Employing life skills for weight-loss motivation
by Karen R. Koenig —
You may think food is your main problem, but it is not. Rather, food is the misguided solution to your real difficulties and, over the years, misguided eating has morphed into a whopper unto itself. The truth is, your problem is that you never learned the skills and strategies necessary to live effectively and successfully.
Think about it: Skills are necessary for employment, relationships, parenting, living in a community, play and recreation, driving a car and balancing your checkbook. No activity I can think of precludes having some degree of competence — not even tying your shoes.
So, agreed — everyone needs life skills. The bad news is that simply wishing for them will not make them magically appear. The good news is that these skills can be learned at any age, at any time. We all continue to learn them to one degree or another as we muddle along; so join the crowd.
What are these must-have life skills? They are a set of universal competencies we all need to learn and practice to get the best out of life, rather than letting life get the best of us. Call them strategies or methods; tactics, tools or techniques; competencies or abilities. What they boil down to are the essential maneuvers human beings must employ to successfully engage with life.
Specifically, here are the five basic life skills that span every culture, as identified by the World Health Organization’s Department of Mental Health: (1) decision making and problem solving, (2) creative and critical thinking, (3) communication and interpersonal skills, (4) self-awareness and empathy, and (5) coping with emotions and stress.
I have taken the liberty of devising skill sets targeted to an audience of troubled eaters and focusing on the expertise they often lack regarding: (1) wellness and physical self-care, (2) handling emotions, (3) living consciously, (4) building and maintaining relationships, (5) self-regulation, (6) problem solving and critical thinking, (7) setting and reaching goals, and (8) balancing work and play.
So, how does motivation affect your ability to learn life skills? This is probably a good time to stop and consider how motivated you are to acquire the skills you are missing. Are you psyched, ambivalent, begrudgingly willing or mildly enthusiastic, or do you feel as if you are dragging yourself through the learning process kicking and screaming? How does your drive level affect your ability to learn? What could you do to ratchet up your motivation? What do you suppose will happen if your enthusiasm remains low or wanes?
Here are three steps to increase and sustain motivation:
Step 1. Recognize why you are not chomping at the bit, ready to add new competencies to your repertoire, especially ones that not only will help you have a more positive relationship with food but also will undoubtedly enhance many areas of your life. Maybe you are scared that you will not succeed in learning them and that since you have already failed at reaching life goals so many times, you do not want to even bother trying.
If so, let me assure you that as long as you have at least mid-level intelligence, there is nothing stopping you but a fear of failure — that is, there is no earthly reason why you cannot learn these skills over time. We are not talking quantum physics here, but the everyday actions that you see being taken by intimates and strangers. So if you fear you will not succeed, lay that misconception to rest. Most important, push that fear out of your mind, because the one reason — the sole reason — you might fail is the belief that you will.
Step 2. Focus on what learning life skills will get you. Break down the rewards, rather than saying, “I will eat better” or “I will be happier.” What do those words really mean in concrete terms?
Write down 10 specific changes that will happen when you have improved your life skills, such as: “I will choose more appropriate friends; I will not turn to food so much when I am stressed; I will be better able to handle distressing emotions and make wiser decisions; I will treat myself better and will not feel so bored and dissatisfied with life.” See what I mean? Get down to specifics so you can keep in mind the rewards you will reap by sticking with the learning process.
Step 3. Stop thinking you have to learn all your skills perfectly — and right this minute. Instead, plan on letting the process inch along slowly but steadily. Helpful mantras include: “Baby steps, nothing but baby steps” and my favorite, “I am doing the best I can, and that is all I can do.”
Perfection and impatience are the enemies of progress. They are the attitudes that will most likely make you think you cannot learn and, therefore, cause you to stop trying. Expect learning to be frustrating, slow and incremental, and you will not be disappointed. Cultivate realistic optimism that says your competence and expertise will come in good time — not in a short time.
Think of yourself as entering college or a training program. In your first semester, everything will be a bit new and mind boggling, and you might feel lost at sea, thinking you will never catch on to what you are supposed to learn. That is what the first semester is all about — learning how to learn — in terms of setting expectations and knowing how to pace yourself.
You would not expect to know as a freshman all that seniors know, would you? OK then, acknowledge that you are at the beginning of learning, not at the end, and do not fault yourself for not getting things right away. You are not supposed to; nor is anyone else. Remember that learning is a process, not an event.
Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, MEd, is the author of Outsmarting Overeating: Boost Your Life Skills, End Your Food Problems, as well as five other books about eating and weight. A psychotherapist, eating coach and speaker, she has been working with troubled eaters for more than 30 years. karenrkoenig.com.
Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 35, Number 1, February/March 2016.