Making healthy eating and exercise a habit is great advice and one we need to hear often. As many of us know, once these things become habit they can become a part of who we are. We just don’t feel right if we haven’t broken a sweat that day. It becomes easier to make healthier choices at restaurants or to stop when we’re full because it’s just what we do.
But what about a habit that can infiltrate our lives and minds at any time? It’s much less tangible than the above examples yet more pervasive. It’s also an accepted and ingrained part of our culture, especially among women. It’s the habit of negative self-talk.
What do you say to yourself when you look in the mirror? For many, it’s almost a reflex. We look in the mirror and tell ourselves, “You’re so fat” or “Look at my stomach! Uhg!” We might be struggling in the gym that day and here it comes, “I can’t do this” or “I suck today.” We overindulge or eat something we’ve deemed “bad” and think, “I messed up again!” or “I’m so gross. I can’t control myself.” We measure ourselves by the images we see in magazines or online and think, “If I looked like that then I’d be happy.” Even when someone compliments us, we often have a hard time just saying “thank you.” How many times have you had some version of this conversation: “You look good!” “Oh, no. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
We frequently and consistently tear ourselves down, berate our best efforts, and criticize our appearance. Imagine a person saying the things outloud to you that you say to yourself! Is it any wonder that we have a hard time sticking to our goals and making the slow-but-steady progress that would truly make a difference in our lives? How can we stay motivated to make positive changes when the voice in our heads is thwarting our best efforts with negativity?
Try to take notice of how often you criticize yourself. When you hear that bad thought, at the very least, recognize that it’s the habit of negative self-talk rather than the truth. Maybe more difficult, but even better, counter it with something positive. For example, instead of “I shouldn’t have eaten that cookie. I ruined my eating for the day!” think, “Since I’ve had a treat today, the rest of my meals should be about nourishing my body and giving it what it needs.” Sure it sounds contrived and a little cheesy but until our thoughts are more consistently kind and positive, perhaps we need to be that deliberate and clear with ourselves.
In class, at the gym, or running it can be as simple as the non-verbal language we use. If you’re exhausted and struggling and there is more to do or farther to go, don’t shake your head. It says “no” to our coaches, it says “no” to your teammates, and it says “no” to yourself. Instead, force yourself to give a little nod or even a smile. “Yes,” it says, “Ok. Let’s do this.”
Possibly the hardest time to think positive during the 12-week challenge will be during weigh-ins. We’ve been working hard in class and making changes to our eating habits that sometimes feel excruciating. We all want to see a huge change. Negative self-talk rears it’s head during these times and goes on the warpath. “I’ve been trying so hard and I haven’t lost that much!” “I’ll never reach my goals.” Even worse, “Why am I even trying? I should just give up.” This is when we need to recognize and face this habit head on and with clear, rational brains. We didn’t get to the place we are overnight and things won’t change completely overnight, or in a week, or in a month. We’re making meaningful, healthy changes over a long period of time in the hope of improving our LIVES, not in the hope of improving only the next 12 weeks. If you have to make a physical list of all of the great things you’ve done and changes you’ve made, no matter how small, to make yourself believe, then do it. Don’t let negative self-talk con you into giving up this time.
Of course, these are just examples. There isn’t a simple solution or a perfect answer for everyone. The fall 12-week challenge, however, is a great time to make a conscious effort to change our habit of negative self-talk. When do you notice this habit impacting you? Are there tricks you have to stop it? Have you managed to think more positively and seen improvements? Along with clean eating and daily activity, let’s all decide that this is important enough to tackle together, as a team!
Author, Molly Malone Melvin