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You Are What You Think

Beat Negative Patterns of Thinking for Better Workouts

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Updated October 10, 2012

What do you think about when you exercise? Are your thoughts positive (e.g., "Dang, I feel good!") or negative (e.g., "Why can't I lose more weight?")? Noticing your thoughts is important when it comes to exercise because negative thoughts are often what stands between you and a consistent exercise program. You don't necessarily have to become a walking smile, but figuring out distorted thinking patterns can make exercising easier and, yes, even more fun.

Perfectionism - Also known as unrealistic expectations. If you berate yourself for losing only five pounds instead of ten, you may be guilty of this kind of distorted thinking. Why not give yourself credit for your successes? If you've started exercising, that alone is cause for celebration and, if you're seeing some results, that's even better. Everything you do that makes you healthier is a success. Focus on that and take some time to make sure your goal is realistic.

The Blame Game - Are you having trouble exercising because your gym is too far away? Or because the weather's bad? Blaming external factors makes it easier to avoid taking responsibility for your own choices. If you're not working out, it's up to you to figure out why you're not sticking to your program. Maybe you don't like going to a gym or maybe your workouts are too hard. Once you figure out the problem, you can take steps to rectify the situation. Explore your reasons for not exercising so you can change your approach.

I'm a Loser - Many of us equate self-worth with success. Losing weight means we're good, failing to lose weight means we're bad. If you feel like a failure all the time, it's almost inevitable that you will fail. Remember: what you look like is just one aspect of who you are. Learning to focus on who you are and not just what your body looks like takes practice. You can start by exploring your body image and learn ways to improve it.

I Have the Wrong Body - Have you ever looked at someone and wondered, "Why can't I look like that person?" Mat Luebbers, About's Swimming Guide, offers some excellent advice in his article, Self-Esteem and Confidence: "[y]our abilities are unique (as are those of every human being)...and cannot truly be compared to others." We all have a certain body shape and that shape may not conform to the current definition of "perfect." Instead of tearing yourself down, boost your own ego by focusing on your strengths and on the things you love about your body.

I Hate My Hip/Buns/Belly/Thighs - If you've ever looked in the mirror and picked apart every visible flaw with the precision of a brain surgeon, take a step back from the mirror and see yourself as a whole. We all have a body part we love to hate, but remember that your body allows you to walk, run, squat, and jump. That belly that seems to attract every calorie you eat serves to protect your spine when you move, sit or stand. Your body works as a whole, so try to appreciate all you can do in a day because of your thighs, hips, and belly (regardless of how they look).

The Antidote to Negative Self-Talk

It sounds simplistic, but beating negative thinking involves noticing your thoughts and changing them to something more positive. Try this activity recommended by Daniel R. Ball, in his article, "Cognitive Strategies:" Carry around a pocketful of paper clips. Every time you have a negative thought about yourself, hook the paper clips together in a chain. As Mr. Ball states, "[o]ften clients become motivated to change because they are surprised at the length of the chain at the end of the day."

At first, just noticing the negative thoughts may be difficult, they happen so fast. But, as you practice, you'll be able to feel them coming on and stop them before they take hold. Instead of thinking, "I'll never finish this workout," try, "All I have to do is try my best." You can even take out your paperclip chain and take one away for every good thought you have...at least until your office manager sends out an email asking who stole all the paperclips.

Sources

Ball, Daniel R. "Cognitive Strategies." IDEA Personal Trainer Journal, Nov/Dec 2001, 1-4.

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