By Coral Arvon, PhD, LMFT, LCSW
In my seminars at Pritikin Longevity Center, I remind our guests that there’s another important component to healthy living, it’s having a healthy mind. When we’re able to reduce the stress in our lives and cope with disturbing feelings we can stop the anxiety. We’re often more successful at sustaining our healthy food and fitness habits, and we always feel happier.
Here are six basic tips I teach for developing a healthier mind:
1. Whittle down worry. Are your thoughts fueled by anxiety and “what ifs,” such as “What if I lose weight but then gain it all back?” or “What if my knee acts up and I can’t exercise?” Learning how to comfort oneself and calm down in the face of challenges is an antidote to worry and negative thoughts. Fighting worry is important because it can immobilize us and keep us from making important changes in our life.
2. Remove the pessimism barrier. Seeing the glass as “half empty” can really block our efforts to live well. Pessimists often use this mind-set as protection from disappointment (“If I don’t expect things to turn out well, I won’t be surprised if they don’t.”). What they don’t realize is that their mind-set actually contributes to negative outcomes.
3. “Catch” your thoughts. It’s so important to replace worry, pessimism, and other “stinkin’ thinkin’” with positive rationale thoughts. One technique that works well for our clients is imagining that they’re “on the job” with their favorite TV detective, and their job is tracking down the “bad” thoughts that “stole” their good mood. They look for clues by reviewing their entire day, including what they did, whom they spoke with, and other activities like business meetings. They pinpoint exactly when their mood or feeling hit the skids. The sooner we can “catch” these debilitating thoughts, the sooner we can work at transforming them into more positive, rational ones.
4. Become your own “good parent” or friend. When you’ve successfully identified the event and negative thoughts associated with it, reframe it with calm, rational, motivating thoughts. If you’re having difficulty, imagine what you would say to a child or beloved friend in the same circumstance. Often, it’s easier to comfort and encourage those we love than ourselves. If a child was learning to ride a bike without training wheels and felt discouraged, you might say, “There’s no rush. You can try again tomorrow. And look how much you learned tonight! That’s great.” Fuel yourself with the same words of encouragement.
5. Develop your own inner coach. Think back to those very important people in your life—coaches, teachers, and mentors who encouraged and believed in you. They recognized your strengths. When the going got tough, you relied on them to talk you through it. Similarly, when you’re feeling discouraged or frustrated or simply want to give up, be your own coach or mentor. Imagine what they would have said to you. This inner pep talk can help you replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
6. Act it till you become it. Your body language is you! Stand tall, sit tall, and feel tall. Act as if you are living and feeling better, and chances are you will, in fact, start to feel better. You’ll also appear thinner! From new body language comes new life, new hope. Then, watch those job offers roll in, or new romantic interests unfold.
If you follow these six tips you will stop the anxiety and worry. We have found that learning how to transform self-defeating thoughts into motivating ones is a terrific way to feel better, enjoy life, improve health, and succeed at taking their healthy new lifestyle home. As one client recently told me, “My stress now has wings, and I’m getting good at letting it fly away!”