Motivation Articles

How a Flexible Mindset Influences Weight-Loss Success

6 Ways to Adopt a More Adaptable Approach

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You are psyched and ready; tomorrow is the day. You made the decision to lose weight once and for all. You picked the perfect plan, bought all the groceries you need and even threw out the junk food from your cabinets and fridge. You've joined the local fitness center and persuaded your friend to be your diet buddy. Your motivation feels stronger than ever.
 
It seems like you have everything covered. But, wait, there's something you are forgetting: Flexibility. If you want to achieve success--real success, the kind of success that sticks--you are going to need to be flexible.
 
The flexibility to which I'm referring has nothing to do with that elusive yoga contortion. No, what I'm talking is a flexible mindset. The ability to change your mind and try a new direction if need be is essential in accomplishing your weight-loss goals. If there is one thing I am sure of after helping clients lose weight and keep it off for more than 20 years, it's this: Things never go exactly as planned.
 
With weight loss, your mindset is just as important, if not more important than the diet and exercise program you choose. Without a flexible mindset, your chance of success decreases. People who can't adapt when things don't go as planned often feel defeated and discouraged. When you are busy beating yourself up, rather than creatively finding a new direction, progress stagnates.
 
Consider a real-world example: Say you commit to joining Weight Watchers, attending a weekly meeting and sticking to the point system. You begin and all is going well. A few weeks in, you find out that you need to go on a business trip. Your optimism and enthusiasm plummets as the reality of all the meals you'll need to eat out and the meeting you'll miss sinks in.
 
Without a flexible mindset, obstacles such as this are seen as outside forces that get in your way and that you have little control over. You start telling yourself that you can't possibly lose weight while you are away; you'll probably gain back what you've already lost, so why even bother? Your lifestyle won't allow you to be successful at losing weight and keeping it off, so you view your efforts up until now as fruitless and just give up.
 
With a flexible mindset, on the other hand, the business trip announcement gets you to start thinking creatively, pursuing alternative routes in the face of this new obstacle. Rather than surrendering your goals, you decide to call ahead and ask the hotel if they can put a mini-fridge in your room so you can purchase healthy breakfast and lunch items to have on hand. You inquire about the hotel gym or fitness centers nearby and sign up for a few early morning classes. When eating meals out, you ask the waiter questions about food preparation and accommodations the chef might make before carefully choosing the best available option. You even call your fit friend who travels a lot to see if she can offer any advice that helps her maintain her routine on the road. You readjust and head out, determined to pursue your goals. 
 
Carol Dweck, Ph.D., a professor at Stanford University and author of "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," found that individuals who adopt a more flexible "growth" mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, are more successful in accomplishing their goals and, ultimately, more successful in life.
 
Those with a fixed mindset believe success is substantially dependent on talent and look at ability as static and unchangeable. Put simply, you've either got it or you don't. They tend to avoid challenges, going after only those things where success is guaranteed. When faced with uncertainty, they view their efforts as fruitless and avoid failure as much as possible. For those trying to lose weight, this attitude is not productive.
 
In comparison, those with a growth mindset believe success depends on hard work, practicing new skills and seeking knowledge along the way. They don't see themselves as victims of circumstance, but rather believe they have a greater sense of free will and freedom of action within their world. Challenges in the path are opportunities to learn and grow. They look to others who have been successful with similar goals and seek advice, finding inspiration in their accomplishments.
 
Clearly, the decision to adopt a growth mindset at the outset can mean the difference between weight loss success and failure. Now, how can you increase your chance of achieving your goals by fostering a growth mindset for yourself?
 
No matter which program you choose, take these tips on adjusting your mindset to ensure a more flexible approach to your healthy lifestyle plan into consideration:
 
1. Become aware of your self-talk, and learn to recognize when you are approaching a situation with a fixed mindset.
 
Positive self-talk is a game-changer when it comes to living healthy. We are our biggest critics, which means adjusting the way we talk to ourselves can turn our brains into motivation machines. Remove thought processes from your brain such as, "This idea will never work," "I have a slow metabolism and weight loss is too difficult for me," "If I don't have an hour to spend at the gym, why bother going at all?" and "The only way to lose weight is to follow a rigid plan." This will allow the room for creative thinking when obstacles arise.
 
2. Reframe your thoughts to a growth mindset.

No matter how carefully you've planned, there are sure to be forks in the road. The flexible mindset devises a solution, rather than admitting defeat, and allows you to choose a new road, rather than stopping you in your tracks. Consider the aforementioned negative thought processes and replace them with positivity, such as: 
  • I've never tried this before. Let's see what happens.
  • I'll read up on ways to increase metabolism, try some new options and weight loss will eventually get easier.
  • A short workout is better than none. I'll take the dog for a walk and go to the gym tomorrow.
  • Fixed diet plans haven't worked for me in the past. This time, I am going to change my habits to support sustained weight loss. 
3. Drop the extremist attitude.
 
Believing you are either "on" your diet or "off" your diet or you've been "good" or "bad," is discouraging and can lead to you throwing in the towel the minute things get challenging. Remember you are seeking progress, not perfection.
 
4. Look at obstacles as opportunities to challenge your creative self.

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. Creative solutions to unhealthy bumps in the road will not only keep you on track, but also offer a sense of pride when you're able to devise a strategy that allows you to stick to your bottom line, no matter what. If getting to the gym seems impossible, can you bring your sneakers and walk the track while your kids are at soccer practice? Offer to bring a dish to your friend's dinner party, so you know you'll have at least one healthy option available.
 
5. Try something new and different.
 
Boredom with routine can kill even the best intentions. Stay invested in your journey by switching things up every so often. New healthy foods and recipes keep your plan interesting. Shake up your exercise program by trying different equipment or classes at the gym.
 
6. Look for non-scale victories.
 
Success in weight loss is not just the number on the scale. If you get stuck in the belief that to be successful you need to lose a specific magic number, you will be missing out on celebrating all the progress you have made. Examples of non-scale victories include:
  • I can now bend down comfortably to tie my shoes.
  • I no longer need a seatbelt extender on the plane.
  • I am no longer winded after climbing the stairs.
  • My kids can reach their arms around my waist when giving me a hug.
Losing weight and keeping it off is often a journey of trial and error. There is no one-size-fits-all plan. What works for you at one stage of life, may not at another. Rather than choosing a fixed diet and exercise program, try a flexible one that leads to healthy lifestyle habits, no matter what circumstances may arise. The more you are able to adapt to constant changes, rise to challenges and circumvent obstacles, the more successful you will be in all aspects of your life.

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About The Author

Ellen Goldman Ellen Goldman
Ellen founded EllenG Coaching, LLC to help individuals struggling with health issues that can be impacted by positive lifestyle change, such as weight loss, stress management, exercise, and life/work balance. As a certified professional wellness coach and certified personal trainer, Ellen holds a BS and Masters in Physical Education and is certified by ACSM, AFAA, and Wellcoaches Corporation. Visit her at http://www.ellengcoaching.com/. Get her complimentary report, 52 Tips, Tools & Tricks to Permanent Weight Loss Without Going on a Diet, at www.endtheweightlossbattle.com.