If you’ve ever muttered the words “Ugh, I look so disgusting in these pairs of pants” you might be sabotaging your progress. This sounds like a big claim but think about it - how often are you saying nasty things to yourself, about yourself?
It’s become an almost common place to be unrelenting and uncensored when speaking about oneself. Negative self-talk and harsh self-criticisms are sort of like a rite of passage when trying to or starting to change one’s body.
Think about it - what might have triggered you to begin working out and eating healthier? Was it the thrill of doing something new or was it because you hated how you looked in the mirror?
Today I want to talk about how negative self-talk can derail you from your overall progress and give you tips on how to redirect some of those negative thoughts into positive actions.
We aren’t kind to ourselves and why it might not be our fault
We can’t always be happy - there’s no denying this fact. In a world of constant bombardment of how life can be better, it’s no wonder that we are always comparing ourselves with others.
For example if you look at any clothing advertisement they might use specific words to try and trigger you into having an emotional response. You might hear words like “You’ll feel better about yourself”...”Look your best in these jeans”...”These leggings will hide your hips for a slender look!”
These sentiments are trying to hit an emotionally charged button to lead you to buy their product. Companies know that hitting on pain points are the key to getting sales and so on. I wouldn’t say there is anything inherently wrong in doing this - but I do believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
How many times have you seen the model on TV and wonder to yourself, “Wow I wish I could look like that”. I know for me - I have said that many many times about my own self.
It’s as if in that moment you are being shown to your face why you are a failure and why you aren’t a good person. We internalize this momentary feeling and then move on as the commercial fades onto the next one.
What follows after these triggers are the negative self-talk that has become an automatic response.
Let’s go over the different types of negative self-talk and how it can relate to your fitness and health.
Types of negative self-talk
There are 4 main types of negative self talk according to the research:
Filtering is the act of being hyper focused on one aspect of your life and magnifying it while ignoring other pieces of the pie.
For example, think back to a day (maybe it’s today!) that you had a “bad” meal. Maybe your life got a little too crazy and you needed to get a quick meal for the kids between social events in the afternoon. You might have chosen some fast food and got a burger and some fries because you were stressed and not prepared for the day.
Afterwards all you can focus on is how you ate the burger and fries. However you forget about your past 4 meals being filled with plenty of vegetables, good protein, healthy fats and smart carbohydrates.
By filtering out the positive choices you’ve made and focusing solely on the 1 bad meal you had, you invite feelings of guilt, blame and even depression into your life.
Think about it - if you had a friend who did the same thing...what would you say to them? Would you scold them for giving in and having a fast food meal or would you help them focus on the good that they have been doing?
I’d hope it’s the latter or you might not have many friends!
What you can do: When these moments happen try jotting down the things that are going well. Give yourself some grace and you will find that in most cases you have far more good things to stand on rather than the one bad meal. Think more about the glass being half full rather than half empty!
The next type of negative self talk is Personalizing. In this you are always putting yourself in the position of blame. You embrace the mantra “It’s not you...it’s me”
For example - if a friend cancels lunch plans on you, you might think “I guess they really didn’t want to eat with me because I’m not good company”. In reality this friend just had something come up and was unable to make it even though they really wanted to see you.
We become experts at making ourselves the scapegoat, we make it about our own deficiencies rather than see the event more objective.
What you can do: Take a moment to step back and reflect on what is really going on. You know that this friend cares about you - what might be other reasons why they had to cancel? Ask yourself…
”Is there any evidence to support this thought?”
“Is the thought factual or just my interpretation?”
Catastrophizing happens when you automatically anticipate the worst.
For example if you miss a week of working out you might get the thought “Well there goes my progress - all that work for nothing!”
Another example with food might be “I am going to gain 10 lbs after eating that pasta meal last night!”
When your world feels like it’s falling apart we tend to make broad claims about the future. These claims can derail us and sap of us motivation to do that very thing that we are catastrophizing.
I’ve had this thought myself in the past as a school aged kid believing that this one bad test grade will result in not getting into college, not getting a job and eventually just ending in poverty! (I’m sure parents can relate to this about their kids right now!)
What you can do: Do some reality testing - ask yourself how likely is this to happen? Is it very likely that I will gain 10lbs from that pasta meal? Will my exercise progress really halt after missing 1 week? When you answer these questions honestly and with a clear head, you’ll find that you might have been exaggerating the impact of these events.
Ask yourself - if it does happen, will I still be okay? Taking an honest look at these thoughts can help bring you back to your center and avoid the ever sinking hole of negative self-talk.
The final type of negative self talk is Polarizing talk.
This might be the most common example for people in the nutrition and diet space. Polarizing is all about seeing things as all good, or all bad. If you feel that you need to be perfect at all times - you are probably more prone to getting into this type of negative self-talk.
During diets it’s an unwritten rule that there are things that are good for you, and things that are bad for you. Keto diet? Carbs are bad for you...Paleo diet? Processed foods are bad for you...weight watchers? Eating too many or too little points per day is bad for you.
It’s this all or nothing thinking that doesn’t allow for real life to actually take place. There is nothing in this world that is absolute. (Maybe aside from mathematics? 2+2 will always equal 4!)
Just because you had that cupcake for dessert and you are following a paleo diet doesn’t mean that you are a terrible eater that lacks will-power. And for that matter - just because you snack on a food that is deemed “bad” doesn't make you, a “bad”, unfit person.
What you can do: In moments of all-or nothing thinking...remember to be kind to yourself. NOONE is perfect...we are all human and make mistakes. Mistakes are normal and natural - they are there for us to learn more about what we are trying to change or do. I can guarantee that if you talk to a person that has already gone through the journey you are right now - they will tell you that they failed many, many times.
So - how might these types of negative self talk impact us?
I think it’s clear to see how these different types of negative self-talk can lead to feelings of depression, guilt, blame and apathy.
Negative self-talk doesn’t just show it’s impacts in the moment but more so in your general view about yourself.
If you are constantly telling yourself you're not good enough, you don’t have will-power, and you don’t deserve happiness, you are shaping your inner world.
This becomes your foundation of thought about yourself - your automatic response to any events in life will immediately be filtered by this negative perception of yourself.
For example if you really hold onto the thought that “one bad meal will destroy your progress” you’ll be far less motivated to choose your next meal with your goals in mind. If you are already counting yourself out of the game - it’s much harder to get back into it with a clear head.
What tends to happen is this:
Eat a “bad” food that you don’t think will help your progress > Feels resentment and guilt > Believes that you can’t make this positive change > Feels stressed and overwhelmed > Eats more “bad” meals to combat the stress > feels guilt and resentment ...and the cycle continues on and on.
Meanwhile if you had just accepted the fact that you had one bad meal and didn’t take it on as something that is part of your personality, you probably would have had a meal that made your body feel good - rather than match your negative feelings with “bad” meal choices.
Why we hold onto negative self-talk
This is speaking purely from personal experience - the reason why negative self-talk is such a common thread is because of the belief of self-accountability.
In most cases the reasons for weight loss or body change stems from the thought of not liking how you look or feel. This might come from a negative self thought one day…”Ugh my stomach really does look fat I need to do something”.
We believe that if we aren’t hard on ourselves - we won’t be motivated to change.
We figure that if we can be mean enough to ourselves we’ll push ourselves to do the necessary things to finally feel better.
For many of us - this has been the motivating factor for doing things in our life. Feeling and looking like crap? Okay good use that as motivation to get in shape. Feeling that you are dumb and can’t find a good job? Okay good use that as motivation to go back to school and find a better paying job.
Even now as I write this I have a bit of reserve when saying that this negative self-talk is completely useless. It almost feels and seems like it’s needed for us to make changes.
However I beg you to try and see this differently, to start coming from a positive perspective. Simply rephrasing the reasons you are doing things can be life changing.
For example...you might feel and look like crap, but what if you instead said ..”My body deserves to feel and look good, I’m going to start treating it as such”.
“I want to learn more about this career so that I can pursue this new job and ultimately feel excited about my personal finance!”.
Create a positive perspective
I want to finish off this blog by giving some actionable steps to becoming a more positively minded person.
There are a few key points throughout this post that I want to highlight and burn into your brain!
No one is perfect - know this, feel this, and let yourself off the damn hook
You can be motivated by positivity - this has much stronger staying power than negative self talk
Be kind to yourself - talk to yourself like you would talk to a loved one that you support
Focus on the things that are going well - Not everything you do is a failure - remember those things you are kicking ass in!
Trust yourself to overcome obstacles - negative and unfortunate events will happen - you have the ability to do better and learn from this!
Start your day with positive affirmations - Tell yourself that you are good enough, that you will be able to cope with stressors, that you will get through the day.
There is enough negativity in this world already - do your best to quiet the noise in your own head. I can guarantee that what you are saying to yourself is far worse than what any other person thinks of you.
You are not a failure, you DO deserve happiness and you DO deserve to make this life the best that you can.
You got this thing - let’s go!