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“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale
“I’m making progress,” I exhaled with a smile when I saw the number on the scale dip lower.
Three more pounds. Progress!
And then I really thought about it. Progress seems like such a happy, positive word. It was a thought that quickly turned into the following inner dialogue: “Yes, Kim, you’ve made progress…you’ve made yourself smaller,” which of course hit me in all the wrong places.
Weight control and fitness are wonderful things. Self-care and respecting the bodies we’re given are certainly a part of the quest for well-being. But worrying about a number on a scale and letting it dictate our moods and the feelings we have about ourselves is decidedly not part of solving the happiness puzzle.
It’s the piece that doesn’t fit.
The word “progress” is used a lot with weight loss. “Progress, not perfection” seems to be an enduring motto. But progress is not always about pounds and inches lost—it can be about what we gain when we grow in self-awareness by changing the way we think to bring balance to our lives.
There are other ways to measure progress when it comes to our health that have nothing to do with how much we weigh.
We can benchmark improvements by answering the following questions:
Do we make mindful or mindless decisions? The decisions we make every day affect us in every way. Healthy lifestyle progress is about choosing to be mindful with most of our exercise and food decisions. Something as simple as drinking water instead of juice or sports drinks, or parking further away from the entrance of a building can make a difference. Getting up and walking around the office once every hour helps too.
When mindful decisions (large and small) become the norm in our lives, it changes our detrimental habits over time, and these good changes are proof that we are making progress.
Do we choose ourselves or do we choose others? How often do we say yes to plans we’re not really excited about? We do things to get them over with, or because our friends persuade us by employing tactics that include guilt and “FOMO.” We don’t want to miss out or disappoint our buddies, so we stretch ourselves too thin, and in the process, we lose respect for ourselves and our own time. Saying no (sometimes) is how we make our health a priority.
Do we heal or fester? How we process and handle emotional reactions to our life circumstances and painful experiences can be the biggest measure of progress. Inner pain often holds hands with unhealthy eating and exercise habits. Seeking treatment for new ways to cope (instead of continuing to ignore our harbored feelings and allowing them to grow bigger) helps us change from within.
Do we put ourselves down or lift ourselves up? Negative self-talk is the glue that keeps us stuck inside the cycle of stagnancy. In other words, it’s not progression. When we stop beating ourselves up over every little thing, and replace it with pep talks instead, we start to see ourselves differently—as functioning adults in charge of all decisions when it comes to our own care and keeping.
Simply saying thank you to a compliment instead of a self-deprecating joke is progress. Cutting ourselves some slack when we make mistakes means we are gaining a healthier perspective about our own expectations surrounding the idea of perfection. Becoming our own motivational speaker instead of a constant critic helps us along the way to better health.
Do we communicate or stay silent? Communicating our feelings surrounding hunger, anger, fear, loneliness, and fatigue is one of the keys to progress when it comes to a healthier lifestyle. What is it that we are really feeling? When we say it out loud, we give it a name. When what we are feeling deep down is identified, it becomes less powerful. It weakens and ceases to thwart our efforts.
Do we place blame or do we hold ourselves accountable? When our habits go awry, what do we do? Do we point our finger and blame it on outside influences or people instead owning our choices? “How could I say no? Those cupcakes looked so good and he worked so hard on them!” or “It’s not my fault I have no time to exercise, I’m just too busy at work!”
Progress can be about recognizing when we are making excuses for our habits and actions (or inaction as the case may be). Progress is mostly about being honest with ourselves.
We can gauge healthy progress in ways that don’t include a scale to become whole, happy human beings. When we are not ruled by digits or a dial, we create a more balanced approach toward our well-being, and we realize that progress within the weight loss and maintenance equation isn’t merely about a decreasing number.
Progress is how we think, how we answer certain questions, and ultimately how we choose to answer them.