Are Your Thoughts Derailing You?
During this past year, I’ve been more sedentary while working at home. It’s not a deliberate choice, but it just happens when I’m not walking to and from the car, into and out of the garage, or running errands downtown. Plus, at work, it takes about 1 1/2 minutes (one-way) to walk to the bathroom, whereas at home, it’s about five seconds.
Since I haven’t been moving as much, I’ve started to think of myself as more sedentary. And recently, I realized how that’s negatively impacting me.
This mostly comes out with how much more I’m inclined to drive places than to walk. For example, the library branch near my house is a little less than a mile away, so a round-trip walk would be a little under two miles.
Even though I routinely walked that distance and more last year, suddenly this felt like a long walk. And because I thought of it that way, I’ve ended up driving to and from the library more often.
Have you noticed this for yourself, how the way you think of yourself starts to make that a reality? It might happen more than you realize.
But the good news is, if you can adjust your way of thinking, you’ll likely notice that your actions follow. Here are a few tips if you want to give that a try.
Notice your thoughts
The first thing is to notice what you’re thinking about something, perhaps about the way that you eat.
Maybe you think that you can’t have ice cream in the house because you’ll sit down and eat the whole container. Maybe it’s that you always make bad food choices. Or maybe you think that you’re not a good cook so you always order out instead of preparing your own food.
Whatever it is, see if you can notice any thought patterns that might be influencing your behavior.
And remember, the goal is to notice those thoughts, not to judge yourself or react against them. Try to think of it as an experiment and stay curious about what you might find.
Write a new script
Once you know what you’re thinking, pick something that you’d like to change. Focus on just one thought, and try to reframe that thought into something more positive.
Then, when you notice the old thought creeping in, repeat the new thought that you’ve come up with.
In my case, instead of thinking of myself as sedentary or feeling like certain walks are too far, I could reframe the thought as: “I like going for walks, and it feels good to move my body and get out of the house for a while.”
This reminds me that once I get started, I know I’ll enjoy the walk, and it can give me the extra push to try that.
If you’re changing a thought related to eating, try to change it in a way that will motivate and encourage you. For example, if you think you always make bad food choices, you could go back and focus on times when you made food choices that you were happy with.
When the old thought creeps in, you could reframe it by saying, “I know I can make food choices I’m happy with, and if I sometimes regret my choice, I’ll try to learn from it.”
Then you can see if this helps you do something different.
Adjust as needed
Of course, you may not get your new script quite the way you want it on the first try, so see how things go and adjust it as needed.
This is more likely to happen if you try to change too much at once. In my case, I could see it backfiring if I changed my thought to, “I like to walk, so I’m going to walk five miles each day.”
That would feel overwhelming and impossible to achieve after being more sedentary this past year, and I wouldn’t even try to achieve it.
Or in the eating example, it could backfire if you said, “I’ll only make good food choices from now on.” That’s setting an impossible standard for yourself, and it also still uses the value-based language of good vs. bad related to food.
So if you find that you’ve gotten a little too ambitious with your initial rewrite, or if you notice that it has some judgmental aspects, tweak it again (and possibly again) until it feels like something you can do.
Thoughts influence actions
While it’s tempting to think about changing your behavior without worrying about your thoughts, that doesn’t work. You need to approach it from the other direction.
The good news is, if you can start to change how you think about something, you’re likely to act in a way that aligns with those thoughts, and you’ll get into a positive feedback loop. And that’s when you’ll see real change.