Using a Bad Filter
You see all the negative details, blow them out of proportion, and don’t bother considering positive aspects of a situation.
Example: Susan has been working hard at her exercise program for six months. She is losing some weight and her arms and legs look more toned than ever, but her midsection isn’t as slim as she’d like. Instead of acknowledging her progress, which would make her feel good and give her more energy), she focuses on the size of her waist, letting that “problem spot” be the filter for interpreting her success. This makes her feel depressed and she starts losing enthusiasm for her workouts.
Black and White Thinking
You can’t see the gray areas of a situation. You’re either perfect or a failure—no middle ground.
Example: Jane has followed her diet successfully for three weeks, but she slips up and has a cookie during an office meeting. Instead of seeing the cookie as an isolated bump, she takes an all-or-nothing view of her failure. All is lost! She eats another five cookies at the meeting, and picks up a pizza on the way home for dinner.
If something bad happens once, you think it will always be that way.
Example: Steve has been diligent with his diet and exercise program. He’s lost weight and is looking good, but still worries he’s not attractive to women. He finally asks a woman out on a date. It’s a pleasant evening, but it’s obvious there’s no chemistry. Instead of acknowledging that this is perfectly natural—and gaining confidence from being out on the dating circuit—he assumes women are simply not attracted to him. He tells himself he’ll never find love because he is too fat and ugly.
You think you can divine what people think about you.
Example: Lindsey is shopping for a new outfit to inspire her to stay on track with her diet. She finds a pair of jeans she loves but can’t find her size. She asks a saleswoman if they have her size in the back, then sees the saleswoman talking in hushed tones to another; they are both glancing over at Lindsey. They are actually discussing whether they can give her the pair they know is on hold, but Lindsey assumes they are talking about her weight. She leaves the shop in shame before the saleswoman can return with the good news that they do have one pair left.
You must be in control. If not, you become convinced you’re a victim, or think you’re responsible for everyone else’s feelings.
Example: Ken is struggling to stick to his gym routine. On a Saturday morning he makes himself get into his workout gear and drive to the gym. On the way, his car breaks down. Convinced that it is “all my fault” because he “must have” been irresponsible in maintaining the car (even though he is) he exclaims, “Just my luck! Things never go my way!” He kicks the sidewalk, phones roadside assistance, and buys a donut from a nearby shop while he waits.
The “Should” Illusion
You have a secret list of many inflexible commandments about how you and others should act.
Example: Dave was in a car accident 10 years ago that left him with chronic back pain. He also has high blood pressure and pushes himself too hard at work. Dave’s doctor recommends he take up yoga to help with his back issues and reduce stress. Instead of finding a gentle class, Dave takes power yoga because his internal “commandments” stipulate that he should always be able to take on the toughest of challenges. He forces himself into hard positions and hurts his back. He hobbles out of the studio feeling more stressed than when he went in, swearing yoga is not for him.
How to Stop Distorted Thinking
Step 1: Note the automatic thought you have immediately after the situation: “Great. Another example of my weakness.”
Step 2: Pause and make a mental note of what emotions you feel. The simple act of observing your own thought pattern is sometimes enough to shift things right away.
Step 3: Interject at least one fact that counters the distortion. For example: “I’ve put on two pounds before and I’ve lost it again pretty fast.” Or imagine what you’d say to a friend in the same situation.
The game changer in this process is the rational and self-compassionate information you use as ammunition. Keep a list of these pushbacks on your computer in a note-taking app on your phone. Better yet, print them out and put them where you’ll see them when you need them—on your bathroom mirror, refrigerator door, workout clothes drawer, etc.
How Skinny People Think
In his latest book, Skinny Habits, Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper reveals the secret behaviors of people who not only lose weight, but keep the pounds off for good. Throughout the process of helping countless men and women reach their weight-loss goals, Harper has noticed six fundamental patterns among those who succeed long-term—from the way they organize their environment to even the way they dress. Learn more and buy the book here.