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Moving Beyond All-or-Nothing Thinking

One of the first mistakes people make when they fall short of a goal to start exercising or to lose weight is to think, "That's it; I've blown it. I'll never make this work."

But a slip doesn't mean you're a failure.

It's important to understand a slip for what it is: a lapse. You may have fallen a step behind, but your hard work isn't lost. Remind yourself that with a little extra effort, or perhaps a change in your approach, you will be right back on track. It is an important lesson to learn for long-term weight loss success.

When you lapse, it's important to try these strategies:

  • Be honest with yourself. Admit your dietary "sins,"  forgive yourself, and get back on the weight loss track. Figure out exactly how long you've lapsed and think about what knocked you off track.

  • Turn to your supporters. If you've received encouragement from friends or loved ones in the past, now is the time to turn to them for another pep talk.

  • Remember your past successes. Like most people, you've probably made positive changes before. Maybe you cut back on junk food or cut down on the amount of alcohol you drank. Whatever it was, you proved you have what it takes to change for the better.

  • Take small steps. The best way to make lasting change is to begin gradually, reward yourself along the way, and plan for times when you fall behind. This is true whether you're just starting to make changes or are starting again after a lapse.

  • Set specific goals for getting back on target. Studies of human behavior all come to the same conclusion: The more specific your goal, the more likely you are to reach it. Not only will you be more likely to reach your goal, you will be more likely to maintain your goal. Such successes build confidence in a person's belief that the weight loss and maintenance plan is achievable.

  • Start self-monitoring immediately. If you're adding more physical activity to your day, write down every time you exercise or take the stairs, or use a pedometer to measure how many steps you take each day.

  • Reward yourself for getting back on track. A specific reward will focus your commitment and help you over a rough patch.

  • Take one thing at a time. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the demands of work, family, and your own needs. When this happens, take a deep breath and set realistic short-term goals. Put the things that are most important to you at the top of each day's to-do list.

  • Avoid negative messages. Counter any discouraging self-talk — the voices that say things such as "failure," "can't," or "never." Now is the time to replace those pessimistic messages with positive ones. Instead of saying, "I can't stick to my plan," remind yourself that you did fine up to this point, and come up with a plan for what you can do from now on.

  • Focus on your strengths. This is another way to accentuate the positive. Look back over the period when you were doing well. Think about the personal strengths you discovered along the way.