Mind-Body-Spirit

Don’t Let Negative Self-Talk Sabotage Your Health Goals

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By Patricia Jurek, RD, MBA

When it comes to healthy behaviors, how we think is just as important as what we do. Unfortunately, most of us engage in negative self-talk — berating ourselves for everything from our weight to our bank accounts. To make matters worse, we live in a glass-half-empty culture. Nothing is ever good enough, fast enough or strong enough.

This tendency toward negativity can have detrimental effects on our health. A recent study reported that people who have negative thoughts about their weight are at increased risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity-related conditions. The good news: You can quiet toxic thinking and achieve better health and well-being with these 5 strategies:

  1. Pay attention. The first step toward positive change is noticing the kinds of thoughts stirring in your brain. Our minds develop thought patterns that become habitual, so it takes some time – and effort – to change default thinking. Pay attention to the things you tell yourself. Are you beating yourself up over every little thing? Criticizing every mistake? Write down your thoughts so you can really “see” the messages you are sending yourself. Even try saying your thoughts out loud and consider whether you would say the same thing to a friend. If not, “rewrite” your thoughts to something more positive.
  1. Shift your perspective. Instead of beating yourself up for the one misstep, focus on things you have accomplished. Rather than getting down on yourself for not completing that last set at the gym, celebrate yourself for making time to workout. Then surround yourself with positive people who make you feel good about yourself. Become your own cheerleader and post inspirational messages around your house.
  1. Be objective about what you consider your shortcomings. Distance yourself from your mistakes by taking “I” out of the equation. So instead of saying, “I blew it today,” try “Tomorrow will be better, and this is how ….” You’ll be better equipped to manage negative self-talk by not internalizing. Focus on silver linings!
  1. Resist the urge to spiral downward. Negative thoughts can easily spin out of control. “I ate too much pizza” can quickly evolve into “I can’t control my eating and I’ll never reach my goal weight.” It’s okay to acknowledge a fact, like that you ate too much or missed a much-needed workout. The key is to leave it at that and adjust the plan for next time. “When I order pizza next time, so I don’t eat too much, I’ll order a small instead of a large and have salad first.” When a negative thought arises, push it aside and focus instead on how you’ll do better next time. Problem-solve challenges with planning and preparation.
  1. Develop a mantra. Come up with a sentence or phrase you can use to refocus your thinking. Even something as simple, as “Go, Team Me!” can work wonders to boost your self-esteem. Catch yourself in a criticism? Use your selected mantra to get yourself back on a positive track.

When it comes to taming toxic chatter, the key is taking steps to deliberately shift negative thoughts to focus on the positive. What things do you want to hear from someone else? Tell them to yourself! What do you hope to achieve? Develop a plan with specific action items. The reality is, people who are accomplished – whether at losing weight or completing a marathon – tend to report greater positive self-talk.

Related topic: The Big Benefits of Moderate Weight Loss

Need help getting a handle on your negative self-chatter? Talk with an expert. Your doctor or primary care provider may be a good first step and can connect you with weight-loss resources, behavioral health experts and more, if needed. Call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936) or visit henryford.com to schedule an appointment. 

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