Just think positive: It doesn’t work
Does this ever happen to you?
You eating something that’s not part of your ‘I’m going to kick this junk food habit – today is the day!’ plan, and spiral down into thinking:
- Why did I eat that?
- I know I’m not supposed to.
- Ugh, I’m so weak and lazy – why can’t I just stick to the plan?
- I must be the dumbest person on the planet…
I bet it does, and I’m sure this is an incredibly mild version of what you say to yourself.
You’d probably be too embarrassed to share some of your actual internal dialogue – am I right?
Well, research shows that these thoughts are hurting your happiness, your weight, and your control over your food choices.
And all too often the advice from well-meaning family and friends (and internet articles) is to ‘just think positive’. To ‘banish the negative self-talk’ and only have happy, fuzzy, warm thoughts in your life.
The cold, hard truth is:
This doesn’t work. No matter how hard you try, how much yoga or meditation you do, or who says it, “just think positive” is
- missing the point, and
Keep reading to find out why, and what you can do instead.
Negative self-talk and overeating:
Obviously, self-talk is an incredibly personal thing – it’s your relationship with yourself – and it’s also a core part of the torturous out-of-control eating cycle that you go through. Negative self-talk not only causes and reinforces emotional eating, but is also a direct result of it.
There are increasing amounts of research showing that positive self-talk is integral to lowering stress, staying motivated, and being in control of your food choices.
Thankfully, this research also shows that you can change your self-talk patterns – so even if you’ve been down on yourself your whole life, there are simple ways to transform your thoughts into being helpful instead of hurtful.
Why ‘just think positive’ doesn’t work:
There are 4 reasons why trying to think only positive thoughts fails miserably in real life:
1. You feel like a failure if you think something negative – it’s a lot of pressure. You think you need more practice, more meditation, more training, and the negative thoughts will go away.
2. It’s like telling yourself not to think about a rainbow unicorn… you’re still thinking about the unicorn while you tell yourself not to.
3. Setting a ‘just think positive’ goal isn’t SMART in any way. It’s vague, unmeasurable, and there’s no plan behind it.
4. Your experience of self-talk is made up of actions too, not just positive or negative thoughts.
What to do instead:
The truth is, you can’t control what pops into your head. You just can’t. But you can control what you pay attention to or put energy into. You have a million thoughts a day that drift through your head but that you never actually pay any attention to, so they don’t impact you or your mood (and therefore your eating).
You’re not “failing” if you have negative thoughts. What’s important is where you choose to put your attention.
The core idea is not to practice not having negative self-talk, but to practice directing your attention and energy towards the thoughts that make you feel safe and well. And yeah, to begin with, you might have to practice forming those thoughts, too.
You can’t just practice paying attention to positive thoughts if you’re not actually doing anything positive for yourself. It’ll feel so fake and insincere. This is where the ‘action’ component of your self-talk comes into play, and it’s called ‘self-care’.
This means any and all activities you do that are positive, kind, and supportive of your own wellbeing. You’re physically showing yourself that you’re worth your own time and attention. And this is huge for transforming negative self-talk.
So, while “just think positive” won’t get you very far with your self-talk or your health journey, combining the power of energy, attention, and action will create the secret recipe you need to get your self-talk working for you and supporting you on your journey to heal your eating.
Want concrete explanations on how to do it?
Check out my free self-talk workshop for an easy step-by-step process on how to do exactly this. You’ll learn:
- The key to transforming your negative self-talk into positive affirmations so you can stop fighting with yourself and put that energy where it counts.
- How to use positive self-talk to end you comfort eating, because it’s hard to stop needing comfort when you’re the one causing the pain.
- A simple daily practice for positive self-talk, so you can easily form a new positive self-talk habit that runs on autopilot, helping you stay healthy, motivated, and in control.