If 2017 wasn’t the year you achieved what you wanted in terms of changing your eating habits, you may have a nagging sense that 2018 isn’t going to be much different. You may be feeling disheartened and discouraged, but still desperate to make changes and lose weight. This combination of desire to change and frustrating lack of progress can lead to a cycle of putting in effort but then running out of steam. So your weight starts to go down but then yo-yo’s back to where it started.
Each time you repeat the cycle, your faith in your ability to really achieve progress is chipped away. In fact, it reminds you of all the other times in your life that you’ve tried and failed at something, which adds to your misery and anxiety. Because of the way our brains work, once you’re in that memory network of past failures and disappointments, you’ll keep noticing the negatives. And if you’ve already got a tendency to be self-critical, that critical voice in your head will remind you that this is further proof of your incompetence. No matter that you’ve achieved qualifications and successes over the years. They’ll be discounted. No matter that you currently work really hard supporting others and providing for them. That will be ignored.
And all this negativity feeds a self-fulfilling pessimism.
Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right
This quote attributed to Henry Ford neatly sums up the role of our existing beliefs on our future behaviour. If you think you can make a particular change to your eating habits, like learn to eat smaller meals, success becomes more attainable. It’s all about what you focus on. By shifting your focus to different memory networks – the ones that store successes and competencies small and large – you can bring success into closer reach.
When you focus on memories of success, and on people who have faith in you, you access strengths within you. And those strengths are what will allow you to successfully change how you eat, step by step and bite by bite.
4 steps to having faith in yourself when you most need it
- To get access to your positive memory banks, remember times you’ve been successful before.
Choose something you feel proud of and take yourself back to the memory of achieving it. So if it was a music or dance exam you did well in, run through the memories of preparing for the exam and performing well during the exam. Or if it was a success at work, remember what you did to create that success, and recall what it was like when it happened. Make short notes of the key things that helped you to success and put them on post-it notes close at hand so you can easily find them when you need encouragement.
2. Access the memories associated with those who have faith in you
Other people’s faith in you is a very powerful thing. Start by thinking of all the people in your life, past & present, who have encouraged or admired you. They may be people within or outside your family. Think of any teachers you had a good connection with and any colleagues or bosses at work who admired your work. Include friends and don’t forget animals that have had a special place in your life and who made you feel good. If you’ve been a teacher or manager, there may be people who you’ve helped or guided who would value and admire you. When you have a few specific people (and animals) in mind, spend a few minutes thinking about each of them. What would they say to you now, to help you with achieving your goal? Write those encouraging words down so that you can find and refer to them easily when you need to hear real encouragement.
3. Visualise yourself doing the thing successfully
A surprisingly powerful tool that many of us don’t realise we have is our ability to visualise different scenarios. To create moving pictures in our mind’s eye. Research clearly shows that imagining doing something makes it easier to perform that action in real life. Elite sportsmen and women use visualisation as part of their performance enhancement, and it pays off. You too can harness this power by picturing as vividly as possible doing the very thing that you want to do. So if it’s refusing biscuits when they’re being passed round, step into the situation in your imagination. Notice the sights, sounds and emotions of being in that group. Imagine that other people are accepting the biscuits and think about what you’d say in a perfect world. The one in which you are calm and confident when it comes to food. When the moment in this imaginary scene comes, imagine yourself saying those confident words and letting the plate be offered to the next person. You can apply this to any habit change and keep practising it over and again. Practice makes perfect! When you find yourself in the real-life situation, that practice will pay off.
4. Challenge any discomfirmations
When your familiar critical voice pops up in your head, you can use the post-its from the first step above and the notes of what helpful people would say, to gently but firmly challenge your self-doubt. You’re not trying to annihilate the negative voice; just achieve a more realistic view of yourself which balances what you find difficult with what you can achieve. Focusing on your previous achievements in life and on those people who believe in you, together with mentally rehearsing how the actual steps to success will be, means that you’ll be tackling the challenge of changing each eating habit from a position of strength. And that strength isn’t just from an anonymous soundbite on twitter telling you that you can achieve anything (which I think is rubbish). It’s based on your real experiences and your real relationships with others.
If you want help with where to start, begin with the second exercise above. That of collecting together all the people/ animals who have faith in you. To make this come alive, you could make a collage of photos or names and put it somewhere that you’ll see often. Notice what you feel like in your body when you look at the collage, and really enjoy that feeling. Spending time with that feeling can only be a good thing, both in helping you make this particular change to your eating habits, and more generally in life.
If there’s one person who’s still around who is particularly helpful, you could ask them for actual moral support. Through texting or phoning to tell them how you’re doing with the goal you’ve set yourself and getting encouragement and advice along the way.
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