So let’s talk about how to do that retraining. Because our tendency is to focus on the negative, it can be difficult for us to see the positive even when it’s right in front of us. It’s like panning for gold. When you first fill up that panning sieve, all you can see is dirt. It isn’t until you wash it, shake it, and sift the dirt out, that the gold shines through for you to see.
As an example, what follows is part of a discussion that took place in The Main Meal Weight Management Support Group. I have summarized the conversation here with permission from the group member, and I’ve changed his name for privacy purposes.
I started off asking the group what would be a golden nugget worthy of a reward for them. Some of the responses were bending over to pick up what I dropped without thinking about it and without discomfort; getting to the top of the stairs without needing to stop half way; needing to cinch my belt tighter than last week. Then this happened:
Charles: Being able to control myself where certain sweets are concerned would be a win, but I’m not there yet. Jellybeans are a bad choice for me, unless they come in a very small package. If I buy the small package from the convenience store, then I’m okay. When I buy the big bag at the grocery store, because it’s cheaper to buy them that way, I might intend to divide them up, but I can’t stop eating them. I haven’t gotten to the place where I can have a ‘normal’ portion and leave the rest alone until the next day.
Betty: Would it be a win if you chose to spend the extra money and only bought them in the smaller package?
Charles: Oh! Yes! When it comes to sweets I cannot stop and that behavior does not serve me. It requires a conscious choice. Owning that, and acting on that feels great! To know who I am - I’m not bad because I’m a sweet-a-holic. I have a problem with this. I know how to deal with that problem. That feels like a victory!!
What happened here is that Charles led with his golden nugget, that he could buy jellybeans in small packages, but he put it aside and focused on his inability to limit himself when he had access to the larger bag. All he could see was that he had no self-control. What I saw was that he had, at times, bought a small package of jellybeans and he actually enjoyed that small amount and went on with his day without craving more.
We had to wash away his focus on the behavior he felt he couldn’t control and shift his focus to the skill he already had developed. He knew how to limit his intake of jellybeans. He hadn’t recognized that skill as worthy of reward until we had this conversation.
This is not unique to Charles. It’s typical of all of us. We feel our lack and inability much more intensely than we celebrate our skills and achievements. So, we have to sift through our thoughts and our actions to find the golden nuggets that reside within us, just waiting to be found and rewarded.
Sometimes we can do this for ourselves. When I find myself feeling frustrated, discouraged, and powerless, whether it’s to do with food/eating or any other area of my life, I take a deep breathe and try to step back from the situation. I know and believe that I have choices in everything and by making those choices consciously, I step into my power. So, I try to look at the situation I’m in more clearly.
What is it that I feel frustrated about? Why do I feel powerless? What do I think I have no choice about? Asking those questions is my way of beginning to pour water on the situation to wash out the mud. Then I start sifting by asking what can I do in this situation? What have I done in the past that could work for me right now? What skills do I already have that could make this easier and more rewarding for me?
Quite often, just asking those questions and answering them honestly does it for me. I find the gold within myself, the skills and abilities I thought I lacked. And I only thought I lacked those abilities because I hadn’t honored them or celebrated them on a regular basis. I forgot how capable I was because I had buried my memory of those skills under the mud and grit of negative thinking.
Almost as often, I need help. I can’t get the distance and perspective because I’m too close to the situation. In those cases, I find a trusted friend to talk it out with. In the same way I heard and saw Charles’ golden nugget at the very beginning of our conversation, I need someone else who can see me more clearly than I can see myself.
Naturally, you want this friend to be supportive and kind. It’s not helpful to go to someone who will only make you feel more inadequate and helpless either by the actual response they give you or by the way they deliver the message. Maybe it’s not a friend or anyone you know in person who can give you the perspective you need. Maybe you have found an online community that is supportive and kind. Maybe you have a counselor or spiritual advisor who provides a safe and loving environment for you to express your vulnerability.
No matter where or how we find our safe environment, we all need support. We were not meant to walk through our challenges alone. We all need an ally to walk by our side and give us encouragement when we can’t find it by ourselves. Like I said in “The Main Meal: The New Perspective on Weight Loss” this is a game of solitaire, but it should never be played alone. We have to do our own internal work. We have to be willing to look inside ourselves and find those golden nuggets. But we also need support and encouragement so we keep washing, shaking, and sifting until that gold catches the light of day and shines within us!