By Sarah Wassner-Flynn
We often look at unfortunate situations through a pessimistic lens, such as: “I want to lose 20 pounds (or more), but I haven’t been able to do it in the past and keep the weight off. Should I even bother?”
But what does this negative perspective really do for us? Instead of fixating on “coulda, woulda, shoulda,” maybe it’s more beneficial to set your mind on moving forward. A good way to do this is by focusing on possible solutions for the future rather than the problems of the past.
“When people are obsessed over a problem, they may be discouraged by the lack of progress and by the fact that they have repeatedly failed to achieve their goals,” says Hengchen Dai, assistant professor of Organizational Behavior at Olin Business School.
Dai explains that this can lead to what researchers call the “what-the-hell” effect. Think about a situation, such as slipping up on your diet by eating a slice of cake. Since you’ve already failed, you continue to indulge and binge on even more junk food, because “what the hell,” why not? But all of this drives you further and further away from your original objectives. Instead, forget about that one little slip up and shift your focus toward fixing it for the future. Then you can more quickly get back on track.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done, but there are some tricks that can make it easier. Here’s how the experts say you can stay motivated to stick to your goals throughout all of the ups and downs of a weight-loss journey.
5 Tricks to Find Motivation to Lose Weight
Time it right
The timing of when you set your goal can be very influential on overall success. Dai explains that people are more motivated to create and initiate goal pursuits at moments that feel like a fresh start, such as the beginning of the week, a new season, or right after the holidays.
“Around those moments, people may not only be more receptive to messages that encourage them to find solutions, but also more willing to put aside their past failures and try out new solutions,” she says.
Matt Walrath, the owner of nutrition coaching company Beyond Macros, says his most motivated clients are those with a major event — say, a wedding, finishing a 5K, or a triathlon — on the horizon. “You can channel more motivation by focusing on an event you can work toward, where having excess weight will cause your performance to suffer,” he says.
Picture a fitter you
Stuck in a weight-loss rut? Take a few minutes to flip through old photos of yourself on your phone as a visual reminder of how far you’ve come.
“It can get extremely discouraging when you hit a plateau, but when this happens, it can be motivating to look at old photos of yourself from when you first started your weight-loss journey,” says Samantha Smitchko, a certified personal trainer and IFBB Figure Pro. “Appreciate how far you’ve come, and remember, you’ve made it this far… you can make it even farther.”
And keep snapping those selfies, suggests Janis Isaman, a STOTT PILATES certified trainer and owner of My Body Couture. “Sometimes, you need a reminder about what you love about your body, and even the most casual shot of you in the bathroom mirror can do the trick,” she says. “Usually there are some changes that we have forgotten about. A few quick photos can help us consider something we value about our bodies.”
See yourself slim
If top athletes use visualization to help them get in a positive, motivated mindset before a big game, can this work to keep you fired up to lose weight, too? It certainly can’t hurt.
You can practice visualization for just 10 minutes a day simply by closing your eyes and picturing yourself getting healthier and slimmer, keying in on how you look and feel, and imagining a more confident, energized, and proud version of yourself.
Need something more tangible? Create a vision board compiled of photos of yourself at a healthy weight. The act of imagining yourself fit can boost your confidence and motivation, reduce stress, and actually train your brain to respond to temptations in a way that can help you achieve your goals faster.
Find a weight-loss support crew
Your squad, your crew, your people. Whatever you call them, those closest to you can make all the difference when it comes to keeping you accountable.
“Enlist someone who can become your gym buddy and accountability partner,” says Walrath. “This way, you’ll have someone to share your challenges with. When you’re tempted to cheat on your diet or skip a couple of days at the gym, you’ll have someone to help get you back on track.”
Seeking a weight-loss mentor or a role model can help, too, but just be sure the person you pick has a lifestyle comparable to yours — or, at the least, is transparent about his or her own struggles.
“If you’re following someone on social media, look for people who offer advice and who are always very open and honest with their followers,” suggests Smitchko. Because when you’re having a not-so-great day, nothing can sap your motivation quicker than a social-media feed filled with flawless (and perhaps Photoshopped) snaps of skinny people telling you how awesome their lives are and how you need to change yours.
Go social with your weight-loss goals
At the same rate, don’t hesitate to post your own process on social media or in a public forum. Whether it’s posting pictures of your progress and interacting with your followers (and those you follow), or joining a Beachbody group on Facebook, a singularly-focused online community can be incredibly beneficial to your weight-loss journey.
In fact, a recent study by Northwestern University shows you can “friend your way thin,” citing that those who immersed themselves in an online weight-loss community lost more body weight after six months than their less-connected peers.
“Investing in a social group that encourages you to spend time with other people is essential because you will be creating a social contract and new social bonds to ensure you achieve your goals,” says Isaman. “Even though it’s online-only, that support can be very powerful.”
Is Your Weight-Loss Plan Failing You?
Finally, it’s uber-important to identify the signs that the weight-loss plan you picked just isn’t working for you.
“A weight-loss plan should enhance your life,” says Isaman. “You should feel capable, accomplished, and energized by your food and fitness plans. There might be hard choices to make, but they should not feel like a punishment.”
So, how do you know if you haven’t picked the right weight-loss plan? Isaman outlined the following red flags to watch for:
- You are hopelessly tired.
- You are insanely grumpy.
- You are sneaking into the pantry at night and binging.
- You’ve adopted an all-or-nothing mentality.
- You stop socializing or isolate yourself.
- You are dreaming about foods that you can’t eat.
- You are obsessed with tracking devices of any kind.
- You are frustrated to the point of anger, despair, or tears.
And, of course, there’s the classic marker: The amount of weight and inches you’re actually losing.
“Men can expect a healthy rate of weight loss to be 0.75 to 1.25 pounds per week, and women from 0.5 to 1 pound per week. You should also see a fat-loss trend around the hips, waist, and thighs,” says Walrath.
If you see zero progress after a few weeks, then it’s likely time to reconsider your plan. Which, experts stress, is not a mark of complete failure. Says Isaman: “Ask yourself, truly, what changes and modifications would make a plan or program [perhaps even your current ‘non-working’ one] more sustainable [and effective] for you?”