We all love a good success story, don’t we? Hearing how someone dropped 70 pounds. Or got super fit. Or ditched their meds. They make it look so easy. Heck, all you have to do is clear out the pantry and stock it with primal-friendly foods and you’re golden.
Except that’s not how it works for most people. Most people operate from a point of view that prevents them from seeing the results they’re working so hard to obtain. How many times have you said to yourself, “I’ll be happy once I’m wearing a smaller size.” Or “When I lose the weight, I’ll be more confident.”
It’s time we change the conversation from “when I achieve my goal, I’ll feel good” to “when I start feeling good, I can achieve my goal.” Your thoughts are the biggest needle-mover when it comes to changing your reality. If you want a different life, a different pant size, a different relationship with food, you need to adjust your thoughts.
Easier said than done, right? If you’re new to this whole your-thoughts-create-your-reality thing, let me start by saying that it’s not your fault if you believe you really hate exercising or that you’re destined to battle sugar cravings for the rest of your days. We all have self-limiting beliefs. Even health coaches like me. As humans, we’re wired to create narratives based on pieces of information we picked up from childhood, from our family, friends, or our environment, about ourselves or how things are supposed to be. These narratives become a form of our identity. So, while you may believe you couldn’t cut out pizza and beer if your life depended on it, just know that it’s your belief system calling the shots, not the truth.
Why Self-Efficacy and Visualization Work
Every thought you think and action you perform is driven by a belief that a certain outcome is — or isn’t — possible. Psychologist Albert Bandura originally proposed the concept of self-efficacy, which refers to the idea that if you believe you can make a change, you’re much more likely to actually do it.1
Looking at challenging problems as tasks that can and should be mastered
Developing a deeper, more committed interest in the activities you participate in
Feeling a dedication to yourself and to your goals that doesn’t waver, even when the going gets tough
Having the ability to get back on track quickly after experiencing a setback
Based on this premise, author James Clear developed a concept he calls identity-based habits. It’s basically the idea that if you believe you’re the type of person who eats healthy or moves daily, it’s easier to change your behaviours, than say forcing yourself to pass on the rolls or go to the gym when you don’t want to.
And then there’s visualization. Long used by athletes, from weekend racers to Olympic gold medalists, visualization is a technique where you spend time practicing experiencing whatever it is that you want to achieve in your mind. That includes the big things like crossing the finish line, and smaller details like lacing up your shoes when it’s miserable out.
When you actively visualize what you want for yourself (and believe you can have it), you’ll start to notice more opportunities — and you’ll be more likely to persevere when things aren’t all rainbows and sunshine. According to the psychoneuromuscular theory, your neural pathways get programmed the same way whether you’re mentally performing an action or physically performing it.2
Mental Power to Muscle Power
You’ve probably noticed times when your thoughts produce a physical reaction. Think about when you get nervous. Maybe you get a pit in your stomach or get “butterflies” when you’re excited, or your shoulders get tense when you feel stressed.
There are tons of studies that prove the power of the mind, including one published in Human Kinetics Journals, where researchers looked at the electromyographical activity (EMG) of 22 male and 17 female weightlifters and found that their muscles were activated (and their strength increased) just by imagining lifting weights.3
And in another study, where two groups were asked to perform “mental contractions” of their finger and elbow, while one group did the physical equivalent. Over the course of 12 weeks, the first two groups had increased their strength by up to 35% just by imagining doing the exercises, versus a 53% increase with the folks who performed them physically.4
How to Create a Believe-It-To-See-It Mindset
Call it visualization, creation, or self-efficacy, the point is, your mind is an amazing tool for laying the groundwork for the life you want. If you’re open to the idea that you can believe it before you see it, check out these steps:
Get Out of Autopilot Mode.
Our brains have an unconscious system for completing routine tasks. It’s just one of the ways it keeps us safe from being overloaded with decisions. The problem is, when we’re not consciously aware of what we’re doing (or what we’re thinking), we’ll keep doing and thinking the same thing day after day, which makes it hard to see anything that differs from your current reality.TRY THIS: Next time you’re about to perform a routine task, such as brushing your teeth or scrolling social media, use your non-dominant hand. This helps you stay in the moment and see things in different ways.
Rehearse it Mentally.
This isn’t about daydreaming that you won the lottery or that you crossed the finish line at Boston. This is about mentally walking through the steps (and the ups and downs that might transpire) that get you to your goal. Basically, it’s a way to convince yourself in the safety of your mind that you are prepared for anything that might happen.TRY THIS: If weight loss is your goal, rehearse prepping a healthy breakfast when you’re short on time or navigating a party with limited food options. If your goal is to have more confidence, rehearse meeting new people — and feeling great about the interaction.
Take Aligned Action.
Once you start believing that you can lose the weight, or talk to strangers in line at the store, or run a PR, you’ll instinctively want to act. Because you’ve seen it in your mind — and your neural pathways have started to become programmed as if you’ve been doing it — the steps you need to take will feel easier and more natural.TRY THIS: Begin with baby steps. Instead of focusing on the end goal, get present and check off the small tasks, like lacing up your running shoes in the morning, sitting down for an epic protein-packed breakfast, or asking a complete stranger how their day is going.
It All Starts with Believing
If you’ve been operating from the point of view that you need to see to believe (and not getting the results you want), consider a different tactic. One that gets you tapped into the high vibrating feeling of achieving your goal by following these steps:
Get out of autopilot mode
Rehearse it mentally
Take aligned action
What about you? Do you need to see it first? Or are you all-in on believing?
About the Author
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.