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Change Anything QA

Lose Weight and Defy Your Critics

Dear Crucial Skills,

I’m in a weight loss program to lose the first fifty pounds and had a breakthrough of why I sabotage my weight loss efforts. I realized that I am negatively affected by my mother’s years of criticism of me and others who are overweight. I want to rid myself of these negative feelings, but I don’t know how to do that.

Can you help me overcome my negative feelings so I don’t keep sabotaging my weight loss efforts?

Sabotaged Efforts

Dear Sabotaged,

Thanks for your question. Many of us are working to lose weight or conquer other stubborn habits and your question taps in to several of the reasons we struggle. If we can answer your question, I think we’ll all benefit. I’m going to use concepts from our book, Change Anything, to suggest some possible solutions.

Be the scientist and the subject. We are all subjects in other people’s science experiments. People poke, prod, and provoke us to see if they can influence our behavior. The challenge is that many of these people are marketers and salespeople who don’t have our best interests at heart. Even when they do want what’s best for us—as your mother probably did—their actions often backfire, hurting us more than they help.

The solution is for you to become the scientist as well as the subject. Study your own behavior the way a scientist would. Instead of being discouraged by your setbacks, be curious about them. Notice, it was when you became curious about your self-sabotaging that you discovered the link to your mother’s criticism. This is a good first step.

Turn a bad day into good data. What you’ve discovered is a crucial moment—a time, situation, or circumstance when your success is especially at risk. Your particular crucial moment occurs when broken records begin to play in your head, repeating criticisms you remember from years ago. The risk in these crucial moments is that you will respond the same way you did years ago—with defiance. For example, the record in your head says, “Nobody will love you if you look like that . . .” and your automatic response is, “Oh yeah? Watch me eat this dessert and prove you wrong!”

Use a personal motivation statement. You need to find a way to replace your automatic, unhealthy response with a positive, healthy one. One tactic to try is a personal motivation statement. The statement should refute the automatic response and reconnect you with the positive reasons for sticking to your change plan. For example, it might say, “This isn’t about my mother or what she wanted. It’s about me, and what I want. What I really want is . . .” You might write this statement on a 3×5 card that you take out and read when broken records are playing in your head.

Learn new ways to manage your moods. Many of our bad habits are misguided attempts to manage our moods. For example, we eat when we feel down or we smoke when we feel frustrated. My bet is that the records you play in your head don’t just provoke your defiance; they make you feel lousy inside. If that’s true, then you need a healthy, positive way to boost your mood without busting your diet.

Managing our moods is a skill many of us never learned or never learned well. Our mood management attempts often involve spoiling or indulging ourselves. But there are far better ways to improve our state of mind. For example, recent research shows that doing something for someone else is far more effective than indulging ourselves. My mother says, “If you feel you need help, then go help someone,” and she’s right.

Become the scientist again, and look for better ways to boost your moods. For example, the Pleasant Events Schedule is a list of 320 different activities that people enjoy and is one place to begin your search. You can sort through the list and pick five or ten that might boost your mood. Try them. Test them out until you find a few that reliably work for you. Just make sure they boost your mood without introducing or reinforcing unwanted habits.

My closing suggestion is to remain the active scientist. Be the one who takes the reins and designs the experiments that will move your life forward. And remember that many of our bad habits started as solutions to problems that were real and remain real. We can’t just stop these bad habits; we need to replace them with more effective and healthier ones.

David

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David Maxfield

David Maxfield is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for organizational change. For thirty years, David has delivered engaging keynotes at prestigious venues including Stanford and Georgetown Universities. David’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500.
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4 thoughts on “Lose Weight and Defy Your Critics”

  1. Dear Sabotaged,

    Congrats on your big ah-ha moment and your awareness of negative thoughts. I too had this moment and had been struggling with my weight. I was told that people who are criticized or hurt by a parent or guardian (I was criticized by both parents!) feel the need to protect themselves. Weight gain can be a result of building up that protection. This was true for me.

    What helped me was to surround myself with people who accept and love me just as I am. If possible, give yourself a little distance, of course delicately, between the criticizers and you. It took awhile for me and I wasn’t able to be as delicate about the distance thing however, it is working. I have an incredibly supportive husband and many great friends that I can depend on to be there for me. Think about this: just because some criticizes you, it doesn’t mean anything they say is true!

    This is what I believe; their issues are not your problem and you can bet that when they are ready, they will join you in the fight to become healthy. You may even serve as inspiration for them if you can stop believing their criticisms (including your mother) have anything to do with you and let go of the need for protecting yourself. Good luck!!

  2. I totally agree with Kimberly. Surround yourself with people who love and accept you.

    In addition, surround yourself with people who model the behaviors you want to cultivate in yourself. Find these friends, and distance yourself from accomplices (people who encourage or enable the behaviors you are trying to change.)

    When it comes to distancing yourself from loved ones… We find that adding a friend is far more important than losing an accomplice. We also find that many accomplices are happy to become supportive friends, if you invite them. However, very few will volunteer to help–out of fear they may offend you. We are social animals, so find ways to re-balance your social world so that it supports your aspirations.

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