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Setting positive goals and using visualization helps – if you understand the root of their problem

Faith Wood

At a recent dinner meeting, conversation surrounded weight loss and aging.

One of the men said he wanted to lose weight. He admitted he didn’t feel very positive about it – he’d been sticking to a spartan diet for months and exercised regularly but just didn’t seem to be able to shift it. He was convinced his metabolism had simply abandoned him after turning 60.

He said, “Deep down, I don’t really believe I’ll be able to do it.”

I noticed the language he was using to describe his situation. Mind and body are one system, and how people talk about problems, goals, and desires can reveal how they think about them. The way one thinks about a problem will determine the results one gets.

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This is as true for weight loss as it is for any assumptions we have about our ability to solve problems.

So I asked him why he felt like that. Asking why is not something I advocate very often since it most often gets folks defending their position. But, in these situations, a why question is great for revealing the speaker’s internal story about their problem.

“I just can’t see myself being slim,” he said.

Instantly, I knew what the problem was.

One of the most valuable things I have ever learned in all my training classes is to take people literally. He could not create a mental image of himself being the size and shape he wanted. He felt stuck.

In truth, the human nervous system is goal-seeking and will move toward whatever goals you program into it.

The goal he’d been using – “I want to lose weight” – presents several problems:

  • He was saying what he didn’t want: weight.

Negatives are processed differently by neurology than they are in language (if I say, “Don’t imagine a bacon sandwich,” you have to imagine it to understand what I’ve said). By setting his goal of losing weight, he has to think about weight.

  • People don’t like to lose things!

We’ve been conditioned since childhood not to lose things and, if we do, to find them. Stating his goal this way and not having a mental image of himself being slim, fit and healthy meant he kept getting what he didn’t want.

So I first asked: “When was the last time you felt slim and could you picture that body image today?”

I then said something like: “Just see yourself being the size and shape you want to be, and feel how good that will feel to see yourself in the mirror, looking so good, and to hear those appreciative comments from others and yourself, about how good you feel being fit and healthy.”

Then I suggested he could spend some time over the next few days imagining himself being the size and shape he wanted to be and imagining how good it would be to feel the way he remembered feeling.

A few days later, he sent me a note to say that his weight had started to come off. He jokingly accused me of giving him some magic potion.

I think he gave me too much credit.

There’s a valuable lesson here about setting positive goals and visualization, but there’s also deeper learning. In the past, if someone had said, “I just can’t see myself being slim,” I would have taken it as a metaphorical statement and tried to convince them that they could.

But when you take people literally, they reveal a world of information about what’s going on inside them.

An instructor once told me, “People will tell you everything you need to know in the first minute.” Of course, you need to be open to hearing it and ask the questions that get at the key information.

So what belief might be programming the outcome of any problem you face?

Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.

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The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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