Positive perceptions about your own health and confidence in your healthy habits may be the secret weapons you need to reach your goals. A recent study showed men and women had similar perceptions of their ability to maintain a healthy diet, but the women were less confident than men in their ability to maintain their physical activity levels over time, despite men reporting more health problems like hypertension and high cholesterol.
However, the study shows that regardless of gender, relying on positive self-perceptions may help you achieve desired outcomes. Your mindset is key. “Our actions and behaviors are strongly influenced by our thoughts and what we believe to be true about ourselves,” says Bonnie Roney, RD. “If we mentally perceive ourselves as active and [we] enjoy healthy eating, we are much more likely to partake in those activities and turn them into habits, which affect our overall health and well-being.”
If you aren’t accustomed to thinking positively about your health or feeling confident in your ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle, try these strategies:
TRUST IN YOURSELF
Truly believing you can achieve your diet or exercise goals may go a long way toward helping you succeed. “It’s often said that perception is everything because our perception is really our truth or reality,” says Richard A. Singer Jr., a Philadelphia-based psychotherapist. “If we believe we are active and healthy, we are going to think, believe and act in a manner that supports good health.”
VISUALIZE WHAT YOU DESIRE
Envisioning the way you would like to see yourself may help you more readily reach your goals. “It’s important to be specific when you visualize how achieving your goals will affect all areas of your life,” says Roney. “What positive feelings and opportunities might arise from feeling physically and mentally healthy? What will your body feel like engaging in movement that pushes you to become stronger? Will improving your health allow you to focus more at work or be a more active parent with your kids?”
What’s more, visualizing possible roadblocks to your diet and exercise goals, plus the ways you’ll overcome those potential obstacles may help you endure when you’re faced with challenges. “This will create a greater likelihood of achieving what [you] visualized and foster motivation to overcome hardships that get in the way of achieving your goals,” says Roney.
When you make lifestyle changes to achieve weight loss, you probably won’t see immediate results on the scale or in the mirror. Expecting too much from yourself in the short term may backfire, making you question your ability to achieve your goals. “If we get down because we don’t notice any changes immediately, [it] could reduce how we perceive ourselves to be healthy,” says Len Saunders, an exercise physiologist based in Montville, New Jersey.
Instead of doubting yourself, remind yourself the changes you’re making are leading you down the right path. “It’s important to remember a healthy lifestyle happens in ‘baby steps,’ which can help you remain positive and on track,” says Saunders.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
If you’re like most people, you’re probably your harshest critic, which can backfire. “Think about the person you care for most in this world and imagine telling them this: ‘You aren’t dedicated enough to succeed in this diet. You are out of shape and lazy. You will fail again,’” says Steve Washuta, a NASM-certified personal trainer based in Oklahoma City. “You couldn’t possibly say that to your loved ones, right? Then why do we say it to ourselves time and time again?”
If you consciously create a more supportive inner dialogue, you’ll be more likely to believe you can achieve the diet and exercise goals you set for yourself. “You have to reprogram your brain to stop using the emotional drivers and start using strategic decision-making,” says Washuta. “Purposefully reminding yourself that you are worth it, you can do it and that you are on the right path, will put you in the mindset of being task-oriented, rather than making excuses.”
ESCAPE FLAWED THOUGHT PATTERNS
If you think you’re doomed to fail because you’ve failed before, you may be setting yourself up for another disappointment. “A self-fulfilling prophecy is when a person unknowingly causes a prediction or a belief to come true due to the simple fact that he or she expects it to be true,” says Lara Heimann, a Princeton, New Jersey, based physical therapist and yoga instructor.
You can turn around this type of flawed thinking by redefining your thought patterns and creating a positive, helpful, self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you believe you are an active person, you’ll be more likely to stick with an exercise routine. If you believe you’re a healthy eater, you’re more likely to make more nutritious choices the next time you dine out,” says Heimann. “A positive mental attitude can have a tremendous impact.”