Master Weight Loss With a Positive Mindset

Updated on August 23, 2018
Darleen Barnard profile image

Darleen Barnard is Certified Health Coach and Certified Personal Trainer who specializes in weight loss by using the power of the mind.

Think about the last time you attempted to lose weight. Which emotions would you use to describe that journey? Did you have positive emotions such as excitement, happiness, or joy? Or did you feel something less enjoyable such as sadness, anger, or frustration? Perhaps you started out feeling positive and excited about the journey, but then after a few days or weeks, some negative emotions started to take over.

We all know the importance of nutrition and exercise when it comes to losing weight, but very few people focus on having a positive mindset—the missing 3rd ingredient. Anyone who decides to lose weight will have to deal with negative emotions on their journey, and how they deal with those emotions will determine their outcome.

We all have bad days when we are trying to lose weight. Maybe we ate a piece of cake at work for a coworker’s birthday and felt guilty. This guilt led us to grab a cookie in the breakroom a couple hours later. And then we became so upset with ourselves, that we just threw in the towel the rest of the day and went to bed feeling frustrated and defeated.

Sound familiar? It is very common and something that I hear all of the time from my clients. So how do we persevere when we are faced with those emotions?

We first need to remember that our thoughts drive our emotions. It all starts with our thoughts and we CAN control them! It isn’t always easy to control our thoughts, but with a little practice and a solid framework, it is possible. To do this, we need to have a daily routine in place that we practice in the morning, during the day, and every night.

The following 3 steps are based on Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell Is Human, in his chapter on buoyancy. Pink describes buoyancy as “a quality that combines grittiness of spirit and sunniness of outlook”. I have adapted his 3 steps into a daily routine that anyone who wants to lose weight can use. In fact, these steps are applicable for any kind of goal from weight loss to smoking to building a business!

1. Morning Preparation – Interrogative Self-Talk

Many people have heard of positive affirmations to get you in the right mindset. Positive affirmations are statements like “I can do this” or “I can succeed at anything I put my mind to”. Positive affirmations are a way of building ourselves up. Athletes pump themselves up before the big game all the time. The same is true for weight loss. We need to pump ourselves up every morning and get our heads in the game.

But what if I told you there is a better way than making a statement “I can do this”. Researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi found that asking a question, such as “Can I do this?” is even more effective! If you have kids, you know that Bob the Builder always asks “Can we fix this?”, and now research has found that Bob has the right idea!

Although it may seem like questioning our abilities could lead to self-defeating behavior, the researchers actually found the opposite to be true. In this study, researchers gave participants a piece of paper and instructed them to either write a statement “I will…” or a question “Will I…” 20 times. Those participants who wrote “Will I…” were able to solve twice as many anagrams as those who wrote a statement.

By asking a question, we are requiring ourselves to give an answer, and when we do that, we formulate strategies in our mind to solve the problem. We are figuring it out. In addition, researchers found that interrogative self-talk reminds us why we set out to do something in the first place. We re-discover our motivation for wanting to lose weight.

Take Action

Applying this strategy to weight loss, the first thing we need to do every morning is ask ourselves, “Can I lose weight?” Spend a few minutes every morning just asking yourself this question and your mind will automatically strategize to find solutions and you will remind yourself of your motivation.

2. Daily Maintenance – Positivity Ratio

Positivity. “Is your glass half full or is it half empty?” Two people can be in the exact same situation. One person gets upset and the other person seems to just roll with it. Why is that?

We all know those people who are always negative. Nothing ever seems to go their way. They can’t catch a break. They fly off the handle at the smallest problem.

And we probably know those people who are always bubbly. They are cheerful, always smiling. Life is good and they can handle major problems with ease – sometimes by ignoring the problem!

So which mindset is better for success?

Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina is a leading researcher on positivity. She was curious what ratio of positive to negative emotions each day was optimal to help people reach their full potential. Through her research, she discovered that a ratio of 3 positive emotions (amusement, contentment, gratitude, love, pride, etc) to 1 negative emotion (anger, contempt, disgust, fear, sadness, etc) helped people become more resilient, improved their achievement, and helped them bounce back from setbacks.

When people had a 1 to 1 ratio of positive to negative emotions, they had no better outcomes than people who experienced more negative emotions. But more doesn’t always mean better! She also found that if people had 11 positive emotions to 1 negative emotion, they didn’t look for areas to improve and do better and their self-improvement was limited.

Fredrickson found that there is a balance between gravity and levity. In her book, Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life, she writes, “Levity is that unseen force that lifts you skyward, whereas gravity is the opposing force that pulls you earthward. Unchecked levity leaves you flighty, ungrounded, and unreal. Unchecked gravity leaves you collapsed in a heap of misery. Yet when properly combined, these two opposing forces leave you buoyant.”

Take Action

80% of Americans fall short on the positivity scale. Where do you fall? Take Fredrick's 2-minute quiz at to find out! Fredrickson also recommends taking the quiz every day for 2 weeks since one day may not be indicative of your life in general. Give it a try and see how close you can get to the 3 to 1 ratio. Look for opportunities to improve your score.

If your score is low and you don’t hit the 1-1 ratio, can you think about a situation differently to help you improve your positivity score? Instead of feeling disgusted because you ate a candy bar, can you focus on feeling proud because you ate a salad a lunch? Instead of being disappointed because you didn’t have time to go the gym after work, can you be proud because you still hit your step goal of 10,000 steps for the day?

Buy Now for More Strategies

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
Although this book was intended for a different audience, the strategies in this book apply to weight loss as well. I love all of Pink's work and this one is no exception.

3. End of Day – Explanatory Style

At the end of the day, we must reflect. How we choose to think about our day, especially those things that didn’t go particularly well, significantly contributes to our success. Our explanatory style is our habit of explaining the day’s events to ourselves. It is the way we talk to ourselves after an event occurs.

Martin Seligman is the founder of positive psychology. He has written dozens of books on the topic from Learned Optimism and Learned Helplessness. He was particularly interested in how we can deepen our optimism and was curious about why some individuals give up easier than others.

Seligman found that if an individual has a pessimistic explanatory style, they are more likely to give up and if an individual has an optimistic explanatory style, they are more likely to persevere.

In one study, he looked at people who sold insurance. He found that salespeople who had an optimistic explanatory style viewed bad sales days as temporary and due to an external event. Salespeople who had a pessimistic explanatory style viewed their bad sales days as permanent and internalized it as a reflection of their abilities. He found that the optimistic salespeople sold 37% more insurance than their pessimistic peers. Those who were in the top 10% of the scale sold 88% more insurance than those in the bottom 10% of the scale. Agents in bottom 25% of the scale were also 3 times more likely to quit than those in the top 25%.

Applying this same approach to weight loss, consider a person who is trying to lose weight and didn’t stick to their nutrition plan for the day. A pessimistic person might say, “I don’t have any self-control.”; whereas, an optimistic person might say, “I had a bad day today. Tomorrow will be better.” Our explanatory style determines our success.

Think about a recent negative event regarding your weight loss - perhaps you went out to eat and planned on getting a salad, but ended up getting a cheeseburger and fries. Whatever the event is, try to pick one where the outcome wasn’t what you had hoped. Think about your self-talk afterward. What did you say to yourself? Was it optimistic or pessimistic? How did that make you feel? If you had a pessimistic explanatory style, what else could you have told yourself instead of using an optimistic explanatory style?

Take Action

At the end of every day, stop and reflect. Think about the events of the day that didn’t go according to plan. Use an optimistic explanatory style by using the “3 Ps” and be kind to yourself! The 3Ps stand for:

  1. Personalization – internal vs. external. Remind yourself it is an external event. Don’t internalize the event. For example, instead of saying “I failed”, say “Pizza is hard to resist”. Blame it on the pizza!
  2. Permanence – permanent vs. temporary. Remind yourself that setbacks are temporary. Instead of saying “I’m never going to lose weight”, say “I didn’t plan my meals in advance. I will start doing that tomorrow”.
  3. Pervasiveness – global vs. specific. Narrow your focus. Instead of saying “I can never lose weight”, say “I didn’t lose weight this week”.

Now, think about the events of the day that did go well. Use the opposite approach with the 3 Ps. For those events that went well, internalize them and consider them permanent and global. Congratulate yourself for all of the great choices you made throughout the day! Begin to identify as the person you want to be.

I hope this helps you see the power of our minds! The way we choose to think about events will determine our emotions, which ultimately determines our results. I hope you have found these 3 steps helpful and will start using them today. Always remember,

You become what you think about. – Earl Nightingale

Choose your thoughts wisely and make it a great day!

Quick Poll

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Darleen Barnard


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