One of my friends (let’s call him Jack) has been going through a tough time recently. The company he was working for went bust, and he lost his high-paying job at an investment bank.
Jack’s been very low in confidence. To get himself out of this rut, he’s been reading self-help books. One of the most common suggestions is the use of affirmations. The theory being if you repeat the belief that you wish to create over and over again to yourself, that you will come to believe it.
For instance, to increase confidence, he would say “I am confident” over and over again.
But as time has gone by, despite following the advice Jack’s confidence has not been improving.
Using Behaviour to Improve Confidence
Luckily for him, he knows Dr. K, and behavioural principles can be related to confidence as much as weight loss.
So let’s see how a behavioural approach can be applied to both confidence and weight loss.
What I could see from Jack’s situation was that since losing his job, he had not “completed” anything. He would start things and then give up partway through.
If we relate this back to weight loss, imagine if you have had 20 – 30 years of trying (the average age of my clients is 53, so 30 years of trying to lose weight is extremely common) and failing on all manner of diets, you would also feel quite low in confidence about your ability to lose weight. It’s easy to just say “I give up”.
As Jack had found, the less he completed things, the less confident he felt about being able to complete things. Failure after failure mounted up.
To the point where not only did he not have confidence to complete even minor tasks, but as soon as he even contemplated doing anything, his mind would pipe up with “yeah right”.
This kind of erosion of trust in yourself is the death of confidence.
And of course, this also happens in the area of weight loss. Each time you fail on a diet, it poisons your next weight loss attempt. Soon, you start the next diet fully expecting to fail.
The cumulative effect of lots of failures over years (or decades) creates hopelessness.
The First Step
So the first step with Jack was to get some small track record of success behind him.
If you’re losing weight, this also needs to be a priority.
You have to develop the habit of only making promises to yourself that you know you can keep.
Most people make the mistake of planning drastic overhauls of their diet that they inwardly know they can’t stick with for longer than a few days.
When I’m working with clients, I like to start off with setting such small tasks for them, that the likelihood of them completing the tasks is very high, ideally 100%.
When you set a small goal and complete it, it creates a small ripple of confidence. Do it again and again, and that soon turns into some serious momentum.
For Jack, the first small task was to rewrite his CV for 10 minutes a day over the course of a week.
For my weight loss clients it could be to make some small changes to their breakfast or lunch.
In the beginning, each of these tasks seems too small to be helpful. You could easily say “I’m not going to get to my goal doing this”.
But the point is not to achieve your goal. The point is to:
1. Establish a new experience of setting and completing goals when it comes to weight loss (instead of continually failing)
2. Establish good habits
3. Build momentum. (Momentum is your biggest ally with any goal)
I am the first to agree that one small step on it’s own will not get you to your goal. But it is crucial to creating the right conditions for success to occur.
Completing a few small tasks, helped Jack to experience some small successes, that he could build on and change the momentum in his life.
The Blossoming of Hope
When you have a track record of successfully achieving a few (of even the smallest of) goals, it can be inspiring.
Jack had been on a negative spiral, but had reversed course and now had momentum going with him. Something that seemed impossible a few weeks earlier.
The Next Step
Once you have the track record of success, you can start making the tasks you complete a bit more complicated and a bit more challenging.
Up till now, the tasks were small and helped you build confidence. As the tasks get more and challenging, you can start to really see progress towards your goal.
What you can do now:
If you are low in confidence with weight loss (or anything else), make a plan to do something that you will almost definitely be able to complete.
A good start is to plan to go for a 5 minute walk at lunchtime. If 5 minutes doesn’t happen, don’t despair. Make it 1 minute. It doesn’t matter if it feels ridiculous to set such small goals. This is about creating the habit of setting a goal and DEFINITELY completing it.
Let that be the beginning of a pattern of only making promises that you keep.