We are pleased to bring you this regular column by Dr. David Creel, a licensed psychologist, certified clinical exercise physiologist and registered dietitian. He is also credentialed as a certified diabetes educator and the author of A Size That Fits: Lose Weight and Keep it off, One Thought at a Time (NorLightsPress, 2017).
Do you have a weight loss question for Dr. Creel? Email him at [email protected]. He may answer your question in a future column.
The lemon bar and job loss examples from the last two posts illustrate how our thoughts can impact our immediate emotional reactions to situations. Challenging our thoughts as we would when we talk to a close friend goes a long way toward helping us better manage life and our weight. But some of us have entrenched beliefs that influence our perspectives on many life situations. We may be sensitive to certain conditions that trigger these beliefs. Such thoughts and assumptions are typically about others, ourselves, or the world around us. I’ve alluded to some of these global beliefs throughout the last several chapters. They may include such ideas as:
- People only care about themselves.
- I have to please everyone all of the time or I’m inadequate.
- When people make mistakes they always deserve to be punished.
- Those who care about me won’t ever mistreat me.
The difficult part of each of the above examples is that they’re partly true. People can be selfish, but that doesn’t mean they only care about themselves. It’s also admirable to try to help others and get along with them, but this isn’t always possible. Justice is something we long for, but what about mercy and forgiveness? And isn’t it true that sometimes we can be unkind to those we love? When we hold tightly to the rigid beliefs above, there’s little room to forgive others or accept their help. We hold grudges or perhaps feel lonely as we drown in a sea of self-blame. We are highly sensitive to other people’s selfishness and easily dismiss their acts of kindness. We demand justice and feel perpetually frustrated when our demands aren’t met. We can become people pleasers and expect the same from others.
So how do we handle these or other entrenched core beliefs that cause us distress and impact our physical activity or eating habits? As discussed above, I encourage you to have an internal dialogue with yourself. Be respectful, as though you’re discussing an issue with a friend. Also be direct and include facts rather than feelings. What is the evidence that people only care about themselves? What evidence refutes this belief? How about the idea that people who care about you won’t ever mistreat you? Have you talked to any couples who’ve been married a long time? Have you interviewed people who have great relationships with their adult kids? They would most certainly tell you they have mistreated, or been mistreated, at times by the people they love most. Isn’t there a place for grace and mercy just as there’s a place for working hard to earn something and suffering the consequences when we mess up?
Tackling these emotion-provoking core beliefs can be a challenge. At some point you accepted them as true. But with work, we can change false assumptions and the cascade of thoughts and behavior that emanates from them.
The good news is — altering core beliefs ever so slightly can make a huge difference in how we respond to situations. After some thought and internal conversation, you may come up with alternative core beliefs. The following perspectives are more reality-based and may help you deal with stressful events:
- Most people care about others but still act selfish at times.
- I want to make others happy, but in the end, happiness is a choice.
- Everyone makes mistakes. The timing and severity of consequences aren’t always up to me.
- I won’t be anyone’s doormat, but even people who care deeply about me will occasionally be insensitive to my needs.
Working on your own, you can come up with alternative beliefs the same way we challenged thoughts about eating lemon bars and being laid off.
First, examine an activating event (A) that triggered deep-seated beliefs (B) and your emotions and behavior (C). Perhaps you realize you need to dispute certain core beliefs and make adjustments. Because these beliefs are global and affect large areas of your life, think of them as personal mission statements or proverbs. Continue to evaluate (E) the wisdom of these beliefs as you apply them to hardships and life transitions.