January is a time of year when lots of people decide they want to lose some weight. They’ll put a lot of thought into what actions they should take to shift the weight they want to lose. Unfortunately, the majority of people fail in their weight loss endevours despite their good intentions. Why? Maybe they think about them in the wrong way. Maybe they are psychologically fat.
What on Earth is psychological fatness?
I have said before that our bodies are physical manifestations of our daily habits. To put that another way, our physique is a representation of our psychological character, and everything that that represents, including our habits, beliefs and self image. So, to change our physiques, a great place to start is in the mind. Typically (and especially so at this time of year) we jump right to the physical part of the weight loss conundrum (hard hitting diets and punishing gym routines). The psychological aspect gets completely overlooked. In our heads, we stay fat. This is not good when we are trying to change our bodies. Below are 5 examples of what I call ‘psychological fatness’ – traits in people’s mental makeup that tend to lead to an overweight physique. If any of them sound familiar I would suggest that you work on getting your mind right before addressing your body.
1. Lack of a visualisation – This is two fold. Firstly, a lot of people don’t actually have a representation of how they want to look. Slimmer, thinner, trimmer or more toned just don’t cut it. You could lose 0.0000001g and you would have theoretically achieved your goals based on those descriptions, so we need something a little ‘realer’. You need to be able to literally see what you want to become. Having a picture of someone that has the physique you aspire to is a very powerful motivational tool and starts to make your goals (which sometimes seem like a fantasy) into a stone cold reality. The second part is seeing YOURSELF with that physique. This can be difficult at first – if it is, this highlights the point I am trying to make. How would you ever get the body you want if you can’t actually see yourself with it!?
THE FIX: Go through some magazines, the internet or your friends’ Facebook profiles and find a body that you find desirable 😉 – make sure it fits into your general physical characteristics though. If you are 5’2 and have a gorgeous hourglass figure full of curves you probably want to avoid pictures of the long and thin Maria Sharapova and go for someone like Beyonce. Same applies to guys. If you’re naturally small and diminutive, a pic of Brad Pitt in Fight Club is going to be more realistic than Arnie (which would take a little more than just thinking about it!!). Find as many examples as you need to and you’ll soon have some real parameters for the goals you want to achieve. Once you have these take a few minutes each day imagining your body looking like that. Picture it through your own eyes, looking in the mirror, wearing the perfect outfit and feeling great. Make the visualisation as real as possible by painting the picture as vividly as you can and include details that make every sense tingle. As I said, at first it will be hard so practice will be required!
2. Faulty Associations – An association is the linking of an action with an outcome. A lot of our learning is through association. For example, we don’t touch red hot hobs as we have learned (normally through burning ourselves when we’re young) that they will burn us. Simple association. Unfortunately when it comes to weight loss I come across many associations which quite frankly are of no help whatsoever. Here are some examples:
- Associating unhealthy eating with fun (“…but eating healthy is so boring”)
- Associating alcohol with relaxing (“…how would I unwind if I can’t have my glass of wine?”)
- Associating the gym with punishment (“…no pain no gain!”)
- Associating eating to lose weight with starvation (Most diets leave you hungry and under nourished)
- Associating bread with happiness (“…but how will I survive without bread? What will I eat?!?!)
- Associating wanting to look/feel good with excessive vanity (A lot of people are initially embarrassed about saying they want to look better)
- Associating coffee with being able to function (“…I need my coffee to operate in the morning”)
- Associating alcohol with enjoying your friend’s company (“…I couldn’t possibly go out and see my friends and not get hammered”)
- Associating being healthy with huge time consumption (See point 5)
Hopefully you get the point. When dealing with people initially I take time breaking down many of these faulty associations. Losing weight and looking good is not boring, punishing, vain, detrimental to your work or social life or anything else negative you may think it is.
THE FIX: Whenever you think of something that provokes a negative response, question that response. If it doesn’t serve a positive purpose then get rid of it. Picture it in your mind and scrub it out. Then replace it with all the good things your new actions are going to cause. For example, when thinking about not drinking alcohol for an extended period, don’t picture yourself sitting in a bar bored and miserable. Picture yourself having fun with your friends and feeling alert and attentive. Picture waking up the next morning with a wad of unspent cash and a clear head, and then 6 months down the line with a flat tummy and a paid for holiday!
3. One sided motivation – Strangely enough (I say with a hint of sarcasm) a lot of people don’t reach their goals as they simply aren’t motivated enough to do what it takes to get there. It will take a lot of will and effort to change the habits that have sculpted you up to now, and making change requires large amounts motivation. To double up your motivation levels ensure that you not only strive to become something, but you strive NOT to be something else. You want to fit into that size 10 bikini next Summer and you also DON’T want to feel terrible when you’re squeezing into an 18 wishing you’d stuck to your weight loss plans. Motivation works both ways. Move towards a goal whilst moving away from an ‘anti goal’. I wrote about this (badly) in my Just Because post, so check it out.
THE FIX: Write down and visualise 5 things you want to achieve this year, as well as 5 things you don’t want to encounter again from last year (or previous years).
4. Lack of milestones – A lot of these pointers tie into the bigger subject of self belief. You need to believe that your goal is achievable if you are going to succeed with it. Not having milestones in your goal can suck the belief out of you before you even begin. Large goals can be daunting to think about, so to avoid having them overwhelm you they should be ‘chunked’ down. Chunking down makes one big goal into any number of smaller attainable goals. For example, a marathon changes from being one long 26mile slog into 26 short one mile jogs! It makes it seem easier somehow! When you chunk your goal down you give yourself several milestones to reach that when added together equal your overall goal. If you don’t have these milestones you are asking yourself to stay focused and motivated on one big goal, which in some cases can be quite a lengthy process. Milestones will keep things fresh and keep you on top if it with energy and vigour. The milestones don’t all need to be from the same goal either. If you have 2 or 3 goals that can all be associated with your main desire they can run parallel to it.
THE FIX: Break your goal into at least 5 smaller goals. If possible, the time frame for each goal should be a maximum of 4-6 weeks. It also helps to use related goals that can run parallel to your main ‘prize’. For example if you want to lose 20lbs (a stone and a half) by the Summer approach it like this:
- Parallel goals: Run 5km and do 3 body weight circuits per week
- Goal 1: by week 4 lose 4lbs, jog 10mins without stopping and do a body-weight circuit once per week
- Goal 2: by week 8 lose another 4lbs, jog 20mins without stopping (an addition of 2.5mins extra per week), do 6 circuits in the month
- Goal 3: by week 12 lose another 4lbs, jog 30mins without stopping (an addition of 2.5mins extra per week), do 8 circuits in the month
- Goal 4: by week 16 lose another 4lbs, run 5km, do 10 circuits in the month
- Goal 5: by week 20 lose lose another 4lbs, beat previous 5km time, do 12 circuits in the month
Those 5 look more achievable when approached one by one than simply saying you want to lose 20lbs, run 5km and do a circuit session 3 times per week right?
5. Poor prioritisation – To achieve your goal, no matter how big or small, it must take some priority in your life. Whether you give it priority or not will be heavily linked with the 4 points above, but you must still take some time considering what things may need to be of less priority to you. When the choice comes your mind will already be made up instead of allowing you a second’s thought to talk yourself out of your positive action. The way we prioritise things define what actions we take on a day to day basis. If something is important enough to you, you will do it. If you feel you don’t have enough time to prepare your meals from scratch for example, you might need to consider what things you are doing that take up that time. If watching your favorite soap comes before preparing some healthy food then you need to get your priorities right. If your goal doesn’t rank highly in your priorities then you need to go back over points 1 to 4 and redefine it. It needs to be more believable, more important, more compelling and more worthy of your time and efforts. Failing that, just bet some serious money on it with someone – that normally gets people’s priorities in order!
THE FIX: Take some time to consider exactly what reaching your goals mean to you. Make sure you accept that succeeding in them may require sacrificing other less important things. If that proves difficult, take some time to make your goals more important to you by using points 1 to 4. If all else fails, make it financial!
In summary, the way we think about ourselves and who we want to be affects who we will become. You are in full control of your conscious thought processes and your sub conscious behaviours, whether you are aware of it or not. I hope these 5 points help you to set your mind up to assist in your body’s weight loss. As ever, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me though the comments section or via email.