If you’ve ever tried to lose weight and failed, the following scenario might sound familiar: You start a new diet and exercise plan. At first, you follow it diligently, but then doubt creeps in: I failed last time, will I fail again? Is it worth it? Before you know it, you go down a spiral of negative emotions that ruin your day and your will to stick to your plan. 

This is called the thought-emotion cycle a series of thoughts and corresponding feelings that can either hold you back or move you forward to achieve any kind of goal.

During a recent live webinar, Susan McClain, founder of the Natural Success Institute and LIFE apps’ mindfulness coach, talked about how to disrupt this cycle of negative thoughts and emotions to help you in your weight loss journey. 

Susan* coaches on optimizing mindset, disrupting negative patterns, and living a life of abundance and natural success. Chat with her today! Download LIFE Extend and tap on the Personalized coaching tile to schedule a session.

Susan explained that just as we have habits of behavior, we also have habits of thought. “Most of the thoughts that we think are just repeats from yesterday and the day before, and the day before,” she said. “It’s really important to remember that we are not our thoughts; we are the thinker of our thoughts.” This means we can change them and choose healthier ones. The first step is becoming aware of the thought habits we have. To do that, she advises to do the following:

  1. Choose a goal and think about the thoughts you have regularly that might hold you back from achieving it. Look for patterns in your day-to-day. For example, do you tend to replay memories from past failed weight loss attempts? 
  2. Next time you have a negative thought, use a pattern interrupt. For example, you can tap the side of your head or snap your fingers and say “out”.
  3. Return to the present moment. Most of the unpleasant emotions that we feel are because we’re either replaying past events or we’re anticipating events that may or may not happen in the future.  “At our very core, we’re control freaks,” Susan said. Lack of control over a future event causes us to feel stress and unpleasant emotions that can be triggers for negative thoughts and behavior. As soon as you’re aware that you’re replaying past events or anticipating something in the future, bring yourself back to the present moment.
"Time concept, with sticky notes on a corkboard."
Return to the present moment to get rid of negative thoughts

Goal-setting the right way

Susan explained that when we set goals for ourselves, we never address whether or not we believe we can hit them. “It doesn’t matter what our goals are, if we don’t believe we can get there,” she said. We might have subconscious beliefs that tell us we don’t deserve to achieve a certain goal, making us fall into the negative thought-emotion cycle discussed above.

“Goals are something that we work toward in the future, still embodying who we are today,” she said. Most people try to hit their goals while being the same person with the same belief system, patterns, and habits. Susan recommends showing up as the confident, strong person who believes they can hit their goal.

Here are Susan’s tips to set goals in a way that sets you up for success:

  1. With your fitness goal in mind, write a statement about who you need to be to get there.  For example, “I am strong, committed, and confident enough to fast for 16 hours and work out for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.” 
  2. Every time you work toward your goal, read your statement, and show up as that person. Read your statement twice a day (when you wake up and when you’re ready for bed), feeling the emotions as if you already were that person.

If you are doubting yourself or can’t seem to shake the negative thoughts in your head, Susan recommends the following:

  1. Practice positive affirmation. In front of the mirror, say the following to yourself: “I’m healthy, whole and complete.” “I’m willing to forgive myself and others,” “I fully love and accept myself,” “I am enough.” 
  2. Ask yourself these questions: What do you need to learn, practice or get better at to achieve your goal? What would you need to believe about yourself for that goal to be true? Do you feel fear or anxiety around this goal? Why?
Brave woman keeps arms on hips, smiling confident, casting a superhero with cape shadow on the wall.
Show up as the confident, strong person who believes they can hit their goal.

The importance of visualizing your goals

When you feel the emotions of having achieved your goal, your body starts making dopamine and serotonin, Susan explained. When you share what your goal is with someone you trust, your body makes a third neurochemical: oxytocin. Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are the neurochemicals of goal achieving, because they are what your body makes when you accomplish something important.  Susan explained that when you focus on goal achievement, the goal appears closer and thus more achievable. As you progress toward it, the goal feels easier to reach.  She recommends visualizing your goal and feeling the emotions of that success as if you had already achieved it.

“Your brain can’t distinguish between something real and something vividly imagined,” said Susan. She cited a study that looked at 2 groups of people who were learning how to play a simple exercise on the piano. Group 1 was told to practice in a real piano and group 2 was told to practice only in their mind. They found that the part of the brain controlling the finger movements needed to play the exercise was equally stimulated in both groups, which means that picturing themselves playing the piano and playing the real instrument made no difference in their brain!

Cute little girl playing with cardboard airplane on a white background.
Your brain can’t distinguish between something real and something vividly imagined.

How to use your brain for goal-achieving

Practice consistency: We have messengers in the brain called endocannabinoids. Susan explained that their job is to turn our goals into habits. We can help our endocannabinoids by consistently working on our goal. For example, workout at the same time every day or practice intermittent fasting consistently to help your endocannabinoids turn your exercising and fasting into something you stick to daily.

Change your surroundings. Have you ever heard that the best time to change your habits is when you’re on vacation? It’s true! For example, your brain might associate late-night snacking with a certain time of the day or a particular place in your house. When you’re away, you can easily break bad habits because your usual visual cues are not there to reinforce those behaviors! If you can’t afford a vacation, try sitting on a different chair when you’re ready for dinner, rearrange your furniture, or go for a walk outside when you would normally be snacking. 

How to work around roadblocks

When you set goals for yourself, you inevitably encounter setbacks. Susan recommends the following for overcoming those:

  1. Find 3 different ways around your roadblocks. Think of them ahead of time to be prepared if something starts to hold you back. For example, if you depend on a sitter to take care of your kids while you work out, have a plan in place for when you don’t have a sitter avaialble. Try working out with your kids at home or work out when they are sleeping. 
  2. Get your family on board. Ask yourself, will your significant other not like that you’re fasting through breakfast or dinner? How can I get them on board? Consider setting a family reward for when you hit your goal.

Use the power of your brain to lose weight (or achieve any kind of goal for that matter): Stay in the present to keep negative thoughts away, show up as a person who believes they can achieve great things, visualize yourself achieving your goal, practice consistency, and have a plan for overcoming setbacks.

*Susan McClain has spent over a decade studying, practicing, and teaching meditation, mindful living, and the power of the brain. She received her Transformation Meditation teaching certificate in 2017, and she is also a Canfield Certified Success Principles™ trainer. Join her LinkedIn group Yes Warrior.