Break your bad thinking habits

A lot of this blog focuses on cultivating good habits and getting rid of the nasty ones.  We do this mostly by analyzing our behavior, by thinking up new strategies, and by moving forward with constant awareness.   Constant analysis and reevaluation is important.  I stand by that.

Sort of.

Because constant analysis also means that we spend a lot of time thinking.  About food. Why did I binge?  How can I recover?  Why do I feel bad about myself?  How do I turn that around?  We use our brains a lot – which I will never say is a bad thing — but in search of psychological freedom, we eventually have to learn how to plain old let go.

Sometimes, what we need is to use our brains less.

I’ve often entertained the idea that the healthiest relationship with food is defined by not thinking about food.  I find this to be more and more true over time.  I’ve talked with a lot of you who feel similarly.  If I’m not thinking about food, I’m not obsessing over it.  I’m being natural.  I’m being instinctive.  I’m being spontaneous.  And I’m being… well, free.   Most of us envy this state.  We see it as a distant goal. And, honestly, for as long as I’ve been wrestling with food and with these health/body image/diet issues, it’s continued to be a distant goal for me.

My point being: I have broken bad habits with the power of thought.  However, a lot of the mental anguish is still hanging around.  I feel deprived, I ache for foods, I hate my body for not being able to metabolize sweet potatoes without making me balloon… Moreover, I plan every day super carefully, strategizing the best way to maximize my enjoyment of food while still clinging on to self-esteem, worrying about being too hungry or not hungry enough… generally I feel fine, and I act fine, but on occasion… I want all of the thoughts… about food, about my body and about my worth to just fucking go away.

So, what now?

Just do it.

Stop your negative or obsessive thoughts.  Just– stop. Never let your brain go to a negative place.  When you feel it coming, derail it.  Distract it.  I find that a lot of the success I experience these days comes from my ability to shut off thoughts before they really get going.  Shut it off and walk away.  Don’t let yourself think about your last binge or your thighs or tomorrow’s food at all.  Promise yourself you can dwell on it later if you want, but for right now, you are in this very present moment, and you are being good and psychologically, and everything be damned if you’re going to let thoughts that are nothing but bad habits keep messing up your life.

Because they are habits.  We have conditioned ourselves to think certain ways about ourselves and the world just by a matter of practice.  You can try and think your way past your negative thoughts all you want, but when it comes down to it, you’re still obsessing over them.  Positivity is enormously important.  But it’s not the only way to play the game.   This is just like the “throw a towel over the mirror” strategy.  Don’t look.  Don’t think.  Distract yourself.  Say “no” fiercely and deny your brain the ease of old thought patterns.

Shutting down certain thought patterns helps me feel better, and it also helps me point blank stop eating and stop having cravings.  Is something coming on?  Am I about to get really bored and start grazing?   Have I just subconsciously walked into the kitchen?  Immediately I recognize the urge coming.  Nope!  Gone.  It’s like… here’s a good example. I used to think about dying when I went to sleep at night, and it gave me panic attacks.  Panic attacks are really unpleasant, so it became supremely important that I learn how to turn off that thought process. Now, when I see the thought of death coming– sort of by predicting the path of my future thoughts– I just force my brain to go in another direction.   So.  It’s hard.  It’s definitely hard.  But practice turning it off.   Say no and turn it around and think about something else you like.  Like sex!  Or men!  Or the novel you’re currently reading!  Anything.  I promise, I promise, I promise: take charge of your brain.  Deny it wallowing.  Exercise your will in this way. Decrease the amount of negative feelings you have, Liberate your brain for better thoughts, and recondition yourself to obsess less.

Sometimes I think keeping a leash on our brain is all that we really need to get through this.  The name of the game here is psychological freedom, so what we need is to be in control, and to only permit ourselves to think things we enjoy thinking.   This isn’t always the wisest strategy, since we do need to think through problems, but once resolved, we’ve just got to let them go.  A large percentage of my readership is composed of perfectionists.  Perfectionists tend to seek out weak spots and dwell on them, push themselves inordinately hard, and punish themselves unduly.   This is not the way to happiness. Instead, just be good to yourself and stop nitpicking and breathe.  “Wake up, regain your humor,” says the Way of the Peaceful Warrior.  “Do not worry, you are already free!”




You might also like:

About The Author


Other posts by

Author his web site


04 2011

5 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. Marian #

    Another great post! I’ve been focusing on healing my self-image lately, and taking baby steps. I decided that although I may still think terrible things about myself (I’m fat, ugly, old) – the thoughts will NOT come out of my mouth. I noticed that I have a habit of putting myself down to other people, especially people I’ve just met. It’s like I’m telling them “I know that my faults are x, y and z so I am going to put them out on the table so that YOU know that I know. At least you won’t think I’m x, y and z plus crazy/delusional.” I realized that I’m driving people away from me with this behavior, which is the last thing I want. Changing my behavior has started to change my thoughts!

    There’s a saying in 12 Step programs that you should “act as if” until you get to where you want to be. Acting “as if” I am somehow a defective human being hasn’t been working too well for me so far (LOL). So I decided to act “as if” I am the most fascinating and attractive person in the room.

  2. 2

    Hiya! I’m one of your perfectionist readers and I love your posts. I agree about finding something else to think about besides food/hunger. I recently wrote a post on my own blog about a run I had where I was hungry but was able to ignore it because a more pressing matter arose to my mind. It’s tough because my nature is to embrace a challenge, immerse myself in it, and come out “strong” by sheer force of will. Thanks for your great blog!

  3. Anthony #

    Great post. I really appreciate your taking the time on it. I have been battling with these same issues for years, and I have started doing some of the things you recommend here! You’re right, it is really hard to change habits, but mental habits are like reflexes and are much much harder to change because you go to those places without even thinking about it. But being vigilantly conscious of it and redirecting your mind does over time create new habits, and eventually you’re in a new, healthier, grounded default position. I have used this technique for anxiety, depression and food and it really works. Since going paleo, people always ask me about cravings and temptations, but I just say I don’t acknowledge them and the just look at me like I’m speaking Chinese!! It is very empowering to know I can control my mind, and don’t have to be led by it!!

  4. Liocha #

    Hey I’m a new London follower of your blog. Just to say that I love how you write and how you go straight to the point every time. ‘Turning off’ our brains is definitely necessary in those crazy times. Meditation has been of great help to me to deal with this issue. We have to understand that we do not bear the responsibility of how the world turned out to be and that we’re all in this together. Choosing your dietary patterns – i.e. ‘becoming’ Paleo or Vegetarian – is a luxury that educated people have, even though half of the planet eats rice and does not complain neither measure its body fat percentage… To deal with cravings you might have heard of Tim Ferris’ ‘off-days’. He basically follows a modified Paleo Diet (by allowing certain soaked legumes) but allows himself one ‘binge day’ per week. According to him it even leads to more efficient weight loss. Agree or disagree, the weight loss is not the point. I think this ‘day off’ is a great way to be resilient and take a step back from time to time. I’ve been doing it for the past 2 months and feel great. Thanks for your articles and keep up the great work! Peace.

    • pepper #

      London! Huzzah! I love geographical diversity. Welcome. :)
      Re: meditation. Awesome. Re: Tim Ferris. I guess it’s a matter of what works for you. I’ve found that the “cheat” mentality is not a good strategy for me and for a fair number of the people with whom I work/speak. Cheat days tend to make people fantasize about the forbidden foods… in general I try to encourage people not to forbid any foods at all, and rather to just.. haha. To consistently gently say no, and then to be okay with delineation from time to time. Plus, including “cheating” emphasizes the deprivation aspect of the diet, which is something I try really hard to avoid. I think you’re totally right that we have to let ourselves eat “the bad stuff” but I think it’s definitely a matter of finding the best way to think about those things for each person. For example: I had a couple pina coladas (no, I am not embarrassed by this :) ) on Friday night. Was it a cheat? I guess you could put it that way. But to me it was just a normal part of my healthy lifestyle. So perhaps you and I are on the same page but just use different terminology.

Your Comment