When it comes to working toward personal goals or experiencing setbacks, we can be our harshest critics. And the quickest way to failure is letting harmful thoughts take over. But you can learn to redirect those negative thoughts and stay positive. Here are some tricks to do it.
All or nothing thoughts
“This is the most important thought to take charge of when you’re making lifestyle changes,” says Danielle Repko, an American Council on Exercise-certified health coach with OhioHealth Group. “Remind yourself that being healthy doesn’t mean you never eat your favorite foods again, or that you can never miss a workout. It’s about enjoying everything in moderation. Just be mindful of the decisions you’re making.”
Repko says you will always find a reason not to do something, so the key to overcoming these thoughts is to prioritize. When you make good health your top priority, excuses fall by the wayside.
These types of thoughts keep you focused on the negative, making you undervalue what you’ve achieved. “People often feel like they failed because they didn’t accomplish everything they set out to do,” says Repko. “Turn this kind of thinking around by celebrating what you did manage to do. If you only worked out two days instead of three because you got sick, or you had to work late, that’s OK! You still worked out twice, which is better than nothing.”
When you insult yourself for what you believe to be your flaws, you are self-labeling. This includes calling yourself names, like weak, lazy or fat. When you find yourself doing this, switch to the things that make you special or that you do well, and congratulate yourself on the activities you’re getting better at doing. Soon, you’ll shift those names to stronger, more active and losing weight.
We all have a tendency to compare ourselves to others, says Repko. And it’s easy to talk yourself out of trying something. “Remember, you’re making these changes for yourself. There will always be someone who is thinner, stronger or healthier than you. But, they could have been on their journey for much longer. Everyone has a different story.”
Doom and gloom thoughts
Nobody has ever gotten anywhere by assuming the worst. But these thoughts can be particularly challenging to overcome, especially if you also have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. To generate positive thinking when these thoughts arise, focus on what you can control about your situation. For example, if you are afraid to work out because you might get injured, you can seek help from a professional trainer to learn safe exercise methods.
Always seek support
While it is fully within your power to direct your thoughts, it can be easier to turn them around when you have a strong support network cheering you on. “The people who surround you have a big impact on your efforts, for better or worse,” says Repko.
Make sure your family, friends and co-workers understand why you are trying to change your lifestyle, and how they can help you do it. They can reinforce the positive thinking you’re trying to maintain, and join you in your efforts to eat healthy or stay active. If you don’t share what you’re going through, they can inadvertently contribute to what’s holding you back.
If you need more than empathy, seek out others who have experienced what you’re going through. “You can find like-minded people trying to accomplish the same goals in online forums, support groups, or in walking or running clubs,” says Repko.
Or join an official diabetes prevention program! Check with your employer (OhioHealth offers a program for associates), your local YMCA or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of recognized locations to find a program near you.
If you find you need professional help, speak to a life coach, your primary care physician, or seek the expertise of a psychologist or psychiatrist. These people are specialty-trained to help you manage your mental, emotional and physical health.