“Oh, well, Beth, you know I just can’t resist a piece of your amazing blueberry pie!”
This was an easy and fun remark to make, accompanied with slightly self-deprecating laughter. It was a social nicety; a way of letting everyone in the vicinity know that I knew I shouldn’t take a piece, but what the heck, I was going to do it anyway.
The unspoken reasoning, of course, was that I had no willpower.
There are so many things we say with wry humor that are seemingly innocuous. The problem is, they aren’t. Say these things enough times and you come to believe them. Take the pie comment. It set me up to take the fall every time I encountered Beth’s amazing blueberry pie. There wasn’t even an option to hone down my portion size to a couple spoonfuls. No, that was an “I’m all in” statement.
What other messages do we send ourselves that ultimately set us up for failure? Here are my Top Five, in no particular order.
- Self-deprecating humor. Voicing your inability to do something or be something isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when it’s an honest assessment of your capability. I can’t run because of arthritis and multiple surgeries. That’s just a fact. It’s the laughter, the self-mockery, that can turn fact into an opinion that my not being able to do something or be something means I don’t quite measure up. I’m not good enough or strong enough or smart enough.
- “Cheating” on a diet. Cheating implies sneaking. It implies that I cannot be trusted to take care of myself; that I do not hold myself accountable. “Cheating” is far more than a negative word. It can lead to a set of negative behaviors, like taking food when no one is looking, or eating it quickly so no one finds out what I’m doing. Changing the word to “flexing” is the first step in changing that whole set of negative behaviors.
- “I’ll try.” I am with Yoda on this one. “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” The fact of the matter is, saying you will try immediately fills you with self-doubt. “I will do my best, but I don’t think my best will be good enough.” Saying you will do something doesn’t necessarily mean you will be successful. It does mean, however, that you will be completely focused and committed, and you will keep on working to achieve that goal, whatever it takes. “I’ll try” is weak, while “I will” means I am all in.
- Committing to a weight loss or fitness goal rather than to what I am going to do to achieve weight loss and fitness. It is fine to decide you are going to lose twenty pounds, or you are going to work out five days a week. However, I know so many people who say they want to lose two pounds a week, or they want to be able to do push-ups after four weeks of exercise. Our behaviors are in our control; our metabolism and the length of time it takes our bodies to be strong enough to conquer a specific exercise are much less controllable. If I fully commit to following a healthy lifestyle and I lose one pound a week instead of two, it hardly means I’m a failure. Keep the commitment to a healthy diet and exercise and you will be directionally correct towards achieving your health goals, however long it takes.
- “I can’t do that because….” Focusing on the barriers we face rather than our capacity limits and stymies us. We can absolutely cage ourselves in if we only look at what we cannot do; yet, it is something I hear frequently voiced. In some cases, it is used as an excuse, a reason for not adopting healthier behaviors. It can lead to self-pity and it certainly limits your ability to participate in the simple joy of living. Each of us has “I can’t’s” in our lives, but each of us also has “I can’s.” Focus on the latter and you have a starting point, no matter how small.