Tough Talk

Change your mind, change your body: the power of words.

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What do you say to yourself during your workouts? If your inner dialogue consists of self-defeating talk, you could be sabotaging your results, according to a recent study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (May 2014). The opposite also holds true. The study revealed that volunteers instructed to practice positive self-talk while cycling strenuously lasted longer and reported easier exertion than riders who did their usual routine.

Here are ways to turn around the most common self-sabotaging statements so you can keep making progress in the gym.

1. “If I can’t do every yoga pose perfectly, I’m a failure.”

Self-defeating talk leads to poor performance, says Michael Mantell, Ph.D., the senior fitness consultant for behavior science for the American Council on Exercise. “‘I must do well and win, and have the approval of others or else I’m no good,’ is a common, self-defeating sentiment,” he says. Instead, Mantell advises that you focus on the fact that you’re a fallible human being. Keep trying, and tell yourself, “I have my good points and my bad points, and am not more worthy or less worthy than any other human being.”

2. “My shoulders are my weakest body part.”

Are you focusing on your weaknesses? Knock it off. “Shout ‘stop’ to yourself,” says Mantell. Before your workout, visualize yourself overcoming your challenges and succeeding. Find your confidence through deep breathing, and practice releasing tension, says Mantell. “And remind yourself these are just thoughts, and carry with you positive replacements.”

3. “I always … fail at pull-ups.”

Called an “absolute,” this type of all-or-nothing statement registers with your subconscious, which believes what it hears, says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love (Seal Press, 2014). “If it hears ‘I can’t do pull-ups,’ it will ensure that it’s true.” Instead, tell yourself, “I will do a pull-up,” and then take steps to do just that.

4. “I lost ‘only’ two pounds this week.”

Minimizing accomplishments makes you feel lousy. “This is the type of perfectionistic thinking that increases stress and makes it more likely that you will give up,” says Lombardo. Instead, change your thoughts to, “I am proud of myself for staying with my program.”

5. “This program isn’t working … I’m not seeing results.”

Giving up before you see results has to do with your self-esteem, says Coral Arvon, Ph.D., director of behavioral medicine at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami. “You’re giving yourself an excuse to give up.” Change takes time. Give yourself 30 days, says Arvon. “If it’s not working for you then, see what you can do differently.”

6. “I’ll start (a diet, new program) for real next Monday.”

This way of thinking adds stress to the most difficult day of the week, says Arvon. “Monday is the worst day to start something new.” Instead, tell yourself you’ll start new on a Friday and start making a plan the prior Wednesday

3 C’s of Positive Self-Talk

Take these three steps the next time you find yourself using negative self-talk:

1. Catch … yourself thinking: I don’t like the way I’m feeling. What am I thinking that’s making me feel this way?

2. Challenge … your thinking: Is it true, helpful or inspiring to think this? Is it kind to myself and my goals?

3. Change … your thinking: Shift to more realistic and accurate beliefs: “I’d like to win, but it won’t be intolerable if I don’t.”

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