Playing Mind Games with Simple Words

Posted On Jun 5, 2017 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

Playing Mind Games with Simple Words

Positive reinforcement and immediate rewards are what motivate us. This is the way the human mind works. Working out for long-term health isn’t a great immediate motivator. But working out to feel good today is.

How can use this to your advantage when your mind is telling you to be lazy, skip the workout, or eat the burger and fries instead of cooking a homemade meal? We are constantly fighting against our natural instincts in an environment that makes it so easy and convenient to be unhealthy. Combine this with negative self-talk and it’s no wonder exercising and eating healthy on a regular basis are so hard. Try these simple tricks to make a huge difference in fighting your worst enemy: yourself.

  1. I “can” do this instead of I “should.”

    Telling yourself you should be able to do more, should be able to work out longer, should be skinnier, etc seems like a positive thought but it’s not. It reinforces lack of confidence, and focuses on lack of progress instead of celebrating small successes, whereas saying I “can” is your mind telling your body that you are actually capable of achieving your goals and provides internal positive reinforcement. “Should” implies that you should have already achieved something and you’re not where you’re supposed to be.

  2. What will happen if I don’t eat this or don’t do this work out?

    Thinking about the immediate consequence and internal disappoint you’ll experience is much more effective than justifying a poor choice by selecting a more attractive alternative. For example, instead of not working out you relax on the couch watching your favorite TV program. This reinforces not exercising because your brain experiences something enjoyable. The same goes for food. The next time you feel yourself being tempted away from sticking with your goals, stay focused on what will happen if you choose not to exercise or choose to overindulge and the negative emotions of letting yourself down associated with that choice.

  3. Replace “Just one” with “Every.”

    Just one more bite. Skipping just one workout. Just one more drink. It soon becomes a slippery slope. Instead of even starting down that road, stop the unhealthy action before it even starts by re-wording your thought to: “Every bite counts” or “Every workout is important” or “Every rep counts”. Focusing on these small immediate actions will keep your mind focused on what you can achieve in the present moment, the immediate reward of following through, and consequently add up to huge gains (or losses, whatever your goal is!).

The more you practice these, the stronger your brain’s network for making healthy choices gets, making it easier to make the right (albeit not always more appealing) choice.


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