Motivation Articles

Talk Yourself into Reaching Your Goals

How Self-Talk Can Help (or Hinder) Your Progress

We all know that getting support and encouragement is crucial to losing weight and becoming healthier. That’s why the Message Boards, SparkPages, SparkMail, and SparkTeams are such important components of the SparkPeople program.

But getting support from others is only one part of the formula for success. Equally important is your ability to support yourself. In fact, if you’re not the loudest and most active member of your own fan club, your chances for long-term success will be pretty low. Other people may help you get started or keep you going on those inevitable bad days. But you are the one who has to be there for yourself each day when it’s time to make the right decisions to reach your goals.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t know how to "be there" for ourselves in an effective way. I sure didn’t. I always started my numerous weight loss campaigns with a lot of negative feelings towards myself. I wanted to lose weight because I felt disgusted every time I saw myself in the mirror or a photo, and was convinced that others saw me the same way. Every time I messed up, I mercilessly beat myself up for not having the willpower or character to simply say no to a candy bar or a second helping of dinner. And I told myself that nothing good would come my way as long as I stayed fat. All I got in return was a long history of losing a little weight and gaining back even more.

This “tougher than tough love” kind of self-talk is a prescription for failure. Mostly, it increases feelings of resentment, deprivation, and helplessness until they erupt in a self-defeating binge or a collapse into depression and hopelessness. And it definitely keeps you from focusing your attention and energy where it can actually do you some good.

At the same time, your self-talk can’t just switch to the other extreme, where it’s full of sweetness and abstract fluff about how wonderful you are and how you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. That may help you turn off the negative thoughts that keep you stuck in the same old patterns, but that’s just the beginning. Like any good coach, you need to recognize your real strengths and weaknesses, learn to work with them, keep yourself focused on the positive in every situation, and put your best efforts forward.

Here's how you can to turn your self-talk into a powerful tool that will help you reach your goals:

1. Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else.
It’s pretty amazing how we think it’s appropriate to treat ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t dream of treating a friend, or even a stranger. Whenever you find that  you are verbally beating yourself up or telling yourself things are hopeless, stop and ask yourself if you’d say this to someone who came to you for help with the same problem. Recognize that what you say to yourself has the same emotional effect that it would have on another person. If you wouldn’t say this to others, don’t say it to yourself.

2. Look at the whole picture.
No matter how persistent a problem seems to be, it is never the whole story. There will be times when you avoid a negative behavior and accomplish what you set out to do. Often, you can find the keys to successful behavior change by asking yourself what went right when you were successful (instead of asking what went wrong when you failed). Don't spend a lot of time thinking about what went wrong, and avoid using words like always and never when you are talking about your behaviors or their results. Think back to the last time things went the way you wanted, figure out what was different then, and ask yourself how you can make that happen more often.

3. Ditch the drama.
If you are upset about something you ate, or the exercise you didn’t do, ask yourself how much this really matters, in the grand scheme of things. In the course of your lifetime, you’ll probably eat about 50 million calories. How much does it really matter that you ate a few hundred of them a little sooner than scheduled? Is it really going to ruin your life if it takes you an extra day or two to reach your goal weight? The one thing that can really cause problems is blowing things so out of proportion that you regularly turn small problems into major crises. The more often you do that, the more power you give to those problems, which will become reasons for giving up on yourself. You don’t have to let that happen if you don’t want to.

4. Reward yourself for right thinking.
Most people reward themselves for things that are far less important than changing how they think and talk to themselves. You reward yourself when the scale hits a certain number, or when you maintain a healthy habit for a certain number of days. There’s nothing wrong with this. It works—which is why you should also reward yourself for changes in your attitude and thinking. Establish goals (streaks) for verbally treating yourself with the same respect and care you offer to other people; for staying focused on positive solutions; for keeping things in perspective; and for acknowledging your successes. Come up with some meaningful rewards for meeting these goals. You can even reward yourself for cutting a negative rant short, or for recognizing that your last slip was just that, or for taking the time today to find one thing you did well.

The important thing is to start where you are right now, and keep moving in the direction you want to go. When you take responsibility for becoming your own best friend, supporter, and coach, a whole new world of possibilities will open up for you.

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Member Comments

  • I found that either putting my hand on my opposite shoulder or envisioning it and thinking an encouraging word, like a kind mentor would, has helped me progress a lot. When I start to beat myself up, I "state the facts" by writing them down. I'm not a loser because I chose not to go to the gym today. I made a choice.

    A little self-kindness goes a long way. It's hard to do at first.

    Remember that if kicking ourselves in the butt worked and being cruel to ourselves worked, we wouldn't be here looking for ways to take better care of ourselves which includes getting more exercise or losing some weight.
  • That's a very helpful and eye-opening article. I should treat myself the same as I treat other people I love. Because I love myself. Well.. that's true most days!
    Thanks for sharing!
  • This is a great article -- analyzing behaviors, including positive actions, and offering rewards for the positive ones. I watch baseball daily, and coaches do this, on TV, for their players. There are many $$$ at stake, so players are sure to practice exercises or techniques recommended by their coach, to get more points for their team. It works! DONNALOU76
  • This makes so much
    'm doing the best I can, and that's good enough.
  • Great article! Thank you!
    Keeping myself motivated is one of my biggest challenges. Great points in the article and I will begin to practice those to assist me as I achieve my goals. Thanks!
  • SLIMAT125
    Thank-you for your insights!
  • SALLY8180
    This really hit home. Thank you!
  • Thank you for the article. The first tip about saying things to yourself that you wouldn't say to others was what I needed to hear. We cannot succeed if we are always negative and down on ourselves. So I am going to really tune in to positive thoughts for myself.
  • Thank you for posting this...Just what I needed to read
  • great article and perfect timing, i do beat myself up about a small failure and forget to see the big picture of what I've done thats positive. thank you
  • Great insights! I can see that this article touched a nerve. Maintaining a healthy perspective is such a key breakthrough. I am doing better at how I view temporary slip-ups--such as too many potato chips and other snacks over Memorial Day weekend. I re-gained 4 lbs in as many days, and now I have to work harder to take it off again. But is it a disaster worth screaming at myself about? No, it is not.

    We also have to know what to take seriously. My mom dismissed her doctors' repeated warnings about being an overweight, sedentary smoker with a slew of health problems (and scary family history) until it was too late.
  • Ditch the drama!!!! THAT says it all! We beat ourselves up every time we skip that workout we should have done, eat something we shouldn't have eaten. In "the grand scheme of things", does it REALLY matter? NO! It's the consistent 'beating yourself up' and allowing ourselves to continue to fail that's preventing us from reaching our goals. Let's GET OVER IT! We are imperfect! We WILL have bad days! We WILL skip a workout! We WILL eat something we regret! So let's forgive ourselves. Those 500 extra calories we ate today will only matter if we do it consistently. That missed workout will only matter if we continue to miss them.

    That said, "DITCH THE DRAMA!" :)
  • This article really hit me. I am always beating myself up and telling myself that I am not as good as other people. If I mess up one day, it takes me a long time to get back on track. However, with Spark Streaks I notice I don't want to break a streak. No matter what I did. I will still track calories even if I ate too many. Thanks for counsel.

About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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