attention to how you talk to yourself when things go well, and when they don’t.

For me, negative self-talk has always been the biggest obstacle to doing what I need to do. In the past, I started all my weight loss campaigns with extremely negative feelings toward myself, like feeling disgusted every time I saw myself in a mirror or photo, and assuming others felt the same way about me. I told myself that losing weight was the key to being happy. Every time I gave in to some impulse or bad mood, I mercilessly beat myself up for not having the character or willpower to say no to a candy bar or second helping of dinner; I never gave myself any credit when I did well.

I can tell you now that this “tougher than toughlove” kind of negativity is a prescription for failure. Even if feeling bad about myself motivated me to try to make some changes, it was never enough to keep me going for very long. Mainly, it just increased my feelings of resentment, frustration, and helplessness until they erupted in an eating binge or a collapse into depression and hopelessness. All that negative self-talk made it impossible for me to come up with any realistic goals and strategies, or figure out how to help myself do what I wanted to do. I was stuck for years in an all-or-nothing mentality where I had to be perfectly good or I felt perfectly bad.

But I’ve also learned that I can’t just switch my self-talk to the other extreme, where it’s full of sweetness and abstract fluff about how wonderful I am and how I can accomplish anything I want as long as I believe I can. That may help turn off some of the negative self-talk for a few minutes, but that’s just the beginning. What I really need is the sort of non-sugarcoated but respectful “push” you get from a good coach: identifying both my strengths and my weaknesses, recognizing what needs work, setting realistic and meaningful goals, learning from my problems and my successes, and challenging me to put my best efforts forward.

At this point, I’ve identified four principles of constructive self-talk that help me avoid falling back into the pit of negativity and verbal self-abuse:

1. Don’t say anything to myself I wouldn’t say to someone else. If I find myself slipping back into harsh self-criticism, perfectionism, or unrealistic expectations, I stop for a minute and ask myself whether what I’m saying to myself is something I’d say to anyone else who came to me looking for help with a similar situation. Then I say that to myself instead.

2. Look at the whole picture. No matter how persistent a problem seems to be, I remind myself it is never the whole story. There are times when I’ve handled the problem well and accomplished something positive. Instead of just going over what went wrong this time, I ask myself what I did to make things go right in those other instances, and how I can do that again now.

3. Ditch the drama. If I’m upset about something I ate or some exercise I didn’t do, I remind myself that, in the grand scheme of things, this just really doesn’t matter very much. I’m going to eat well more than 50,000,000 calories in my lifetime (that’s about 2000/day for 68 years), so how much does it really matter whether a few hundred of them got eaten a few hours earlier than scheduled? Is it going to ruin my life if it takes me a few days longer to reach my weight or fitness goal? Really, it’s blowing the small stuff way out of proportion that causes the real problems, isn’t it?

4. Reward myself for positive thinking. Meaningful rewards are powerful motivators. But how often do we reward ourselves for taking the time to really think things through in order to get past unhelpful reactions, assumptions, and negative self-talk? I used to reward myself when the scale showed me a number I liked, but that never helped me stay motivated when the scale wasn't being cooperative. Now I do it when I stop a negative rant in its tracks or manage to follow the principles above when I need them.

Once you've found your own way to stop the negative self-talk, then you'll be free to give yourself the kind of authentic toughlove that can really get and keep you moving towards success.

How are you at coaching yourself? Do you have any secrets or suggestions that have worked for you?

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Excellent! I needed to be reminded to be kinder to myself! Thanks Report
LOVE LOVE LOVE this!! Just the message I needed. Report
Thank you for putting how I feel into words! I feel like you were inside my head when you wrote this. I am so appreciative of those who share their thoughts so eloquently!!!! You made my day!!! Report
that's a good article, but the ads in the text were very confusing because in the past, there were sometimes links to spark articles. I realize spark needs to take adds to keep this amazing site free for it's users, but - if I have a choice, I prefer the usual ads peppered over the site, but not the texts. Report
Refreshing common sense advice again...thanks, Coach! Report
A very good article! I am not one to beat myself up over a slip but I know there those who do just that. I just pick myself up and start again ! Report
What a great article! This approach is very much like my own. "Look at the whole picture" is especially pertinent. Only you can know the complexities and challenges of your life. Applying info bites of advice to your own life/world/self will lead to confusion, if not disappointment. Report
Great blog! Just what I needed! Report
I don't base rewards on the scale... I base them on achieving my daily goals... if the scale wants to reward me too, that's fantastic... if not, I still get my bubble bath or whatever for doing what I'm supposed to be doing... I'm taking this project on as a long-term deal. I figure if I do the right things for my body, the weight will come off naturally, without me being a maniac about it. Plus, I'm building those lifelong habits along the way... Report
It's so easy to think negatively when you slip up. When I start to think that way, I try to focus on all the positive things that I have done already that day & the negativity seems to just go away. I think rewarding oneself for not caving in to the negativity is a great idea! Report
Strive not for perfection but for PROGRESS! Thanks for this article. Report
This is definitely the attitude I am bringing to my healthy lifestyle journey this time around. It makes it more relaxing and easier to continue on. I'm not perfect and I never will be, but I can absolutely be the best me that I can be. That is what I am aiming for. It's not the destination, but the journey that will be remembered. Report
HeyPink - thanks for that mental illustration! I'm going to try and remember to use that when I need to talk myself through a slip up! Report
This is the hardest thing I have to overcome. This time around, and especially by being here on SP, I'm focusing on the things I'm doing right and forgiving myself for the inevitable slip-ups. When I fall off my program I get right back on it again as soon as I can without the drama I would have wallowed in in the past. Report
A great blog that most every one can benefit from. What I like most about Dean Anderson's articles and blogs is that he's seen all of this from BOTH sides. He knows what he's talking about!!! He's been a great coach to me--it doesn't even mattre that he's never met me!!!
Thanks for another insightful read!!! Report
The psychologist Albert Ellis called negative talk "musterbating" . . . telling yourself things like "I must be thin,, I must be perfect, I must, I must . . . ." I love that term!!! Don't do it!! Report
# 3 is an excellent way to minimize the drama and keep things in perspective!!! I always tell myself "You wouldn't pop all four tires on your car just because one has a leak would you? No, of course not. You've sprung a surgar leak, but there is no need to blow the whole day because of it!"

in any case, I am big on forgiveness when I mess things up and just starting over the very next minute - no bad self-talk! Its just unproductive! Report