It’s Me or The Cookie: I Can’t v I Can

When you tell yourself you can’t lose weight, guess what: you’re right!

Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) devotes a lot of her podcasts to what she calls the “mindset side” of weight loss, and she’s not wrong to do so.  After all, what is will power?  Will power is not about physical strength: it’s all about the mind.  We “psych” ourselves up for big presentations at our jobs, before the “big game” at school, or before we step out onto the stage.  We do what’s called “self talk,” and how we talk to ourselves is important. Elizabeth often reminds her listeners that when we tell others (or ourselves) that we “always lose control at buffets” or we “just can’t eat one cookie and not eat the whole bag,” we are giving ourselves instructions: “this is how we behave.”  In a sense, we are giving ourselves the “out”: the permission to behave badly or go off script.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: “I knew I wouldn’t be able to control myself with the Girl Scout cookies, and I was right!” Yep- you sure were! You ate the whole box of peanut butter sandwich cookies! Aren’t you proud of yourself? (Shaming is a whole ‘nother topic! Ugh!)

This is why Elizabeth advocates daily (usually morning) affirmations.  Telling yourself “I can make good choices! I can do hard things!” psyches you up for your day and reinforces your inner strength- your will power. These are actually two of Elizabeth’s morning affirmations and they’re pretty dang good ones! Think of how much stronger those words are than “I can’t say no to tortilla chips!” or “I can’t resist ice cream!” Self talk- that little voice in your head- really is stronger than you think it is.  Spend a day really paying attention to that little voice and listen to what s/he says to you.  Remember the last time you spent money on something you really didn’t need but really really wanted? Who talked you into buying it? “These golf clubs are way too much, but they’re on sale for 30% off, and when will that happen again?  This is my only chance to buy them before they are totally beyond my reach!  They’re an investment, because I won’t have to buy more clubs for at least ten years!” In my case, it would be a Kate Spade handbag, because I’m a total Kate Spade addict! (eye roll) and there’s that little voice giving me permission to go crazy on the Kate Spade sale page because they’re more than 50% off and they’re discontinued so when will I ever…….Blah, blah blah, and there we go, talking ourselves into doing something we really don’t need but really really want.

It’s justification, rationalization, whatever you want to call it; the bottom line is we talk ourselves into (and out of) situations. We really want the golf clubs, Kate Spade bag, tortilla chips; we don’t want to go to the gym (it’s hard!), fix a healthy dinner (yuck, cooking), say “yes” to the salad and “no” to the French fries (my noes is starting to twitch like a rabbit’s!) . It’s a lot like the cartoons with the little angel on one shoulder telling us what we should do to stay on track with our goals, and the little devil on the other trying to lead us off track.  From my own experience, there is a grocery store I used to avoid because I used to get cake slices every time I shopped there. I didn’t want to go there because I was afraid I would buy cake and it was never just one slice of cake, it was always two (I don’t know why- it just was!) but I ended up there one day and sure enough, I found myself in the bakery looking at the cake and the voice in my head was yakking away about how just one piece would be okay, and one is an improvement over two and if I get white cake, I could share it with the pets, so it wouldn’t be the whole slice of cake, it’d just be half or a third and Remy (my cockapoo) could have a big part of the frosting, blah blah blah.  Then I remembered a line- an affirmation- from one of Elizabeth’s podcasts: “I am stronger than a cookie.” I left the store with no cake at all.  Truly, I heard that line in my head and I lost all desire for the cake, because I am stronger than the cake.  It sounds silly, doesn’t it?  “I am stronger than a cookie.”  But how many times have you seen the box of cookies on the table in the office and eaten one or two (or more)? How many times have you gone to the BBQ and helped yourself to the chips/ cookies/ beer, etc when you knew it wasn’t on track with your weight loss goals? How many times have you talked yourself into the things you really didn’t want to eat but did anyway because they’re “yummy?” You wanted to eat them even though they weren’t on track and so you gave yourself permission by talking yourself into it.  You reminded yourself that you have no control over whatever food/ situation it was and gave yourself permission to fail; even worse, you “reaffirmed” your lack of control over the food/ situation by this “failure!”

When you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them!

This is another Elizabeth Benton expression, and yes, she is right again! (If you haven’t given the Primal Potential podcast a try, you really should! And no, this is not a paid endorsement- I just think she’s really smart!) When you start giving ‘reasons’ for why you can’t resist the chocolate/ French fries/ beer, you are reinforcing your reasons to fail.  You get to keep your future failures, because you have just told yourself that you can’t beat them.  The cookie wins, not you. The little voice in your head (the little devil) beats your will power (the good angel) not because it’s stronger, but because you choose to listen to it!! You are the one giving it the power every time you listen to it.  Eventually, the good angel stops talking, because what’s the point? This is when you give up: “I just can’t stick to a diet! I can’t stick to an exercise routine! I’m just not strong enough!” Guess what? You’re right, because YOU MADE IT THAT WAY.

It’s a lot like the “me and the cookie” scenario: there were a lot of excuses to give in with the cake.  One piece of cake is not going to be the end of my weight loss program; and yes, if I had gotten it, I would have shared it with my cat and dog (they get part of almost everything I eat at home as a rule), so it probably would have only been a half or two-thirds of the slice.  All of those were true, but instead of telling myself I can’t say no to the cake, I told myself I can say no.  I can leave it behind (FYI: I also said no to ice cream that day although that was a whole lot easier!) It’s just a matter of changing your language, your self talk.  These are the affirmations that Elizabeth Benton advocates: telling yourself “I can” instead of “I can’t.”  Think of it this way: remember when you had to make a speech to your co-workers or your classmates? Did you tell yourself “I can’t speak in front of people- I always mess it up! I’m going to stand up there and make a complete fool of myself and totally blow it!!” That makes no sense at all! You’re setting yourself up for failure, but this is EXACTLY what we do when we show up at the BBQ or birthday party or night out with the gang.  We let the little voice set us up for failure!  Imagine that little devil giving you a smug I-told-you-so smile as you scarf down the potato salad.  It reinforces the feeling of failure, of worthlessness, of futility.  “I blew it again! Why can’t I stop doing this?”

There’s that “can’t” again! It takes a little time, but replacing the negative self talk with the positive affirmations slowly bolsters your self confidence and will power, and every time you “win” over the negative voice, you reinforce another, better, positive self-fulfilling prophecy; “I can pass on the chips/ potato salad/ cupcakes, no sweat!”  Each time you walk away from the pitcher of beer, or the basket of tortilla chips, it’s one more in the win column and when you’re faced with a similar situation, it’s easier to follow the same positive path, because you’ve been down that way before.  Before long, it becomes the well-worn normal path of behavior- IT BECOMES YOUR REGULAR ROUTINE, and you find yourself routinely saying no to foods and behaviors that are not in line with your goals without really thinking about it!  It’s a series of choices that build upon each other, becoming stronger each time, and it starts with saying “I can” instead of “I can’t.” It starts with saying things like “I am stronger than a cookie.”

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