Mind over matter. We hear it all the time, but what does it really mean? If your mind is really so “in control”, why can’t we just decide to quit eating donuts and start going to the gym and that’s the end of the story? The truth is that your mind IS in control, but just like any other muscle in the body, you have to TRAIN it to be strong. Your mind can be your biggest enemy or your greatest ally when it comes to creating positive change. But it takes work to create the right thoughts to make your mind work FOR you and not against you.
There’s a scale of readiness that practitioners use to asses when someone is ready to make a change. In the beginning, you’re not even aware of a change that needs to be made. You’re just enjoying your donuts and living your life. Then something happens. Maybe your pants are too tight, maybe someone makes a remark about your weight (jerk move, by the way), or maybe your doctor says your labs don’t look so good. Whatever the catalyst, something happens and you realize that you need to make a change.
But guess what? That still doesn’t mean you’re ready for change. You’ve just moved from pre-contemplation to the contemplation stage of change. You’re just starting to THINK about change. At this point you can either distract yourself with some more Netflix, or start saving all the workouts and recipes you can find on Pinterest. If you go with Pinterest (or set up an appointment with a trainer or health coach), you’re now in the planning stage. But until you actually DO some of those fabulous pinned workouts – or take your coach’s advice – nothing changes. So how do you jump from contemplation to planning and on to ACTION?
Here’s where it gets good. Remember when you were a kid and you just KNEW that you did NOT like broccoli? (Or some vegetable that you now believe to be, at least, tolerable.) You had DECIDED it was no good and no amount of cheese sauce was going to change your mind. But then at some point, you actually tried it, possible by force, and discovered it wasn’t so bad. If you were a particularly stubborn child, you may have doubled down on your professed hatred of broccoli anyway, but you may have confessed to actually liking it. Either way, you now had new information about the broccoli and you could decide what to do with that information.
Any change can be broccoli. Change is hard and most of us don’t like it, and we just KNOW that it’s going to suck to have to quit eating donuts and trade in our happy hour appetizers for a trip to the gym. But it’s not an either / or situation. Can you eat donuts every day and maintain a healthy weight? Probably not. Can you have them as a treat on occassion? Probably, as long as it doesn’t send you on a binge. Are you going to hate whatever “healthy” food you replace the donuts with? You don’t have to! The reality is that you can trade them for something else that you like. Maybe you won’t love the first protein smoothie as much as the donuts, but when you don’t experience that mid morning sugar crash that the donuts gave you, you may get more excited about trading the pleasure of eating the donuts for the pleasure of feeling great until lunch time. If you’ll give yourself time to discover new foods and habits that bring you joy and support your new goals, change can actually be…fun!
So how do you get started? First, you tell yourself that you’re worth it. That you love yourself enough to make better choices. That you are capable of trading temporary pleasure for long term benefit. That happiness is never found in a box of donuts, but comes from within. And eventually, you’ll start believing it. Your brain is not capable of telling the difference between the truth and a lie, so the more you say these things to yourself, the more you convince yourself it’s true. Write daily affirmations about yourself. Find something to be proud of, or a quality that you like about yourself every day. Write it down. Say it to yourself out loud. Smile at yourself in the mirror. You CAN do hard things, but sometimes you need to give yourself a pep talk. I believe so strongly that this is the most important part of your journey – more important than how much you exercise or what food you eat – that I incorporate mindset into every aspect of my programs when working with clients one on one.
Journaling, meditating, praying, reading positive quotes or books…all of these things can help you retrain your brain towards the positive. If you have been stuck in a negative mindset about your appearance or your ability to change, it can take time to change these thoughts, but it will change your entire life if you will put in the effort. I highly recommend Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage to help with this brain training.
Have you tried and failed at this before? Or have you overcome a big mental barrier and have some tips on how you conquered it? I’d LOVE to hear from you!