When people think about losing weight, many consider it to be a losing battle. As they contemplate another attempt at slimming down, their mind automatically recalls all of their past failure experiences. These thoughts doom dieters from the beginning.
I decided to lose weight a couple of months ago. With the help of a medically supervised weight loss program, I lost 20 pounds in a month’s time and have been able to keep it off.
What’s most surprising to me is that it was relatively easy. I used some hormone balancing drops for a few weeks, which worked wonders to suppress my appetite. And I learned which foods I could consume in what portion size – small amounts of protein combined with healthy portions of vegetables.
In addition, I needed a mindset shift to help me sustain my efforts beyond the first few days. My research at a major academic medical institution has convincingly demonstrated that significant change can be accomplished by learning to think about goals using six positive psychology principles.
Rather than conjuring up unsuccessful strategies from the past, these six principles – which I’ve termed PROPEL – enable people to maintain a success mindset:
1. Passion comes from developing an enticing vision of a positive outcome. Picture your life as it will be once you’ve achieved your goal. Seeing yourself enjoying the benefits of having a healthy body weight is crucial for establishing the motivation you need. It’s helpful to keep a journal to track your mental state as well as your food consumption. Start by writing down how your life will be better when your body is at your desired weight.
2. Relationships provide the support essential for success. I had a great weight loss coach who explained exactly what I needed to do and checked in on me every few days. I also had a very supportive wife who understood the diet plan. We worked as a team to achieve my 20 pound weight loss goal. Note the names of those you want to include in your support system.
3. Optimism overcomes challenges by making them temporary conditions which can be improved. Optimists explain problems as being temporary, specific, and situational, while pessimists believe they’re permanent, pervasive, and personal. Think about what might contribute to your having a failure mindset. Write down the optimistic mindset that would enable you to make your obstacles temporary. Also include specific strategies you’ve used to achieve other goals and situational changes that would lead to success.
When people regain a few pounds and conclude that their efforts are a complete failure, they give up. Those who establish a healthy lifestyle do not have this ‘all or nothing’ way of thinking. Instead, they see setbacks as useful lessons for increasing self-control. Most people know what’s tripped them up in the past. Write down obstacles you’ve encountered as well as an “if-then” plan. For me that was “If I have a day I go off my diet, then I will redouble my efforts the next day.”
4. Proactivity focuses people on their strengths rather than their shortcomings. Looking at times you’ve managed your life well helps you to focus on the strengths that have empowered you to be successful, which allows you to expand those efforts rather than discount them. Think of times that you’ve been at your best. Write down what skills you demonstrated on those occasions that you could use to achieve your current objective of controlling your eating and motivating yourself to exercise.
5. Energy management enables progress by finding new ways to enjoy life. Determining what activities other than eating that will give you a pleasurable life will take you to a higher level of happiness. Write down new ways to obtain satisfaction.
6. Legacy provides people with a clear sense of how accomplishing their goal will make a meaningful difference. How will losing weight improve what you do at work, at home, and in your community? How will it affect the lives of your loved ones, such as your spouse, kids, or grandchildren? How might your success impact the lives of friends and coworkers? Write down three key personal and professional improvements to your life.
Now that you have written down your six essential weight loss strategies, add the smallest step you could take to have a successful start.