Over the last 40 years, a large number of self-help book authors, fitness trainers and the like have offered advice on how to achieve your goals.
Furthermore, there is no lack of advice on mental strategies for getting that ideal body.
In fact, I have heard so many different strategies that I decided to look at the research in order to separate fact from fiction and found out some information that I think will surprise you.
The Visualization Myth, and How It Can Hurt You
If you are like me, I am sure you have heard that if you visualize yourself thin that you will be more likely to achieve the body of your dreams.
But it turns out that this might be the last thing you want to do!
Now the study I am about to review with you is not about weight loss, but still very relevant.
In a study done at the University of California, researchers asked a group of students to spend a few moments each day visualizing themselves getting a high grade on an important midterm exam1.
They were asked to, “Form a clear image in your mind’s eye and imagine how great it would feel to make a high grade.”
The study also involved a control group of students, who were not asked to visualize doing well on the exam.
The researchers then asked the students in both groups to record the number of hours they studied each day.
The Shocking, Paradoxical Results of Visualization
It turns out that visualization did have a significant impact on the students’ results…
It caused them to make LOWER grades on the midterm, and caused them to study less than the control group!
So what does this have to do with weight loss?
In another research project at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers followed a group of obese women taking part in a weight loss program2.
The women were asked to imagine how they might act in various eating-related scenarios, such as going to a friend’s house and being tempted with tasty pasta.
Each response was then categorized on a scale ranging from highly positive (with, for example, someone stating, “I would stay well away from the cakes and ice cream”) to highly negative (“I would pig out and eat my portion and my friend’s”).
One year later, the researchers looked at the differences between the women. The results revealed that the women with more positive fantasies had lost, on average, twenty-six pounds less than those with negative fantasies.
So what is the reason for this? Why is it so counter-productive for you to imagine yourself achieving your goals?
Researchers believe that people fantasizing about how great life could be aren’t prepared for the inevitable setbacks that life delivers… that they might be indulging in escapism and become hesitant to put in the effort required for achieving their goals.
Regardless, the research is clear: fantasizing about your perfect world can make you feel better, but is probably not going to help you achieve your goals or help you get thin.
What REALLY Works for Weight Loss
There is a lot on this topic, but I am just going to review three concepts for now. Please use the comment section below to ask questions or to add more techniques validated by research.
Probably the most important aspect of success is a simple thing called “having a plan.” More specifically, people who chunk their goals into ahave a much greater chance of success.
And each step in your fat loss plan needs to be concrete, measurable, and time-based. There are hundreds of studies across multiple contexts that demonstrate this beyond a shadow of a doubt. We will go through some great weight loss plans in future articles.
Another powerful strategy is to share your weight loss goal with everyone you know (family, friends, social media contacts, etc..).
This helps with motivation, as we tend to not want to let other people down or fail in front of them – even though we do not mind internal failure so much. Plus the support from friends doesn’t hurt at all!
The third proven technique is a little tricky based on how I started this article. And that is to remind yourself of the benefits of losing the weight (not to visualize yourself thin.) So you imagine how good you will feel 20 pounds down, or how good you are going to look, or what friends will say.
And in this case, research shows that thinking about the positive consequences of losing weight is far more powerful than thinking about the negative ones. Just remember this is very different from imagining yourself thin… this is thinking about the positive consequences.
More Proven Weight Loss Mental Strategies… Coming Soon!
Well, this post is getting long although I have so much else to share… for future posts!
One thing I will cover later (for example) is how the size of your plate can directly affect your weight loss goals!
If you have a moment, in the comments below, please let me know…
1) Your experience with visualization in the past…
2) Your current weight loss plan, and why it’s been hard/easy to stick to it…and…
3) What you’d like to know more about the “mental” side of weight loss.
Of course, you’re also free to post any other thoughts or questions you might have…I just want to make sure these articles and future content help you as much as possible.
Until Next Time!
Dr. Steven Sisskind, M.D.
1. L. B., & Taylor, S. E. (1999). From thought to action: Effects of process- versus outcome-based mental simulations on performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 250–260.
2. Oettingen, G., & Wadden, T. A. (1991). Expectation, fantasy, and weight loss: Is the impact of positive thinking always positive? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 15, 167–175.