Jen had a big meeting that afternoon with her largest client. She’d been prepping for days and wanted it to go well. For the past three weeks, Jen had also worked really hard on her diet. She’d avoided sugar, eaten more salads and finally got her ass to the gym after months of avoiding it. She secretly hoped that she could now squeeze into her favorite power skirt.
Standing in her closet, she held her breath as she slipped on the skirt. She pulled it up and wrestled with the zipper, knowing immediately that it was too tight. As she let out her breath, she also let out the hope that she’d held. Not only did Jen feel frustrated, she felt defeated.
Why am I even bothering? All those workouts. All the sacrifice. For what? I’m the same exact weight. I’ll never lose weight.
Jen hung her favorite skirt back in her closet and put on her “go to” safety dress. As she made her way to the office, she tried to push all of these defeatist thoughts of her mind. But underneath the surface, Jen was taking this battle to heart. Not only was she second guessing her ability to lose weight, her confidence was crushed. A familiar train of thought passed through her mind.
I can’t lose weight and keep it off. I don’t deserve to have a skinny body.
Jen, a composite blend of my own and my coaching clients’ experience, is in a negative thought cycle. Most of us experience these without even realizing it, and they can do incalculable damage.
Let me spell out the cycle:
- Jen was looking for evidence to support her beliefs that she would never be free of the weight, or keep it off.
- When she tried on her favorite skirt and it didn’t fit the way she wanted it to, she got the confirmation she’d been looking for.
- Even though her client meeting went well, the days and weeks that followed looked nothing like the weeks before. She stopped going to the salad bar and skipped the gym more often than she went.
Jen’s thoughts and beliefs created her actions, right from the get go.
What if Jen believed that she could lose weight? Or at least, didn’t believe that she couldn’t lose weight?
When she tried on her favorite skirt that morning, the conversation with herself would have been entirely different. She might have thought, Well, it fits better than it did a month ago. I just need to be patient. Or, My body feels better and lighter. Eventually, my body will catch up.
As human beings, we have a hard-wired psychological need to be right. When we’re right, well, we’re justified and validated, which is the ultimate goal. Sadly, our wiring doesn’t distinguish how we are right, it just needs to be. We look for situations, words, actions, and circumstances that we can interpret in a way that will support our belief system. When we find this evidence, our beliefs are affirmed and we are right. Our beliefs and the evidence we gather can serve us well. Or, our beliefs may tear down our confidence and our self esteem. We will interpret conversations and situations all around us to make us right about that too.
When her skirt didn’t fit the way she wanted it to, Jen interpreted that as confirmation of her belief that she can’t really lose weight. That little voice said, “I told you so. You’ll never have the body you dreamed of.” And with that, she made herself right.
This is why what happens on the inside is so incredibly important. Because we react and make choices based on that I-must-prove-myself-right mechanism.
Having an acute awareness of your thoughts and beliefs is critical to breaking out of those past unproductive patterns and cycles. The one’s that are keeping you hating your body, exhausted and feeling hopeless.
Let me warn you: Becoming aware of negative beliefs isn’t a pretty process. It’s not fun to look at beliefs like:
- I’m not good enough
- I’m unlovable
- I’ll always be alone
But when we shine that light on this dark side of us, we can see that our actions and reactions have been reinforcing these beliefs.
The good news is that you don’t have to excavate all of your beliefs to change your life. You don’t need to buy into the belief that you will have a life you love when you finally really love yourself. So, while you are practicing loving yourself and your life:
- Make your commitment to your highest self bigger than your commitment to lose weight. Losing weight for you isn’t just about dropping the weight. Deep down it's about how we feel about ourselves and our self worth. Commit to nourishing yourself in a kind way. Instead of focusing on losing weight, how about focusing on feeling great, light and energetic in your body?
- Practice identifying those moments you’re looking for evidence. We’re interpreting situations all of the time. Some big, some small. Looking in a full length mirror at the Mall? Just finishing bowl of ice cream? Notice how these situations support the beliefs you want to hold for yourself.
- Focus on the long term. You want the changes in your life to stick. To do this, there is no quick fix. No short cuts. Habits take a while to reinforce and permeate through our lives. Give them the benefit of time and notice all of the successes along the way.
- Don’t argue with your thoughts and beliefs. When that little voice says. “You’ll never lose weight,” you don’t have to turn around and say, “No! I will lose weight.” When you argue and debate, you’re just giving the negative thought more time and energy. Instead, simply acknowledge the thought and move on. You can even say, “Thanks for sharing.”
- Acknowledge the power of choice. Yes, you have your beliefs and you have your thoughts. But you don’t have to believe everything you hear and everything you think. You get to choose your actions.
As you change what’s happening on the inside, what’s happening on the outside will change too.