The trap of negative self-talk

“I know I can’t lose weight.”
“What’s the use of losing just five kilos when I have twenty kilos to lose?”
“I am really ugly and can accept my image in the mirror only when I reach my target weight.”
“This weight loss plan is not working anymore.”
“I am so fed up about not losing any more weight.”

Recognise any of these thoughts?

If your answer is yes, then this is what we call negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is one among the many little ways in which people devalue and end up de-motivating themselves. This section will teach you how not to fall into this trap and how to untwist your thinking such that your self-talk becomes positive and encouraging.

Now check out this more positive self-talk:

“Given what is within reason, I should be losing between 5-10% of my starting weight. I am actually doing very well.”

“Losing twenty kilos is very important to me, but even if I can’t lose any more weight, I am better off with 5 kilos less to carry around!”

“I don’t expect everything and everyone around me to be perfect, so why should I expect only perfection from my weight? Achieving my ideal weight would be fantastic. But I’d be happier focusing on a ‘better’ weight than a ‘best’ weight.”

“I might lose more weight. Right now, I don’t want to get discouraged. A good goal for me is to keep off the kilos I have already lost.”

Apart from positive self-talk, here is another tool to help you avoid the trap of negative self-talk.

On a piece of paper, fill out this table and put it up in a place where it will be clearly visible to you, such as over your mirror.

Progress I’ve made Positive changes I have brought about Reasons for me to maintain these changes
__ __ __
__ __ __

Identify the trap of negative self-talk and learn how to change your thinking

People who study human behaviour call this cognitive distortion, or ways in which your mind distorts reality. Cognitive distortions can really pull you down and make your goals of weight loss seem unattainable.

Read the table below to see if you have caught yourself thinking this way. Alongside the negative self-talk, the table also gives you ways to change your thinking.

Checklist of cognitive distortions… …And ways to change your thinking
1. All or nothing thinking: You look at things in absolute black and white categories. Identify the distortion: Write down your negative thoughts so you can see which of the ten cognitive distortions you’re involved in. This will make it easier to think about the problem in a more positive and realistic way.
2. Over-generalisation: You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Examine the evidence: Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, examine the actual evidence for it. For example, if you feel that you never do anything right, you could list all the things you have done successfully
3. Mental filter: you dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives. The double-standard method: Instead of putting yourself down in a harsh, condemning way, talk to yourself in the same compassionate way you would talk to a friend with a similar problem.
4. Discounting the positives: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities “don’t count”. The experimental technique: Do an experiment to test the validity of your negative thought. For example, if you are thinking, “I ate all the wrong things today. I can never follow a diet,” make a diet plan for the next day and stock the groceries you will need to follow the diet.
5. Jumping to conclusions: (A) Mind reading – you assume that people are reacting negatively to you when there’s no definite evidence for this; (B) Fortune telling – you arbitrarily predict things will turn out badly. Thinking in shades of grey: Although this may sound like a drab way of thinking, its effects can be surprisingly good. Instead of thinking about your problems in all-or-nothing extremes, evaluate things on a range of 0 to 100. When things don’t work out as well as expected, think about the experience as a partial success rather than a complete failure. See what you can learn from the situation.
6. Magnification or minimization: You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance inappropriately. The survey method: Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and attitudes are realistic. For example, if you believe that aerobics or yoga for someone who is overweight makes her or him look strange, ask several people you know what they think. The possible answers may surprise you. They may include thoughts such as, “I find it amazing that someone is putting in so much effort into improving their health,” to “It’s an inspiration for everyone to see anyone exercising.”
7. Emotional reasoning: You reason from how you feel: “I feel ugly, so I really must be ugly.” Or “I don’t feel like going for my walk today, so I’ll put it off.” The semantic method: Simply substitute language that is less colourful and emotionally loaded.
8. “Should” statements: You criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds”, “shouldn’ts”, “musts”, and “have tos”. Instead of using a “should” statement, tell yourself, “It would have been better if I hadn’t made that mistake.
9. Labeling: You identify with your shortcomings. Instead of saying, “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a loser/fool.” Define terms: When you label yourself as a “loser”, or a “fool”, ask yourself, what is the definition of these words? You will feel better when you see that there is no such thing as a “loser” or a “fool”.
10. Personalisation and blame: You blame yourself for something you were not entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that your own attitudes and behavior might contribute to a problem. Instead of automatically labeling yourself in some way “bad” and blaming yourself for a problem, think about the many factors that may have contributed to it. Focus on solving the problem you are facing instead of using up all your energy in feeling guilty.

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