One of the critical pre-requisites to losing weight is believing that you can lose weight. There are plenty of messages out there that imply that weight loss is just not possible, that we are destined to be a certain weight, or that even if we do succeed, it is likely we will gain it all back. This might be true for a small subset of the population, but it is certainly not true for many others, and definitely was not true for me. The self-limiting belief that you impose on yourself can actually be one of the major reasons why you cannot lose weight. This article will discuss how self-limiting beliefs hold us back and also discusses a few methods of how we can break through these self-limiting beliefs to create a new identity for ourselves.
Your Self-Beliefs Form Early
For almost my entire life, I identified myself as fat. Maybe it was earlier than this, but I still remember a particular day in elementary school when my self-identity changed. It was recess time and we were playing soccer. One of my friends decided that it would be funny to put a bunch of grass down my shirt. Itchy as hell, I took my shirt off to get all the grass out. When I did, one of the kids in my grade shouted “LOOK HOW FAT ANDY IS!!” and the whole class started laughing.
I was now known as the fat kid. Looking back at pictures from that period, I wasn’t even that fat, but from that day on, I was regularly made fun of and called fat. That day was when my identity started changing—initially just in the eyes of my peers, but soon enough, in my own eyes.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and the Chained Elephant
As the identity of me being overweight dug deeper and deeper into my psyche, it started to become an excuse to not change. Whether or not me being overweight was actually false (as it was when I was young) or true (shortly afterward), it was a self-limiting belief. It took decades to get over this part of my identity. My self-limiting belief became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Have you heard of the story of the chained elephant? Apparently, to train elephants to stay in one place, circuses would tie the leg of a baby elephant to a stake and chain. The baby elephant is unable to pull away and eventually realizes that to continue struggling would be wasted effort.
Unfortunately for the elephant, this lesson becomes a permanent one, and even when the elephant grows up to be strong enough to break through those chains with ease, the lessons from childhood remain and they don’t even bother trying. Often people don’t have the mental ability to break through their own chains because of the self-limiting beliefs that have been trained into them, even though they have the physical ability to do so.
However, taken from a more positive perspective, just like we can be trained to NOT believe in ourselves, we can be trained to NOW believe in ourselves. And thankfully, there are multiple ways to do this.
Shifting Your Self-Limiting Belief to Belief in Yourself
Although as humans we tend to hold on to our beliefs strongly, paradoxically we are also incredibly adaptive. A shift of your beliefs can slowly or quickly, or even instantaneously. Here are some ways self-limiting beliefs can be changed:
Believe in 1/1000th of what you want to believe in.
When I first started with my weight loss journey, I had a heck of a long journey ahead of me, with a hundred pounds to lose. Dwelling on that could have been overwhelming.
However, I knew I could lose 0.1 pounds. As long as I believed that I could lose 0.1 pounds a day, inevitably over 1000 days, I’d lose 100 pounds. As the weight slowly came off, the confidence that I could do it slowly increased as well. At about 40 pounds lost, I knew that I was going to succeed and that confidence sustained my journey the rest of the way.
Long-distance runners often use this trick to run marathons and beyond. They don’t think about the fact that they still have half the race to run: they focus on reaching that next lamp post or kilometer, then the next, then the next. Eventually, they’re done, and then the result locks in the belief that they have it in them.
This is one of the key features of the Luuze app: Instead of focusing on the final goal, Luuze tells you what your target weight should be for the current day. This way instead of having to focus on a goal that could be months or even years away, all you need to do is worry about the next step.
Create an alter-ego, or do some “self-distancing.”
Believe it or not, even the most confident of people have had to break through their self-limiting beliefs. Did you know that Beyoncé was terrified of performing in public? To counter-act this self-limiting belief, she created an alter-ego for herself. On stage, she became Sasha Fierce, a hyperconfident version of herself. Eventually, this “trick” was no longer required, because she eventually became that confident person that she imagined Sasha Fierce to be.
Creating an alter-ego is actually just a more extreme form of a phenomenon called “self-distancing,” where we step away from ourselves and get a different view. Another self-distancing technique? Self-talk in the third person. There are studies that show that simply giving ourselves pep talks can lead to better performance. It is often easier to give advice to others rather than ourselves because of this phenomenon.
It only makes sense that the corollary is also true: talking to ourselves negatively will impact our performance negatively. We certainly are not doing ourselves any favours if the autobiography we write is one where we suck.
Find people who will support you with who you can become.
There are countless stories of people who have lost weight losing friends, and stories of friends and family pressuring people who have lost weight to stop losing more weight or to even gain it back. Although there are people that will support you for being who you are and those people are needed sometimes, the people who will support you for being who you can become are worth their weight in gold.
If you find people like these, hold onto them tight. If you need to find people like these for your weight loss journey, places like the r/loseit reddit page and the r/progresspics reddit page are filled with people that are supportive. I’m here as well – don’t hesitate to contact me. And although virtual, the Luuze app is designed to be supportive throughout your weight loss journey.
Override your current identity with a more important one.
This might not be possible for everyone, but this was a big one for me. One of the major reasons I finally lost weight was because I became a father, and being around for my children was extremely important. The need to be healthy and alive for all of my children’s major life milestones became my Defining Motivation.
The identity of me being overweight, although not desirable, was at least comforting. This is why some of us stick with our negative identities.
However, the identity I desired of being a good and present father was more important than any comfort that my prior identity could provide. Or said another way, the thought that I might not be around to see my kids grow up was more uncomfortable than the discomfort that would come from doing the work needed to lose weight.
Use the success you have in one arena and translate that into success in weight loss.
There have been a number of places in my life that I have been able to succeed. I have done pretty well in my career, getting promoted to a director, managing 50+ people. Generally, I was a goal-driven person and achieved the goals I truly focused on, but never really decided that weight loss would be a real focus. When I finally decided that it would be a focus, I used the same techniques that I used to succeed in other areas of my life, such as tracking my progress, creating a plan for myself, and giving myself enough time to succeed instead of rushing it.
Think about something that you have been successful at. Reflect on why you were successful. Can you translate those reasons to support you with your weight loss journey?
Belief is a Powerful Tool
Although this is true, the more important thing is whether or not you can find a way to believe it for yourself. Leveraging 1/1000th of a belief, creating an alter-ego, finding external support, or reflecting on the success you have had elsewhere can support you with this.
Once you believe, (and you don’t need to believe in it every single minute and every single day to start), the odds of your success will increase massively.
Are there any other techniques you have used to believe in yourself? Let me know.