When adopting an ambitious goal to lose weight, get back in the gym, or make any kind of lifestyle change, we can sometimes get in our own way and become our own worst enemy.
We do this by thinking negatively. A negative thought will produce a negative emotion and will result in a self-destructive behavior.
Negative thinking can prevent us from making the changes we really want to make and achieving our goals.
If we tell ourselves that we suck, or that we don’t have the time or money to get healthy, or that all of our efforts are futile, we will simply give up.
The problem with any type of negative thought is that once you stop and examine it, you will notice that it is distorted and untrue.
Negative thoughts most often have no basis in reality.
Negative thoughts twist reality and result in us abandoning our positive efforts when we can, in fact, keep going until we succeed.
I have struggled with negative thinking and resulting depression throughout many times in my life. I have done a lot of research and worked hard to combat these thoughts, but they still pop-up from time to time.
The following are five tips to help you develop realistic and positive thinking around your efforts to be healthy and change and your lifestyle.
1. Think in Shades of Grey
Negative thinking tends to be black or white; one extreme or the other. Either you are Mr. Olympia or you are a complete failure. Either you are a Keto beast or entirely lazy.
Nothing in the real world is ever black or white. There are shades of grey in each situation which you can identify to see it more realistically and positively.
If you skip a workout you may think to yourself, “I completely ruined the progress of my workout program.”
Not true. Look for the shades of grey here and try hard to stop thinking in absolutes. You can substitute the negative thought with something like this:
“I may have missed a day at the gym, but my program is not completely ruined. I’ve been losing weight and seeing results. One missed day isn’t the end of the world. I’ll get back on the horse tomorrow.”
2. Lose the Labels
Sometimes we try to motivate ourselves by labeling ourselves harshly. We think that by calling ourselves a “fat mess”, we will inspire ourselves to work hard at making changes. But this kind of motivation simply doesn’t work, and it undermines our self-confidence.
When you find yourself using labels to describe yourself such as “fat”, “lazy”, “failure”, remind yourself that you are not a label.
A strategy I learned from the author and psychologist David Burns, MD is to question the meaning of the label. You will find that once you define it, it really doesn’t apply to you. For example: What is a “failure”? You may define it as someone who never works out. If you have started a workout program or play sports with your buddies, then you actually do work out and the label doesn’t apply to you. You can simply accept it and say, “I may miss workouts here and there, but I am still active. It definitely doesn’t make me a failure.”
You may also find that the opposite is true and that your label is meaningless because it applies to all human beings. You may define yourself as “fat” because you cheated on your diet. But everyone has cheated on a diet at one point or another in their lives. According to your definition, everyone in the world would be considered fat; a statement we know is untrue.
No matter what, your labels will fall apart under scrutiny.
3. Remember the Progress You’ve Already Made
Negative thinking can cause us to be really hard on ourselves. When we are beating ourselves up, we can lose sight of all the progress we have made in working to achieve our goals.
We may have such thoughts as “So what? Anybody could have done that.”
Essentially we are pretending that our positive accomplishments don’t even count. But they do count.
Make sure you remember them when you are going through a tough time. Counter this negative thinking by saying things such as:
“I’ve already taken positive steps in taking care of my health and fitness. I commend myself for that. Even if I relapse, I know that I’ve succeeded before and can do so again.”
4. Treat Yourself Like a Buddy
If one of your close buddies messes up, fails, or makes some kind of mistake, odds are you’d be straight with him. You wouldn’t sugarcoat what happened.
But you also wouldn’t, if you were a true friend, berate him endlessly. Yet this is what we often due to ourselves when we fail. After making a mistake, we can beat ourselves up with thoughts like “I suck. I’m no good. I always mess things up. What the hell is wrong with me? I should just pack it in because I’m a loser.”
To shift to a positive thinking approach, talk to yourself like you would talk to one of your closest buddies.
Don’t sugarcoat what happened, but be kind and offer yourself support. It can sound something like this:
“Hey man, you messed up, but you’re still doing okay. I believe in you.”
A statement like this will lead to more positive emotions and behaviors than spending hours or days flogging yourself for making a mistake.
5. Don’t Confuse Failing with Being a Failure
Oftentimes, when we have a relapse in a healthy diet or exercise program, we may think of ourselves as a “failure”. Again, this is distorted negative thinking (and an unrealistic label).
The way to shift to a more positive approach here would be to separate the act of failing from identifying your whole being as a failure.
Most elite professional athletes know that failure reflects only on the performance and not the person. Never the person.
Adopting this mindset will help you bounce back more resiliently from setbacks. Your positive thoughts in this situation might sound something like this:
“Ok. I’ve failed at this particular goal. So what? It doesn’t make me a complete failure. If I keep going, I will become a success.”
“I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan
Simply accept whatever setback you’ve experienced and vow to keep moving forward. If you find you have to recalibrate your goals to be more realistic, then do it; there is no shame in doing so and will actually set you up better for success.
Remember: positive thoughts lead to positive emotions, which leads to positive actions and behaviors.
Don’t hold yourself back! Think your best thoughts!
For more men’s health and fitness tips, news, t-boosting recipes and more be sure to follow me on Instagram @refuelvitality, Twitter @joeghealthcoach, and follow the Refuel Vitality blog by clicking on the toolbar to the right!