4 Ways to Battle Negative Thinking and Make Healthier Choices

Mackenzie L. Havey
by Mackenzie L. Havey
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4 Ways to Battle Negative Thinking and Make Healthier Choices

As anyone with a pulse knows, life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Even the most upbeat individuals can fall into “glass half-empty” patterns of thinking. It seems we are particularly vulnerable to being negative when it comes to establishing and maintaining healthy habits.

Whether it’s chastising yourself for skipping a workout or convincing yourself you won’t care how bad you feel after a weekend spent binging on pizza and ice cream, finding ways to battle those negative thoughts is essential to a healthy life. We all slip up when it comes to healthy choices; the key is knowing how to bounce back and do better next time.

If you’re looking to add some skills to your toolbox to help ward off those negative inclinations, we’ve got some ideas for you. It may take a bit of trial and error — what works for one person might not for another — but these are all proven methods by which you can diffuse bad energy from sabotaging everything from exercise to healthy eating.

1. Visualize doing the thing you hope to accomplish.

As a rule, no one is at his or her best 100% of the time. This can be a major barrier to exercise. If you’re feeling out of shape or like you’re carrying extra pounds, the last thing you might feel like doing is putting on tight-fitting workout clothes and hopping on a treadmill in front of a gym full of people. It is in these moments that the little devil on your shoulder whispers things like: “You’re going to look ridiculous” and “You don’t have any business running.”

Visualization can play a key role in these circumstances. Research has shown that mentally rehearsing a workout can help prep the body to complete a specific exercise — and improve performance. Practice visualizing the active person you want to be. Envision yourself running on that treadmill fit and strong or approaching that weight machine and confidently pumping some iron. The more you embrace that fit image of yourself, the more likely you are to actually become that person.

2. Surround yourself with positive influences.

Battling a steady stream of negative thinking while simultaneously trying to make healthy choices can be exhausting. That’s where social support from family and friends comes in handy. When you surround yourself with other people who are making positive decisions regarding their health, you’re more likely to do the same. To be sure, research published by the American Medical Association found that couples’ health behaviors are inextricably linked — when one chooses healthier behaviors, the other tends to follow suit.

Similarly, another study found that people who participated in a weight-loss program with friends were more likely to stick to the program and keep the weight off. The takeaway here is that positivity is contagious, and so are healthy behaviors. If you surround yourself with people who are making positive choices regarding diet and exercise, it will help you snap out of a self-defeating pattern of thinking.

3. Establish positive mantras.

We’ve all experienced situations where negative thinking made a tough situation worse. Conversely, studies have shown that positive self-talk can have the opposite effect. Consider one study conducted at Bangor University in the U.K. that involved coaching people to employ positive mantras while riding exercise bikes. The researchers discovered that when people said things to themselves like “feeling good” and “you’re doing well” while they were riding, they not only felt the exercise was easier, but they also performed better.

The same goes for making positive dietary choices: Having a few phrases to repeat to yourself as encouragement every time you’re faced with choosing salad over fried chicken, for example, may prompt you to choose the healthier option more often.

4. Throw away negative thoughts.

It turns out that you can actually take physical action against negative thinking. Simply throw that train of thought in the garbage. Research out of the Ohio State University demonstrated that when people wrote down negative thoughts on a piece of paper and then tossed it in the trash, they, in effect, mentally discarded the thought, too. Whether you’re getting down on yourself about that pound you gained last week or making an unhealthy dietary choice, this is a worthwhile strategy to try.

About the Author

Mackenzie L. Havey
Mackenzie L. Havey

Mackenzie is a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She contributes to a variety of magazines and websites, including TheAtlantic.com, OutsideOnline.com, espnW.com, Runner’s World and Triathlete Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.

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