As the holiday weekend approaches, the excuses for why healthy plans are unrealistic are thicker than the humidity at the end of June in Florida. It’s important and helpful to be realistic about our chances for making healthy choices in the face of bar-b-que, beer, and an endless buffet of cakes made to look like American flags. But past choices is only one indication of future behavior. Let this be the year when you declare your independence from negative self-talk holding you back from taking your health to the next level.
Not everyone is affected by negative self-talk, but many of us have been at one time or another. Negative self-talk is that little voice in your head that casts doubt on – or outright rejects – your thoughts or ideas about what you can do. It’s the voice that says, “you can’t do that,” or “that will never work,” or “don’t even try.” Sometimes it’s easy to hush it up and carry on. Other times, especially when we have had experiences when the voice was right and we did fail, we believe it.
Declaring freedom from this tyranny is easier when you take careful A.I.M.
A = Awareness. Awareness is always the first step! We cannot change what we are not aware of, so notice when you hear a negative thought. Pay attention to your thoughts, and take notice when you hear yourself saying something that takes a jab at your confidence. This kind of awareness takes practice at first, but it won't be long before you are able to identify when you are likely to start speaking negatively towards yourself and stop it before it begins. That comes in step two.
I = Identify the source. Once you realize that you are speaking negatively to yourself, resist the temptation to simply push it away or ignore it. Stop and listen. Then, take a moment to consider why you thought that. Did you see or hear something that triggered the negative thought? Noticing what triggers you to think negatively will help you be proactive about avoiding those experiences or being ready with a positive response when you can’t avoid them. Once you have come aware of the negativity and identified what caused it, it’s time to change course.
M = Mold. Whenever you hear yourself saying something negative, mold it into something positive. Now, it’s important here to be honest and sincere with yourself and not simply create a hollow sense of confidence that will not withstand a challenge. That means being in touch with your personal strengths and calling them into active duty when you need to be supported.
Sometimes it is hard to identify our strengths when we're feeling down, but there is always something we can do to be positive. "I can't," can be molded into, "I have not yet." Do you hear the potential? “That will never work,” can mold into, “perhaps if I try it this way.” Acknowledge the source of the criticism, and then debunk it. If you can't find the silver lining, remind yourself that kindness always wins, and give yourself another chance to try again.
The benefit from all of this kindness is that it becomes easier to let go of excuses and embrace the potential for healthy choices even in the face of challenge. Greater health is not an all-or-nothing situation. Holiday weekends, vacations, and unexpected obstacles can make it seem as if it is next to impossible to sustain healthy habits, but remember: “impossible” becomes “I’m possible” with just a little space. Give yourself some space to identify when you begin to limit your potential.
Your brain believes what you tell it! Declare your independence from the tyranny of negative thoughts and take aim at a whole new level of possible.