Have you ever said to yourself “Ugh, I am so fat” or “I always fail at dieting” or “I stink at (fill in the blank)”. Chances are you have and it’s not doing you any good.
The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California states that we have close to 70,000 thoughts per day, while The Cleveland Clinic estimates that we have 60,000 daily thoughts. Interestingly, many experts claim that 80% or more of these thoughts are negative.
While some negative thoughts can preserve us from harm, the ones that linger and attack our self worth deserve a closer look. An Internet search for “Scholarly articles on the effects of negative self talk”, results in over 1,650,000 hits encompassing the implications of negative as well as positive self talk. These studies have outcomes for recovering addicts, the performance of athletes, the resilience of dementia patient caregivers and more. For each one I read, the conclusions overwhelmingly pointed to the practice of positive self talk as leading to better self advocacy, stress reduction and improved performance.
As a personal trainer working with women and men to achieve their physique and weight goals for over 6 years, I have noticed a recurring trend: most of the women engage in negative self talk when it comes to their appearance and their abilities. I have seen it discourage these women into being tempted to give up on their goals and resign themselves to more unhealthy and self defeating behaviors.
While many of us stumble on our path to optimal health in body and mind, a game changer has been teaching my clients to practice a simple rule: “Never say anything about yourself that you wouldn’t want your best friend to say about him or herself”. We are often quick to reassure a friend of their worth, their skills and their appearance but equally speedy to degrade ourselves.
Practicing this new way of thinking can lead to more self acceptance and improved progress towards goals.
Imagine this: your goal is to lose weight. You feel like your belly is large and your muscles are flabby. You’ve been fighting the yo-yo battle with weight for as long as you can remember. And now the doctor is warning you of the implications of your weight. You start saying to yourself, “I am soooo fat, I am never going lose this stubborn weight! I keep failing. I have tried every diet out there and even exercised, only to gain it all back and then some. Why bother trying again?” Or perhaps you have made progress only have to have a major life upset or a month or three long holiday splurge negate your weight loss. Perhaps you feel defeated and begin berating yourself for your apparent “lack of self control”.
Let’s flip that all on it’s head. Begin practicing the rule of “Never say anything about yourself that you wouldn’t want your best friend to say about him or herself”. It might go something like this: “Right now I am curvy and voluptuous. I am going to work on my eating habits and exercise plan to create a balanced, healthy lifestyle so I can fit in my clothes better”. Or “Wow, I really enjoyed the holidays! Time to get back on track”.
Goals are a helpful tool to start creating change, but don’t be tempted to turn them into a baseball bat to beat yourself over the head with when they don’t happen perfectly. It’s time to take an honest look at your goals. Did you just lose sight of them for a bit and need to get back on track with a dose of acceptance? Or are you being unrealistic? Does your life afford you the time and the resources to accomplish your plan or do you need to reassess what will really work around your commitments and time available? Do you need to ask for more help or do you need to lower your expectations? Even if your personal inventory confirms that you don’t have time for an hour workout 3 times per week, there are still ways to improve your health and well-being. You may need to adjust your expectations. Perhaps you find a personal trainer to hold you accountable 2 times per week for 30 minutes sessions or join a walking group that meets consistently. There’s even a fitness based walking program for moms called Stroller Strides.
Beware of the dangerous trap of justification. Sometimes we make excuses and get stuck when we really need to take action. Find some like-minded friends who have similar goals to yours with whom you can hold each other accountable with kindness and honesty. Don’t have anyone in mind? Facebook Groups and MeetUp are two resources to locate interest-specific networking opportunities
With all this chatter about positive self talk, perhaps we should rethink the rule…. how about “Only talk to yourself the way you’d talk to your best friend”? Yea, that’s more like it!
Kerry Ann Madden is a Personal Trainer, Weight Loss Coach and Corrective Exercise Specialist with certifications from NASM, TRX, Fasical Fitness, STOTT Pilates and CFSC. She is also an author/presenter at IDEA FIT
Kerry can be reached at Kerry.Madden@me.com or Facebook
For some more info on the benefits of positive self talk, check out these resources:
NPR’s Why Saying Is Believing — The Science Of Self-Talk, health reporter Laura Starecheski delivers a fascinating piece on self talk and the ways we can hinder and also help ourselves with our words.
In Elite Daily’s The Psychology Of Self-Esteem: Negative Thoughts Can Ruin Your Life, Alexia LaFata offers some sage advice: “If you feel yourself sinking into those thoughts during the day, evaluate yourself and figure out how to put a positive spin on them. A helpful solution is to turn those thoughts into humor. Allowing yourself to laugh at negativity and to make light of a negative situation will greatly change your perspective.”