I spent this past weekend in Barnes & Nobles and was wowed at the quantity of new diet, exercise and weight loss books on the shelves. It was pretty overwhelming. This made me think of the constant push of commercially marketed weight-loss and exercise programs on television, in magazines and search-engine advertisements. With all of this information around us, why is our nation suffering from obesity and depression at astounding rates?
Despite the truth and scientific evidence of some of these programs, the maintenance rate for weight-loss programs is pretty low. Often we are excited to learn about a new diet or workout so we eagerly get on a program, stick to it for a few weeks and lose some weight. Eventually, typically within a couple of months, our motivation waivers, we fall off the bandwagon of calorie counting and consistent exercise, and gain the weight back (sometimes even more). This cycle may lead to feelings of self-loathing, frustration and defeat. It is easy to become a victim of the “all or nothing” mindset when attempting weight-loss or any health-related regime. And why is it on our quest for health we feel so terrible? What is missing from all of these programs, books and advertisements is the message of a healthy mind.
A healthy mind is essential for a healthy body. We can think of a healthy mind much in the same way we would approach a new diet or exercise program, it takes time and practice. Rather than looking at a missed day at the gym or an ice cream or fried foods binge as a failure, we can see them as an opportunity to learn and grow. Just as losing weight is a slow and steady process, so too is shifting our mindset. Practicing positive thinking should be a constant, daily practice. Losing those last 10 pounds, getting a six-pack or running that race will not bring lasting happiness or health. Those are all great goals, but engaging in the process, extending these practices beyond achieving the set goal, and embracing setbacks along the way will promote lasting health and happiness. Here are three tools that can help channel a healthy mindset to fuel health, happiness and wellbeing.
1. Internal motivation: What is it about _______ that gets you excited? Whether it is losing weight, adhering to medication or changing eating habits, it is important to identify your driving factor for the change to be lasting and effective. Advice or recommendations from family members, physicians or friends usually comes from a place of love and concern, but is often not enough to make you want to engage in a behavior. When attempting to change something for health, it is critical to spend time identifying the factors that internally excite you for embracing the change. For example, if you want to lose weight and start exercising, but hate going to the gym, buying a membership is not going to motivate you to change. If you enjoy being outdoors, incorporating walks into your routine is a likely way to increase internal motivation and behavior adaptation. Spend time reflecting on your goals and find out what makes you want to achieve them. Write these down and keep them visible to help you along your journey to health and happiness.
2. Situational analysis: Nothing is ever as bad as it seems. As mentioned earlier, it is easy to get caught up in the “all-or-nothing” mindset. When our intentions and plans fall off track, it is a slippery slope operating in this frame of mind. In reality, the horrible day of fast-food consumption or week of no workouts is NOT as bad as it seems. Oftentimes, it is easy to say, “I will start (fill in the blank) on Monday” because of a relapse in progress. But why give up on an entire day, week or month because of a slip up? Instead, take the next meal, the next walk or the next hour as a chance to regain focus and embrace your health. Channel your internal motivation and get back on the wagon. Remind yourself, it is not has bad as it seems!
3. Choosing optimism: Perspective is a choice. This is one of the most empowering and liberating mindsets to have, but it takes practice. The way we react to a situation elicits a number of responses, both emotionally and physically. Negative reactions elicit a stress response in our bodies, sending stress hormones into action that can make us feel irritable, have cravings and sleep less. The flip side to this is seeing the silver lining in all situations, even when this may seem difficult. Positive reactions to stressful situations may leave us calm, feeling in control and able to embrace healthy habits despite changes in our surroundings. The bottom line is, perspective is a choice, and you have the ability to choose they way you perceive a situation. The next time you are faced with a setback, take a deep breath, and consciously work to choose optimism. Eventually, this mindset will be second nature.
As a closing piece of inspiration, think about the words Mahatma Ghandi:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”