The holiday season was lovely. I had the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. We shared stories, memories, delicious meals, wine, and cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. One of my favorite parts about the holidays (outside of the friends and family time) is that I let myself indulge a bit. I tell myself to relax, eat, and drink. It’s great! Until about five days in.
Recovering from those lax holiday rules has made January a struggle. Over the past month I’ve said the phrase “I feel fat” so many times that I’m annoying myself. I can only imagine how the people around me feel.
I worked out over the holidays and I didn’t stuff myself so much that I couldn’t move, so the likelihood that I gained enough weight to make a difference in my appearance is relatively low. Yet, when I currently picture myself I see Marge Dursley after Harry Potter blows her up…except instead of floating away, I’m heavily rolling around.
This is a routine I go through anytime I get off of my typical schedule. Usually one of two things happens. Either I suddenly feel like I’ve gained twenty pounds or I feel like I’ve completely dropped the ball on productivity and I’m failing at life. Both feelings send me into clouds of negativity greeted by anxiety attacks. I focus on all the tasks I haven’t done or I focus on concerning areas of my body. Or on really bad days, I beat myself up on both.
Over time these reactions have become the standard mechanisms to scare myself back into my routines. But when I boil down the cycles I put myself through, the anxiety attacks provoked by a negative self-dialogue are simply useless. They’re harmful thoughts disguised as motivation.
For instance, I came back from celebrating the turn of a new year and immediately hopped back into my routines. Aside from a lingering cookie craving which I cannot explain (I don’t really have a sweet tooth), my diet and exercise are back to where they were before the derailment of the holiday season. However, since I paused my usual routines for vacation, the scare tactic in my mind was triggered and I’ve descended into a well of self-criticism. Everything I do is a little harder because I’m battling my own mind while simultaneously trying to eat healthy and be productive. Is the negativity really necessary? No, it’s not. What’s necessary is that I stop indulging and start being productive.
Dear Everyone Who Uses Negative Self-Talk as Motivation,
You are not fat because you consumed some extra calories over vacation. Your projects at work are not going to fall apart because you set them aside for a few days. You are not a terrible person. You are not failing. Your life is moving forward, so quit thinking about that extra helping of mashed potatoes you had the day after Christmas. Start thinking about what actions you are taking this very moment because that’s your reality.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have checks and balances in life. If you’re trying to motivate yourself to make a change or improvement, the default should be positive reinforcement, not negative exile. The term “reinforcement” itself means to strengthen. Strengthen the elements of your life you want to keep around. Negative self-talk (in my humble opinion) should not be one of them.
In life when you do your checks, be sure to find the things you’re doing right as well as your areas to improve. When you do your balances, focus on actions now instead of actions in the past. Cut the negativity and focus on the present. The present is all you control. I drank the extra glass of wine last weekend and it was perfect for that moment with friends. That’s done. The only question now is, what will make me happy and set me up for success in this moment? Negative self-talk will not cultivate positive action. Don’t trick yourself into thinking a self-scolding is motivating you to do better. Focus on the present and strengthen your good habits with positive reinforcement. Can you achieve your goals? Hell yes you can.