By Liz Plosser
No matter how often or vividly we fantasize about certain things—like winning the lottery—chances are they just won’t become a reality. But that doesn’t mean that positive thinking is a waste of time. In fact, when it comes to losing weight, your mind can be an extremely powerful and effective tool. Learn how you can harness your mental energy to help boost your weight loss success.
Pick a positive role model.
If a colleague at work or a friend from your book club has a healthy behavior or lifestyle that you admire, try to use them as inspiration. Maybe they consistently schedule exercise into a hectic workday or switched from wine to water with dinner. Learn from that successful friend, family member or coworker by asking how they keep healthy and follow in their footsteps. Emulating a can-do person improves your own habits.
Nix negative talk.
Negative thoughts can be defeating, especially when they’re along the lines of “I’m already overweight, so eating another slice of pizza won’t matter.” Or, “I only have 15 minutes, it won’t make a difference whether or not I squeeze in a workout.” These kinds of statements basically give you permission to veer from the healthy habits that will help you lose weight. Try to avoid the negative self-talk by cutting it off right when it starts. When you start thinking, I can’t or it’s too hard, interrupt that thought and instead, give yourself an ego boost. Even saying something as simple as “I can do it!” to yourself after you pass on dessert—positive self-talk can keep your spirits up and your waist size down.
It’s good to aim big, particularly when it comes to losing weight, reports a recent study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. The researchers found that when participants set loftier weight-loss goals—and reported greater confidence in the their ability to achieve those goals—they dropped more pounds.
And think little sometimes, too.
It might be unrealistic to run a marathon this year or to never eat chocolate again. But there are small, reachable goals that don’t require drastic life changes that can help you stay motivated. Try making tiny, positive tweaks en route to your bigger goals—for example, increase your steps-per-day by 100 steps each week, add another vegetable serving to one or more of your meals each week, or try a few new strength-training moves during your next workout. Achieving these mini-goals will give you an uplifting boost that will help you stay the course.
Imagining hitting the gym isn’t as effective as actually doing it, but it’s better than nothing, according to researchers from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, who found that just thinking about exercise helped maintain muscle strength in a group of study participants. They split 30 young adults into three groups and had them think as strongly as possible—for 15 minutes a day for three months—about either exercising their little finger muscle, their biceps muscle or neither. The finger group boosted that muscle’s strength by 53 percent, and the biceps group increased strength by 13.4 percent—and all with imaginary exercise! You can adapt a similar approach for eating; visualize yourself turning down dessert, alcohol or other highly caloric treats and when it comes time to actually doing it, chances are you’ll be stronger in your resolve.
Adopt a glass-half-full perspective.
An optimistic view can pay off when it comes to your health, too. According to a new report in the Annals of Family Medicine, the death rate for men who considered themselves at lower risk for cardiovascular disease was one third lower than those who considered themselves at average risk. The men who were fearful about their risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack often felt powerless to prevent the disease, say study authors. While positive thinking isn’t a replacement for healthy habits like eating a balanced, nutritious diet and working out regularly, the research certainly seems to indicate that happy thoughts are linked to happy—and healthy—results.