The power of the positive

29 Jan, 2016

Positive thinking is not simply a warm and fuzzy nice idea. It is based on a fundamental psychological principle called "learning theory" and it is how you have learned to do everything you can already do (and that includes putting on weight). Eating food which we don't need (especially sweet and fatty foods) is something we have learned to do over and over again and is a difficult behaviour to change (as we know to our cost). The challenge is to harness the power of this principle to help us lose weight and keep it off!

The basic idea of learning theory is that if you do something and it is "rewarding" (feels good) you are more likely to do it again, and the learning is "re-inforced". A variation is: if you do something and it removes something unpleasant you are also more likely to do it again.

According to this theory: we want to lose weight and know that changing our eating habits will help us lose weight, so losing weight should be re-inforcing. Once you start a diet and stick to it for a week or so and begin to lose weight it should be plain sailing... but somehow it doesn't seem to work like that for most of us. This is partly because eating is often doubly re-inforcing: it both tastes nice at that moment AND it removes a nasty feeling of hunger (or an emotional feeling). Luckily we are thoughtful human beings and not complete automatons: we can look to the future, use our imaginations, and learn purposefully – we are not rats in a maze who cannot outwit their training!

For many things we do there are both long and short term consequences and sometimes the short term one can be positive and the long term one negative. For example, eating a doughnut is often immediately re-inforcing: it tastes nice, doesn't make you feel left out of the group eating doughnuts, distracts from a boring/stressful work day in the short term (and everyone's list will have different things on it). In the long term however it makes you put on weight, is bad for you, and often makes you feel bad about yourself. We need to find ways we can make the long term rewards of not eating the doughnut matter more than the short term rewards of eating it – before we eat it!

Next week, in the fourth and final one of this short series of guest blogs for NC, I will look at some of the practical ways we can use positive thinking to help us achieve our weight loss aims. Stay tuned!

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