13. The Most Important Skill to Master Weight Loss
Welcome to episode 13 of the Mindful Weight Loss podcast. Thank you for being with me as always. And before we dive in to today's topic, I want to let you know that you can sign up for a free coaching session with me on my website mindfulweightlosscoach.com. This is particularly great if you haven't been coached before and want to better understand what it's all about. And I'll just say that coaching is awesome because it helps us see our blindspots. It's incredible, but you can truly get unstuck in as little as 30 minutes, because a good coach will help you see what is going on with your brain and bring to light those thoughts that are so ingrained in you that you don't even realize you are thinking them.
And that's actually an incredible segue into today's topic, which is thinking on purpose.
And I know that doesn't sound super sexy. Thinking on purpose. You might be thinking, don't I do that anyway? But the truth is that most of the time, you probably don't, and especially so if you are unhappy with a certain aspect of your life, like your weight. Research shows that 85% of the 70 thousand thoughts we think each day are repetitive and that means that most of our thoughts we think simply because of habit, because we've thought them before and because our environment and current situations support and encourage those same thoughts day in day out.
And if you are like most people, you don't give enough credit to your thoughts. Humans in general tend to prize action over thought. You want to lose weight, you go on a diet, or start exercising, and yes, ultimately your actions and behaviors will be the drivers of your results, but what drives those actions and behaviors?
Decisions right, which are thoughts. You say, I'm going to eat broccoli with my lunch today. But then what causes you to actually follow through with that decision? Again, thoughts. If you get to lunch, and you're thinking, ugh I really don't want that, then you probably aren't going to follow though and eat the broccoli. But if you are thinking. Hey, broccoli with some butter and a little seasoning, that's pretty good and it's going to get me closer to my goal, or it's going to feel good in my body, you're more likely to eat the broccoli.
Our thoughts are the ultimate drivers of our actions and so the most important action you can take is to direct your thoughts. Let me say that again so it can sink in: the most important action you can take is to direct your thoughts. In order to create change in your life you need to be thinking thoughts that motivate you to take the actions that move you towards your goals. Your thoughts create that motivation - that emotional state that makes the action desirable.
Now, another really important concept you need to know is towards vs away from motivation. All of our behavior is ultimately motivated either towards a positive result or away from a negative one. And instinctually we tend to leverage away from motivation first. It tends to be the catalyst for change. You look in the mirror and don't like what you see, so you think I've got to lose weight.
And on an evolutionary level this makes sense. We are hardwired to look for threats in our environment - the negatives - and avoid them. And when it comes to survival this away from motivation is really powerful in the moment - it kicks in hard and fast. It gets you to run from the tiger or to defend yourself if you are attacked. Away from motivation is essentially high stress. It's good stress. You want to be stressed when you are facing a threat.
But you don't want to be stressed when you are trying to lose weight. When the threat that you are running from is body fat, being stressed is actually counterproductive. And that's the mistake that so many of us make - we try to use away from motivation to lose weight. We try to stress our way to weight loss which is exhausting, unpleasant, and unsustainable.
So, whatever loner-term changes you are looking to create in your life, you've got to reframe them in positive terms so that you are moving towards what you want rather than moving away from what you don't want. And you can't skip this step. You can't get into your car, set the GPS for not here and expect to get to a place that you're going to be happy with. Because not here could mean 20 pounds heavier.
And for so many, that's exactly what happens. You diet and you end up even heavier than before. You put pressure on yourself not to eat, and it becomes all you can think about and you binge. When you continually push away, when you consistently activate your stress response, you are going to end up creating the opposite of what you want. Because that's where your focus is.
Our brains don't understand exclusion. You can't think of not polar bears. And when you try not to think about polar bears that's exactly what you are thinking about. So if you really don't want to think about polar bears you need to think about something completely different, like penguins. And when you think about penguins polar bears will cease to exist for you.
The same goes for weight loss. You can't remain focused on what you don't want and expect to be successful. You have to define your destination, and you want to make it really compelling to help you stay focused on that positive outcome.
So in order to lose weight, not only do you have to direct your thoughts, you need to direct them towards a positive outcome and essentially get yourself into a good mood. Because when you are in a good mood, everything is easier. When you're in a good mood, things just flow, and when you are in a really bad mood, even the easiest task, like unscrewing a cap on a bottle, becomes the hardest thing you've ever done.
So let's look at a practical application of this. Let's look at how you might use your thinking to generate a specific action.
So let's say you want to avoid snacking when you aren't hungry.
First we need to reframe this to a positive goal. And now, in my program I teach clients to create a strategy to use when they are faced with a craving or an urge to eat when they aren't hungry. So if you were working with me, that would most likely be the positive reframe of this goal.
Instead of moving away from snacking when you aren't hungry, we'd be moving towards using our strategy when we are faced with the craving.
So let's officially rewrite our goal as: When I feel the urge to overeat, I will use my strategy.
Already that just feels better because we have something to focus on instead of some weird void to fill AND we've erased all doubt about what's going to happen in the moment. There's no worrying about what you're going to do if you feel an urge. Like that old advice about setting a timer for 10 minutes to get through your craving. It's not exactly the worst advice in the world, but it kind of is because it's so incomplete. You need to have some idea of what the heck you're going to do for those 10 minutes otherwise those are going to be the longest 10 minutes of your life.
Ok, so we've got our positive goal. Now we want to think about how to motivate ourselves to want to do what we've just set out to do. What kinds of thoughts can we think that make this behavior desirable?
And actually before we do that, it's a good idea to check in and be aware of what we're already thinking and feeling about this goal. Does it seem difficult, or easy? Does your stomach clench up a bit? If so that's an indicator that you do have some aversion or resistance to this behavior and that you're focused on it not happening and that you're using away from motivation instead of towards motivation. Our emotions are really helpful when we are unsure of how we feel about something. They give us great clues.
And so if you're not in a positive frame of mind already, use your thoughts to get you there. Think about a cherished memory, or someone you love, or anything that will get you into a place of ease and appreciation. This helps you get rid of any resistance or negative thinking you have about the behavior. And then ask yourself what thoughts can I think that will make me want to use my strategy when I feel a craving.
You might brainstorm a few thoughts, but what we're looking for here is one really powerful thought that we can use as a mantra during our day to remind us of our intention. And if you are in that appreciative state, this will come to you. It will be easy to be inspired.
And to flesh this out even further, I want to let you know what happened when I did this process on this very goal. I was having a hard time using my strategy. I got to a point where I was really good at creating strategies. I'd write one out every single day, and a lot of the time the act of creating the strategy helped me focus so much that I didn't need to use it later on, but that didn't happen all the time and I found myself in situations where I would just forget about it and overeat instead.
And so when I set this goal and checked in with myself, I definitely had some resistance. The overarching thought was this is too hard - or ironically that it's too easy - and what I mean by the latter is that I thought it was so easy that it wouldn't work, that it was too good to be true.
And then before I asked myself how to I could motivate myself towards this desired action, I made sure to get into a positive state of mind. And the funny thing is that when I did that and then contemplated the best motivating thought, the one that came up was "What if it could be this easy?"
And I get a big kick out of that because it shows just how powerful being in a positive frame of mind is. I was essentially thinking the same thought. I was thinking this is too easy. And from a negative standpoint, this too easy meant, there's no way it will work. But from a positive standpoint, this is too easy became a wonderful thing, like OMG what if using my strategy and not overeating could really be this easy. That would be amazing wouldn't it?!
And I can report that this thought, this mantra really did help me use my strategy more often and that I use it to this day to keep myself motivated.
So the moral of this story is to think positive. And if you cringe when I say that, take notice and then ask yourself what you are thinking about that - probably like me in the example above , you are thinking that that's too good to be true. That hard work is required for weight loss and thinking positive will not get you there.
But what if you really could really make this easier on yourself? Wouldn't that be fantastic?
So test it out. Give this a try. Set a small goal, get in a positive frame of mind and then ask yourself what you can think to motivate yourself towards that goal. And notice what happens. At the very least, it will feel good instead of feeling bad, which will make it easier to repeat the process until you experience success.