Wednesday, May 1, 2013

when we think we can, we can

Okay, Imma be straight with y’all. I have always thought that the whole ‘power of positive thinking’ thing was kinda bunk. When I first moved to Toronto, I was looking for work and went to meet with a career counsellor at a local employment centre. After I’d told her some of my job-hunting woes, she clapped her hands together and gushed, “Have you read The Secret? You should really read The Secret!”

I didn’t ever go back to that employment centre. I found a job on my own, no mystic juju required.

I don’t know, the whole idea of putting positive thoughts out into the universe or whatever has always been, like, too much for me. Because for one thing it implies that the universe is a conscious sentient thing, and two, implies that it’s taking requests. The universe is not a golden oldies radio station. I don’t think you can just call it up and ask it to play Jailhouse Rock whenever you feel like it.

But over the last year or so, I’ve sort of reversed my position on this. Because what I’ve come to realize is that ‘thinking positive’ isn’t about the universe at all -- it’s about you.

There is a term in psychology called ‘self-efficacy’. Self-efficacy has to do with your belief in your ability to accomplish something.

So, say we’re talking about losing weight. You might believe that it’s possible for OTHER people to lose weight, but not you. You can blame it on any number of things -- fate, bad genes, poor character, limiting circumstances, illness, economics, whatever -- but basically, for one reason or another, you feel you aren’t capable of losing weight. In some cases (like bad genes, injury), you might not feel you can even try, so you don’t even try. In other cases (like bad character), you might believe you can START a weight loss program but that you’ll inevitably abandon it due to your weak will or whatever.

So the more I think about ‘positive thinking’, the more I think it’s just maybe a flightier idea for what ultimately means self-efficacy. You actually do have to believe you can do something before you can do it. Especially something (like weight loss) that requires sustained change efforts and some level of discomfort. Because if you don’t believe something will ultimately change, WHY would you put yourself through the wringer for it? WHY would you pass up delicious cheesecake if you’re just going to stay fat anyway? Might as well be fat WITH cheesecake than fat WITHOUT cheesecake, right?

Self-efficacy can be tough for a few reasons. The first is that we may not even realize we’re lacking it. Contrary to how the media likes to portray us, a lot of overweight people are both competent and confident in many areas of our lives. (Shocking, I know!) Lots of us have our lives pretty much together, and yet wonder why we continue to struggle with this one thing. Self-efficacy (or a lack thereof) can be limited to certain areas of your life, so if you’re an otherwise confident and self-actualizing person, you may have to dig a little before you realize that you maybe DO have some limiting beliefs about your ability to lose weight or change your lifestyle.

The second problem with self-efficacy is that, while you can work to build it up, you can also weaken it. Every time you go on a diet and fail (hello, dozens of times. hello, since I was 10.) you are ‘learning’ that you can’t lose weight. You are weakening your sense of self-efficacy when it comes to weight loss or lifestyle change. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve been doing that over and over and over, since you were 10 or 12 or 14 years old.

This is where I’m at now. I mentioned last week that one of my major sticking points last time I lost weight was that I didn’t ever really believe I’d be able to KEEP it off. I didn’t think I’d ‘changed’ enough. And sure enough, the weight came back. And to be totally honest with you guys (because what’s better than being totally honest with strangers on the internet?) it’s been a really crushing year for my self-esteem. Or should I say, my sense of self-efficacy. I believe on one hand that I CAN still lose weight (I mean, I did it before!) but I really don’t believe, at this moment, that I can keep it off. There is a large part of me that believes I’m ‘meant’ to be this way, or that I’m too ‘damaged’ to be any other way. So any time I try to change how I’m eating or living, I give up very quickly, because I think, “What’s the point? I’m just going to gain it back all over again and it’ll be even MORE humiliating the second time around.”

Andrea’s brain: the home of the good times.

Except somewhere deep inside me there still seems to be a scrappy little fighter. Because I keep coming back. I keep popping up here, even if it’s sporadically. I keep buying diet books. I keep looking for ways to change.

I think there are things you can do to work on developing self-efficacy, but this post is long enough so I want to leave it at that for now.


  1. This is what we try to teach our children in kingergarten.....The Little Engine That Could?

    Seriously, this is a very important issue and I honestly believe it's true...that we can be so confident in so many things and yet fall down with this because we don't believe we can succeed or we are so afraid of failing that we don't really try as hard as if we knew we would be successful.

    When I started running, I was convinced I couldn't run 5k. I ended up turning off the Nike app and just running until I couldn't any more. Then I checked my distance - 7.4k.

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  21. Just wanted to say as a faithful reader of your blogs over the years I seriously miss your regular blogging! You're such a great writer and I find your posts as you work through your thoughts and feelings about life in general very similar to my own. This was one of my fave blogs :)

  22. This was a great post. I feel like you were writing about me and my own situation, and I couldn't have expressed it better. I've been reading your blog for a while and I'm wondering how you are doing. Don't worry if you haven't made any progress in your weight loss, just come back and let us know how you're doing.