By Christine Bettera
Have you ever said or thought,“Everything in my life is a hot mess right now.”
Or more recently, in my life, I have been feeling and thinking I am behind in everything! This is a chronic thinking error in my life, thinking there is a timeline to get certain things done, and a road map to get there.
Do you ever feel this way, or say these types of thoughts in yourself or others? Although it may be normal, it’s not particularly healthy or helpful for you, because you could be adding unnecessary stress to your life, and I don’t know about you but I have enough stress in my life and I don’t need to be adding any more to my plate.
Statements like, “I am always going to be behind in life” or “I’ll never be able to find happiness” have a name: Cognitive distortions (a.k.a. “thinking errors”). These are thoughts that feel deeply true, but are not really. When applied to your nutrition, fitness and wellness goals, these thoughts create a fixed mindset that can hold you back from taking action and making progress on those goals and your dreams!
Some examples I have heard over the years:
“Everyone in the class is staring at me and judging me because of how hard it is for me and how out of shape I am.”
“I was so bad! I ate all the carbs and sweets! I can’t stick to my hand portions at all!”
7 ways to identify common thinking errors, they tend to be:
- Stagnant and idle: Reflect old beliefs, fixed unchanging mindset.
- Rigid and rule-based: They’re stuck and reflect only one possible way.
- Biased: most often toward negative biases.
- Pervasive: Taking one negative thing and applying it to every aspect of your life.
- Imagined: Made up stories about what others are thinking that are most often untrue.
- Overly Simplistic: black/white, all/none, always/never, everything/nothing, and good/bad types of binary thinking.
- Biased: most often toward negative biases.
If you have thoughts like this, it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. Thinking errors are an evolutionary safety mechanism of the human brain.
Our brains tend to:
- Over-focus on perceived threats and negativity
- Over-generalize, taking facts about a single, specific situation and applying them to everything.
- Make judgments with only partial information (create stories)
These safety mechanisms are in place to protect us, and help us survive because in primal times group acceptance was essential to survival, and focusing on threats kept us aware and more safe to carry on our species. The problem is that cognitive distortions create a ton of, often unnecessary, stress in our lives that no longer are as dangerous or require tribal acceptance (although community is still incredibly important, we won’t necessarily die without it.)
If you are frequently anxious, agitated, and pessimistic in your thoughts and speech around healthy lifestyle change, you may be bogged down in these types of thoughts. I know I was for many years, and sometimes they still rear their ugly heads. By becoming aware of these thoughts you can then adjust them and relieve some of the unnecessary stress we no longer need to survive.
The goal isn’t to replace your “wrong” thoughts with “right” ones. The aim is to have a more self aware, empathetic, nuanced, and realistic view of life events so we actually take action toward our goals.
How to Reframe these thoughts:
The first step is to build awareness of their existence, then practice reframing these thinking errors into realistic thoughts. Allow me to share with you a Chinese parable that dates back to the 2nd century B.C. that reflects this well:
“A farmer and his son had a beloved horse who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild horses back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the horses and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The neighbors cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, because he had a broken leg. The neighbors shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
The moral is, you can never really know the final outcome of a situation. Whether it is a blessing, or not, until the story fully unfolds, and worrying is a waste of time, energy and effort. Putting your energy where you KNOW you can make a difference in the outcome is more valuable.
Realistic thoughts sound like this:
“I do worry that I might be behind in my health goals, but there’s also a good chance that I am right where I need to be, especially if I take perspective and plan for the future.”
“Although I might not like the outcome of this situation, I have persevered through worse and can probably make it through this time as well.”
“Life feels really hard right now, but nothing is permanent. Plus, there are other things I am grateful for and are going well for me, as well as things I CAN do, if I pay attention.”
Notice the shift that occurs when you reframe a thinking error you are experiencing.Usually you will feel more optimistic about the future and experience less anxiety when you surrender the things you cannot control.
This shift requires practice, but it can be a highly effective way to take more control over the stress and anxiety in your life, and putting that wasted mental energy into making those healthy lifestyle shifts!
I am so excited to be able to share with you, a free tool for you to help move past those limiting beliefs and finally take action toward your goals!