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When something important to you in life goes wrong, it sometimes feels as if everything is wrong. Of course it’s not usually the case that everything is wrong – even if a lot has gone wrong.
The habit of exaggerating the negative aspects and consequences of an event is known as “awfulising” and “catastrophic thinking”. This thinking style can be applied to major events (such as losing your job) as well as more minor things (like being late for an appointment). Some of us are really good at throwing out any and all of the positives of a particular event or situation simply because there was a single negative aspect.
For example, Serena came to see me once, announcing she was back to square one in terms of achieving her ideal weight because she’d overeaten while on a weekend away.
‘I ate more than I should have – and I drank more too. All my good habits just went out the window! I’m a pig and a total weight-loss failure!’
After acknowledging that I understood she felt disappointed and frustrated, I asked her:
“Did you play tennis and do the walking trails you planned for the trip?”
“Yes, I did.”
“So, if you’d sat around and not been active it would have been even worse than it was?”
Reluctantly, Serena agreed that things could have been worse.
This was just the beginning of “talking her down” from the awfulising high point she’d reached. She was ready to throw out all the progress she had made on her weight-loss journey because one part of her recent weekend had “gone wrong”.
As you tread the path to return to your natural, healthy weight, be okay with the fact that things will not always go to plan. (You don’t have to like it but accept this is how it’s gonna be!)
Identify potential hiccups and plan for them. Common themes for my weight-loss clients are social events (such as parties) and travelling for work.
Even with good planning, some hiccups just sneak up on us and before you know it, you are looking at what happened with regret.
Knowing how to deal with these situations means a mistake doesn’t become any bigger than it needs to be. In terms of releasing excess weight, the “mistake” I hear about most is eating something unintended, which includes eating an unintended amount of something (plain old overeating).
Most of us are familiar with the experience of eating one (insert unplanned food item) and then saying, “Well, I’ve eaten one; I may as well eat the whole packet.” Below we will look at how to stay away from awfulising this situation and stop turning a couple of unplanned biscuits into a full-scale binge.
Scenario: At morning tea a newly-opened packet of chocolate biscuits is offered around the office. You eat four and then instantly regret your actions. Your self-talk says: “For crying out loud, you silly pig. How will you ever have the body you want if you can’t pass up the office biscuits? May as well have a large pizza for lunch now since I’m off-track.”
As soon as you become aware of these awfulising thoughts:
1. Ask: “What happened?”
Identify the situation – and keep it simple, okay?
“I just ate four chocolate biscuits that weren’t part of my eating plan for today – and I regret it”
2. Then ask: “What stopped it from being even worse?”
Although this question might seem a bit negative, it is important to acknowledge you are having some regret and are in danger of making things much worse.
“Well, it would have been worse if I hadn’t exercised already this morning or if I’d downed a bottle of Coke as well. It also would have been worse if I’d decided, ‘Stuff it, I’m going to get some doughnuts now as well!’”
When you run through a few scenarios in your head, you’ll have to conclude that four biscuits today do not automatically lead to a failure to achieve your ideal weight.
At this point, you’ll remember the progress you have made to date.
“I have already managed to shed 3 kilos and started exercising regularly.”
What seemed like a negative question leads you to identify the very positive progress you have made. You must keep this progress in mind.
3. Now ask: “What did I do to stop it being even worse?”
“I offered the remaining biscuits to my work colleagues”/ “I went back to my desk and didn’t go and buy doughnuts”
If you hadn’t done these things, the situation would have been worse, wouldn’t it? So be curious. Exactly how did you stop it? What did you tell yourself?
“I told myself, I can’t do this and reach my goal / I want to be my ideal weight / I don’t want to ruin my progress / I know where this is going and I don’t want to go there!”
You located inner resources and used them to stop the slide; you managed this situation and stopped it from getting worse. Be excited about this! You had the power to fall in a heap or to live and learn – and you chose the latter. This is significant!
It may be that next time you would like to pull yourself back onto the path even more quickly. That is a wonderful intention – and you are now fully conscious of it and you know the type of things you can say to yourself that allow you to stay on track for the body you want. Or perhaps you’ve learned something else about yourself or your eating plan that will be useful for the future.
Using these three steps you can prove your desire and willingness to achieve your goal in the face of something that initially looks otherwise! Remember, things could have been worse but instead you used this opportunity to practice dealing with hiccups. You just got better at getting yourself back on track!
Don’t let those four biscuits go to waste.