Makeover Monday: Don’t Believe Everything You Think

One of the greatest compliments I receive isn’t related to my new weight or size at all. It has more to do with my attitude, which is largely positive and hopeful these days. Not that it’s always been that way, nor is it always that way now. But I’ve come a long way in learning how to manage my thoughts in a positive way.

The first problem with thoughts is that it’s so easy to have them. In fact, it’s damn near impossible NOT to have them. Have you ever tried that? NOT thinking? I can’t do it, even with meditation. Or even medication. But I digress.

The second problem with thoughts is that we frequently accept them as gospel and then let them become our reality. That old self-fulfilling prophecy at work, which is too bad because many times our thoughts are simply automatic reactions in the face of fear or challenge or change–any situation to which we’re conditioned to shy away from. In and of themselves, these thoughts aren’t much of a problem, other than a waste of time, but if we accept them as truth and let them direct our future, then our thoughts are controlling us and prescribing our destiny. And that’s not what we want, is it?

In in his book Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program That Allows You to See and Heal the 6 Types of ADD, author Daniel G. Amen, MD describes some of the reasons we can’t always believe what we think. He calls these thoughts ANTS, Automatic Negative Thoughts, and likens them to ants on a picnic. One isn’t a problem, two is merely an irritant, but many more than that and your picnic is ruined.

I’m listing Dr. Amen’s ANTS below, with his words in bold (red text reflects the dreaded red ants, the worst ants of all!) My weight-centric comments are in regular old ordinary font, as befits my non-MD, non-author status. As a disclaimer, I will go ahead and confess to you now that I am currently or have been in the past guilty of ALL of these behaviors.

9 Ways Our Thoughts Lie to Us
1. “All or nothing” – We tend to see ourselves as 100% successful or total failures. It’s all good or all bad. I’ve done it, and I’ve seen some of you do it, too. A person has a good week with exercise and nutrition, but because they ate a donut on Saturday, the week was a complete flop. Not even close to the truth.

2. “Always” thinkingI always mess up. I always give in. Ever had those thoughts? I go so far as to include “Never” thinking in here as well. I never stick with it. We need to challenge those thoughts, because they simply aren’t true. Even if the successes were short-lived, they still happened. I’m not the only one who can now testify that history doesn’t have to repeat itself, especially if it’s revisionist history to begin with.

3. Focusing on the negative – Some of us have a tendency to see only the bad and forget (even if temporarily) the good. In limiting some of my favorite foods to become healthier, I sometimes had to fight off the “It’s not fair (bad) that I have to do this” thinking. I did it by arguing back to myself, “No, it’s not fair, but I’ll benefit more by doing it this way.” I trumped a bad with a good.

4. Fortune-telling – Trying to predict the worst possible outcome to a situation used to be one of my worst habits. I’ve seen other folks doing this as well. We have a social gathering to attend, and we automatically “know” we’re going to go way off our eating plans. We make it a fact before it ever occurs. A good way around it is to visualize yourself being successful. As Dr. Amen wrote, “If you’re going to try to predict the future, why not predict the best?”

5. Mind Reading – In addition to fortune telling, we’re also capable of mind reading. Or think we are. We never really know what other people are thinking, so it’s futile to base our behaviors on what WE think others are thinking about us.

6. Thinking with your feelings – Feelings can lie to us, too. We should look for evidence to support a feeling before letting it take hold in our thoughts and become our reality.

7. Guilt beatings – Should. Must. Have to. Words guaranteed to make us want to run the other direction, which often leads to feelings of failure. One way to combat guilt is to change our language. For example, I must exercise today becomes I want to exercise today. I have to eat tuna again today might be more tolerable as Eating tuna again will give me the protein boost I need. Silly? Possibly. Effective? Definitely.

8. Labeling – If you’re reading (or writing) this blog, chances are slim you haven’t labeled yourself negatively in some way. Fat. Lazy. Stupid. Those are just a few that come to mind. As a success strategy, it’s not really very effective.

9. Blaming – Dr. Amen refers to blaming as “the most poisonous red ant of all” and I agree. I’ve blamed family members for nutritional sabotage, even though I was the one holding the fork. I’ve blamed finances for a lack of exercise, even though walking around the block was F-R-E-E. Blaming other people takes away our power to change anything.

I still have my moments (hours/days) when I struggle to fight off one or more ANTS. I’ll continue to have these times in the future. You know, with me being human and all. But by recognizing ANTS for what they are and fighting past them, I’m able to remove unreasonable obstacles in my path. You can, too, and here are a few pieces of ammunition:
– teach yourself to recognize your ANT demons
– write them down
– talk back to them
– argue them into a corner
– squash them like the bugs they are

As I wrote earlier, I am or have been guilty of all of these at one time or another. What are the ANTS you have to deal with? How do you do it? What, if anything, will you change in the future?