Change This Bad Habit, Accomplish Anything


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  113 comments   :  26,405 Views

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 itís time to actually decide what weíre going to eat and whether weíre 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 donít.

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 ďtougher than toughloveĒ 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 Iíve also learned that I canít just switch my self-talk to the other extreme, where itís 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 thatís just the beginning. What I really need is the sort of non-sugarcoated but respectful ďpushĒ 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, Iíve identified four principles of constructive self-talk that help me avoid falling back into the pit of negativity and verbal self-abuse:

1. Donít say anything to myself I wouldnít 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 Iím saying to myself is something Iíd 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 Iíve 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 Iím upset about something I ate or some exercise I didnít do, I remind myself that, in the grand scheme of things, this just really doesnít matter very much. Iím going to eat well more than 50,000,000 calories in my lifetime (thatís 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, itís blowing the small stuff way out of proportion that causes the real problems, isnít 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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  • 113
    Good info - 1/5/2018   8:00:30 PM
  • 112
    Change is easy said but hard to do. - 7/30/2017   6:52:09 AM
  • 111
    Good article; great points. - 7/24/2017   2:11:12 PM
  • 110
    It is not easy to change a habit. - 7/23/2017   6:23:39 AM
  • 109
    Great article! - 7/21/2017   12:51:30 AM
  • 108
    Thanks so much. This makes good sense and I believe it can help me - a LOT, if I remember these guidelines and put them into ACTION! - 4/10/2017   9:07:14 AM
  • MAKPAD2002
    very positive thoughts. It makes one look inside self and realize you are your worst critic, a merciless one! - 6/23/2013   11:53:40 AM
    Wow what a great article and the comments are even better. I've gotten a lot of ideas to keep myself from putting myself down. I've got to keep myself upbeat to keep going. It's so easy to get discouraged when the numbers don't go the way I'd like them to. - 9/12/2012   11:42:08 AM
  • 105
    Great article, brilliant advice and a fabulous morning motivator. Thanks so much!! - 5/24/2012   1:13:34 PM
  • 104
    So appreciate your tips. Negative self talk is a huge problem with me. I can be my own worst enemy. I will start to use your tips, the timing is perfect. Thanks for
    sharing - 4/14/2012   4:01:38 AM
  • 103
    This was great to read, just what I needed this morning!
    Thanks Dean. - 3/10/2012   1:24:09 PM
  • 102
    Wow.. me to a T.. so very true.. and a very hard habit to break.. - 1/9/2012   9:29:14 AM
  • 101
    What a great blog! Thanks for the confirmation that we are capable of sabotaging ourselves. Self discipline is so much easier if we don't have negative input. So often that negative voice is our own. It is often hard to catch yourself. But the more aware we are of the "inner voice" the more opportunity we have to change the input from negative to positive. Thanks for an insightful blog! - 9/26/2011   2:42:02 PM
  • 100
    Thanks, Coach Dean. I've been indulging in some very negative thinking lately. This is my third go-around trying to lose weight. I've regained my weight twice before. In the last couple of months, my discipline and determination have weakened, and I've regained 5 pounds. I've almost been predicting that I'm going to regain it all again. I sure have been behaving like it, complete with a lapse in sensible eating and coming up with too many excuses why I'm not following my walking program.

    But you gave me something to think about. Instead of beating myself up over regaining 5 pounds, why am I not giving myself credit for the 50 I've lost? Even more important, instead of dwelling on all the things I see that I'm doing wrong right now, what were those things that I was doing right when I first started out and was all fired up to succeed? That's what I need to be focusing on. This is an important mental turn-around for me. Thank you! - 9/23/2011   8:46:35 AM
  • 99
    #4 is a great thought - Why else do we return to difficult tasks? Because we have seen or experienced some form of reward.

    Great blog post! - 9/21/2011   10:51:03 PM
  • MONIQUE1109
    Great blog! Such good advice! THANKS!! - 2/11/2011   12:44:05 AM
  • 97
    So true, so true! - 2/10/2011   9:12:36 PM
  • 96
    Wonderful blog - Thanks for sharing! - 2/9/2011   11:52:18 AM
  • 95
    Really well said...Thanks! - 2/5/2011   9:22:44 PM
  • 94
    Good article - I like the four rules. We do tend to base our rewards based on the number on the scale - we should be rewarding our self for sticking to our goals like getting in our water or exercising etc. - 1/20/2011   11:17:50 PM
  • 93
    Lots of good advice - thanks so much for sharing this! :) - 1/20/2011   6:41:48 PM
  • 92
    Awesome blog! I learned lots from this one. - 1/18/2011   6:46:46 PM
    Great post. You hit the problem on the head! Thanks for sharing. - 1/17/2011   9:39:57 PM
  • 90
    This is a good motivational article. It put my head where it needed to be to get some things done. Thanks Dean. - 1/17/2011   6:37:28 AM
  • 89
    Thank you Coach Dean...I have truly missed you....There are many time I catch myself in this negative self talk...thank you for the reminder... - 1/16/2011   6:58:30 PM
  • KERI771
    Great article. I joined SparkPeople last week and this is the first article that I have saved. I look forward to more! - 1/16/2011   3:13:21 PM
  • 87
    Thank you so much, Dean, for another great article! You are such an inspiration for me. - 1/16/2011   2:39:38 PM
  • 86
    Lovely blog! One question I'd like to see answered sometime, though, is how do you reward yourself for getting out of a negative rant? I always have a hard time determining what an accomplishment is worth reward-wise, like maybe this is a cup of tea-type reward and not a 60-minute massage reward. But is it a go-to-the-store-and-buy-a-special-t
    ea reward, or a drink-what-you-have reward? It seems I have a gift for overcomplication, but I am curious about the rewards! =) - 1/16/2011   1:38:36 PM
  • 85
    I remember being asked one time "If you were walking the corridor of your mind, would you be mugged"? - 1/16/2011   10:07:35 AM
  • 84
    Great Blog! There is a tremendous mind/body connection that we can learn to tap into to move toward our health and fitness goals. Our body is not the enemy! Learning to speak to and about our body in a loving positive way will have positive results! - 1/14/2011   10:02:17 AM
    Love it "Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to someone else" Perfect. - 1/14/2011   8:30:24 AM
  • 82
    This article couldn't have come at a better time. Yesterday I eat everything and I do mean everything, and drank several beers too. I weighted myself this morning and was kicking myself for the extra two lbs. But, your right. It's not the end of the world, it's just a small delay in my goal. - 1/14/2011   7:10:14 AM
  • 81
    this article actually helped me. thanks - 1/14/2011   6:24:34 AM
    This was a very insightful article. Liked it. - 1/13/2011   7:44:32 PM
  • 79
    Thanks, this was GREAT! Right on time! - 1/13/2011   7:42:45 PM
  • 78
    Thank you, I needed to read that. I am terrible at my own self talk. I will try to remember those 4 points because when I try the sweetness approach to myself, I just gag. - 1/13/2011   7:23:11 PM
  • 77
    This fits in well with the positive self image and visualization that I have read about and try to practice. Thank you for reminding us.
    cindy - 1/13/2011   5:23:41 PM
  • 76
    great article...all things i need to work on
    - 1/13/2011   5:17:29 PM
  • 75
    Great Blog - Thank You. I have saved this to my favorites. I need to be reminded once in a while about being positive and constructive in what and how I am doing. - 1/13/2011   3:57:16 PM
  • 74
    Self esteem-negative self talk...My ex-husband gave me enough negativisms to last a lifetime...However I refused to let him beat me to the ground. I made myself think positive about myself until I got to believe it! "No one put's Baby in the corner!" - 1/13/2011   3:33:24 PM
    I always seem to come across a specific one of your articles exactly when I am in need of them. Thanks for the pep talk :) - 1/13/2011   3:26:24 PM
  • 72
    Great article! Really good, advice. I'll be keeping this one for reference :D - 1/13/2011   2:30:28 PM
    Thanks for the great reminder that you have to live your life and love your life. Perfection is not always the happiest place in your life... : ) - 1/13/2011   1:56:51 PM
  • 70
    Thank you, Coach Dean. I have also added this to my favorites...I'm pretty good at beating myself up, and I hate it. Your blogs are words of wisdom. - 1/13/2011   12:29:59 PM
  • 69
    Well said, my man - 1/13/2011   12:02:48 PM
  • 68
    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. - 1/13/2011   11:44:51 AM
  • 67
    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! - 1/13/2011   11:35:07 AM
  • 66
    I really liked reading this. Great advice! Thanks. - 1/13/2011   11:15:09 AM
  • 65
    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. - 1/13/2011   11:12:46 AM
    Thanks for this article, this is info that I really need to have & know at this time.
    ~ Star ~ - 1/13/2011   10:14:06 AM

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