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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Well said, my man Report
I also put this into my favorites. I have been STRUGGLING fiercely with such bad negative thinking about myself that it's horrible so this is wonderful to of "bumped" into today. THANKS so much Coach Dean for writting this!!! I'll surely be referring to it many times. Report
Wow! I am blown away by the NO DRAMA paragraph. Look at the big picture. Don't sweat the small stuff. Evaluate your priorities. Pick your battles. Thanks for this inspiring blog! Report
I really liked reading this. Great advice! Thanks. Report
I always try to praise myself for a job well done when I get off my treadmill. I also try to encourage myself when I just don't want to do it. I tell myself that I can do this. It's good for me to praise myself and to encourage myself. If I'd do it for a friend why not do it for me. Your should be your own best friend. Nice article and so true. Report
Thanks for this article, this is info that I really need to have & know at this time.
~ Star ~ Report
This is really something that I needed to hear! Thank you for the advise!
Negative self-talk is my WORST habit. That's why I try to read the Operation Beautiful website as much as I can, because the inspiration and stories there are so moving. Report
I'm new to running (but very familiar with negative self talk and years of an "all or nothing" mentality). My husband set up the treadmill so it has mirrors in front and to the side. It may sound silly, but I talk to myself while I'm running on the treadmill. I encourage myself, talking to that runner in the mirror, that I CAN run for a further distance, I CAN keep going for just a few more minutes. I tell myself how EASY running is, and how my body has been craving the exercise. When I reach a goal, I'm actually smiling! That positive energy I create on my treadmill stays with me all day! Report
Wow, what a great blog. I've always known that I do this negative self talk; but this information certainly gave me tools that I can utilize. Thanks for the information and the perspective! Report
What a good article. Not saying myself what I wouldn't say to others was the best advice for me. I can do it! Report
I think that this is a great blog!!! I especially love #1 that discusses never tell yourself something that you wouldn't tell anyone else! That is such a great way to look at things and I am really going to try to apply this to my life. I think that I am way too hard on myself sometimes and thinking negatively does have an impact on your actions eventually. Thanks for this!! :-) Report
It's so good to read your blogs, Coach Dean! I find so much encouragement in them.
It is a constant struggle for me to stop the negative talk in my head - so this is another great reminder of what to do when I'm beating myself up. Report
I am just starting off my journey and after doing nothing for a long time, I am telling myself that taking baby steps and getting into good habits slowly is a lot better than doing nothing at all. Soon I will be adding more steps to those baby steps and then walking into good habits for longer moments and going farther. Report
I haven't been a very good 'coach' to myself. I'm tougher on me than anyone could ever be. I've decided to change this 'stinking thinking' and treat myself with the love and respect I deserve.

Great article...thank you!

Deb :) Report
One of my challenges! Thanks for posting some ideas for treating myself with respect. Report
Thank you for the reminder. This is some of the things I have tried to tell myself to just keep moving forward or getting back up each time I fall into temptation. Report
Oh how true. Brilliantly insightful. Thank you Report
Thanks for this great blog post, Coach Dean! I am finally starting to realize that negative self talk is one of my biggest enemies and you have given me a great "to do" list to combat it. Report
This is great advice. I work with a student with Asperger's disorder and some anxiety issues, so my current project is teaching him to change his self-talk from hurtful to helpful. It's slow going, but I may start sharing with him some of the Spark's blogs on the subject! If they work for us, they can help him, too! Report
When changing negative small talk, I ensure that I provide myself with a realistic message that works to change those messages. As an example, my run yesterday was a real meh. But rather than spending a lot of time on negative self talk, I said to me, "My run today was not perfect, but I am getting better every time I work out." I can believe this message, it is realistic and positive and helps me continue to work towards improvement. I will never be perfect (Don't tell my wife I said that!!), but I can always strive to improve. Report
I've read your articles for over four years on this site. Your insights are credible and filled with wisdom versus pop psychology that I discarded long ago.

My own self-talk had always been harsh compared to the nice talk given to others. It was not until I read your own personal story and subsequent follow ups here on the dailyspark blog that I found out what my problem was.

While making good habits in eating and exercise, sleeping, drinking water and the like, I never formed the habit of treating myself I would treat others.

At this point, and in maintenance, that is my on going treat myself as I treat others both here on Spark and in real life. This is a work in progress but I can say that making a habit of looking at situations with a half glass full mentality and thinking of myself as a decent, and even special person is coming along.

Healthy thinking is the real secret of healthy living maintenance and that's not much of a secret.

I've found in your articles one thing that stands takes courage to lose weight, courage to maintain weight, and humility to bring the wisdom of experience to words.

Thank you Dean.

I'm finding my new "healthy normal" and in the process I'm finding permanent maintenance however imperfect that can sometimes be.

I follow Judith Beck, PhD's "The BECK Diet Solution" as we have a Team here. She teaches how to THINK like a THIN person. So I tell that negative voice to shut up in my head. Report
I remember reading #1 in one of your articles a couple of years ago. I can't even tell you the number of times I've repeated that to myself and others. Some of the best advice I've ever heard. Report
great advice! Report
Great article and great advice. Thanks so much! Report
Liked and favorited:) Thanks! Report
Love the tactics and good to follow through with multiple things in your life. Thank you for sharing! Report
This is a great post. Good to keep in mind, and not just for weight loss. Report
Wow ... this one was written straight to me. Thanks for the blog! Report
Truely inspirational. I believe meditation helps improve how you talk to yourself. I plan to add atleast 10 minutes a week of meditation to my weekly goals. Report
This was just the right day to read such a good article. Report
Awesome article. Its just the sort of wisdom I needed at the start of this weight loss journey. Report
This blog was right on. For me, the most important thing is to keep in mind that when I make a mistake, it's just one mistake in a long journey. Report
My "Coach" THANKS YOU!!!! Report
This was a wonderful blog, and I especially liked the Four Principles of Constructive Self-Talk. I always try to focus my attention on the positive rather than the negative -- it is not always easy, but it is always worth the effort. Report
This was one of the best blogs i have read here on Sparkpeople.One of the goals i made this year is to change my self talk....thanks for the encouragement! Have saved it to my favorites so i can reference back to it easily. Report
I think when I pray or meditate I find myself relaxing and it makes the negative take a back seat. I need to meditate more!!! Report
I really needed to read this article. I am a natural encourager. I try to find the positives in a person's activities or attributes... all except my own. I appreciate your suggestion to not say something to myself that I would never say to someone else. Smile. Report
I talk pretty tough to myself - in terms of reality, truth and proven science. I think there is a tendency to lie to ourselves......

I'm too tired to cook
Everyone else eats cheeseburgers and fries - that's normal
I don't have time to grocery shop every 4-5 days for fresh fruits and veggies
I hate to exercise
Extreme Pizza once a week is OK
I don't know how to cook
My DH hates healthy cooking

See how easy it is to justify - talk yourself into bad habits?

When I'm bad (or just trying to talk myself into hurtful behavior);
I get tough and real with myself.

Takes the same time to sit in a drive-thru as it does to run in a get
$15 of fruits and veggies... and it'll go a lot farther than just a couple
of meals.

etc etc etc Report
Thanks Dean for another great article with a lot of common sense information! Report
numbers 3 and 4 nicely reinforced an approach i decided to take back in 2007 when i can say an "honest" and "thoughtful" discussion with myself took place and during "our little talk", i came to the conclusion that a) i didn't want to lose myself obsessing over everything i put in my mouth EVEN if it wasn't on "the plan" because i felt that was the beginning of a slippery slope of sorts, for me anyway. one reason is that i truly believed that if i focused on my daily activity instead of the end result, if i ate an extra cookie or ordered a sm. fry every now and then, that even THOSE actions were part of establishing a more balanced lifestyle overall and that too, was part of the overarching goal of getting healthy.

i ALSO decided it was important to acknowledge my hard work and that any day spent developing better, life-affirming habits was another step i took away from my old habits and my old lifestyle. in fact, the older i get, the more i have decided i need to relax about a LOT of things in my life. Report
I have been guilty of the negativity that she speaks of in this article. I still have to remind myself that I have lost 20 pounds when I see myself in pictures because I can see the other ME staring back. It is a process, one that I a slowly learning is well worth learning to handle. Not to mention, it is so important to me to teach my daughter how to be loving and appreciative of who she is. Report
I think these four principles of constructive self-talk are great not even just with weight loss and for me... especially #1. Gotta try the four principles! Thanks! Report
don't say to yourself what you wouldn't say to someone else--exactly! this idea has really made a big difference in my life over the last few months. Report
This is exactly what i needed to hear. I wasn't sure how I am going to get out of this blah feeling I have, and not being able to start my program back up. But this is definately a great start ! Thanks. This could be the turning point I've been hoping for the last few weeks. Report
I saved the article to my favorites for future reference. Report
I am working on identifying at least one positive thing I've done each day. And usually I end up with several! Just doing little things add up and make you feel like you are moving forward. Report
every day I tell myself Love life and life will Love you back. Report
Thanks for the article. I really enjoyed it, and I hope I can put the points into daily practice. Report