When it comes to personal goals our own perceptions can make the difference between success and failure. Regardless of the goal, whether you are losing a bit of weight or quitting the cigarettes, your opinion of yourself can make all the difference.
One of the reasons that fad diets don’t work very well in the long term, is that they traditionally ask to restrict certain food groups. When you limit yourself so strictly like this, your mind tends to over focus on that unavailable thing, be it cakes/chocolate/carbs. If your mind is constantly focussed on something, it’s going to want it. You’re going to want it.
Over focussing can be detrimental in other ways as well. For example, in their study of adolescents, Quick et al (2013) found that individuals who frequently weighed themselves were at a higher risk of developing a number of problematic behaviours. They suggest that if you are trying to lose some weight, not to weigh yourself too frequently. There are other ways of monitoring your progress and it may be useful to find a way that is going to work for you. Some people do this by having a pair of jeans that they want to be able to fit into, for example, others judge how they’re doing from how they physically feel.
Self sabotaging thoughts can also play a major part in how successful any goal achievement can be. Over the years we tend to build up a range of negative self-beliefs that we tell ourselves without even thinking about it. Arroyo et al (2014) suggest that this ‘old talk’ significantly mediates the relationship between body dissatisfaction, a drive for thinness and even bulimia. If you have been constantly telling yourself that you look fat, or that you are unhealthy, or lazy, then you are less likely to do something about it whether it’s true or not. Another study has found that individuals who have a self-body image of being fat tend to also experience a lower quality of life, again, regardless of their real body type (Won Lee et al, 2012).
How can we change this self-talk?
One technique that can help in overcoming this habit of negative ‘old talk’ is to treat the thoughts themselves as material objects. As Bronol et al (2013) found, physically writing down on a piece of paper what you don’t like about your body or yourself and them ripping it into pieces can be a highly beneficial way of mentally discarding that representation of yourself. They found that people who kept their thoughts in a safe place (i.e. in their pocket) were more likely to rely on them. So it follows that one way to change negative self talk into positive self talk could be to write down and tear up those old unhelpful thoughts, and replace them with positive helpful thoughts, carrying them with you in a pocket.
Techniques like this can be a good way of acknowledging unconscious processes whilst at the same time empowering you to achieve your goals.