When it comes to your health, self-care, relationships, your happiness and wellbeing, there’s only one thing that drives it all – yes, the link is what you think.

Try to imagine an emotion – happiness, sadness, worry, calm, fear, anger, love – without a thought first creating it. It can’t be done. Every emotion you have first begins in your head.

So when a young man who was having difficulty sustaining his exercise program recently contacted me to discuss his lack of motivation, naturally the first place we collaboratively explored was what he was thinking about working out. And to do so thoroughly, we relied upon the lens provided by David Burns. MD in 1980 bestseller, Feeling good: The new mood therapy

You see, creating a positive approach to exercise – or eating healthy, achieving success, being productive or any healthy lifestyle goal – doesn’t ordinarily come naturally. It’s a decision you make, daily. When you get your mindset moving in the right direction, so will your life. I have yet to see someone, in my 40 years of practice as a psychotherapist and transformational behavior coach, who has not created his/her own obstacles when it comes to living an optimally healthy lifestyle.

So when David Burns came out with his list of cognitive distortions decades ago, it disrupted the way we collaboratively helped people begin to change their mindset and move towards success in the goals they created. Step one is to recognize the lens through which you are looking at, let’s say, working out (but it can be any endeavor of life). Read through the list below and see if any sound familiar to you. Do any of these sound like what floats in your head?

  • All-or-nothing thinking: You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories.
    “If I can’t do ALL of the reps in the set, I’m not cut out to do ANY exercise.”
  • Overgeneralization: You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
    “Since I couldn’t get the lunges right today, I’ll NEVER be good at them.”
  • Mental filter: You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives.
    “I may have been able to hold a plank for 30 seconds but so what? I can’t do a single leg glute bridge at all!”
  • Discounting the positives: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities “don’t count.”
    “BIG DEAL…I walked on the treadmill for 30 minutes. That’s nothing.”
  • Jumping to conclusions: (a) Mind reading — you assume that people are reacting negatively to you when there’s no evidence for this. (b) Fortune-telling — you arbitrarily predict that things will turn out badly.
    “I CAN TELL that you think I’m doing a lousy job.”
    “I KNOW THAT I’LL fall and hurt myself in these plyometric jumps you want me to do”
  • Emotional reasoning: You reason from how you feel:
    “I FEEL LIKE I look like an idiot doing these reverse flyes with supine 90-90s, so I must really be one.” Or “I don’t feel like exercising today, so I’ll put it off.”
  • “Should” statements: You criticize yourself with “shoulds” or “shouldn’ts.” “Musts,” “oughts,” and “have-tos” are similar offenders.
    “I SHOULD BE ABLE to do a kneeling overhead toss without falling over.”
  • Labeling: You identify with your shortcomings. Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself “I’M SUCH A JERK,” or “a fool” or “a loser.”
    “I dropped the barbell when I was doing a bent-over barbell row – UGH I’M SUCH A JERK AND A LOSER!”
  • Magnification or minimization: You blow things way up out of proportion or you shrink their importance inappropriately.
    “OMG that set KILLED ME!” or “Skipping working out is NOT THAT IMPORTANT.”
  • Personalization and blame: You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that your own attitudes and behavior might contribute to a problem.
    “Hey I’m so SORRY I RUINED THE GROUP’S WORKOUT today.” “I can’t stand working out with those people…THEY DESTROY MY CONCENTRATION!”

Next, ask yourself if there’s any degree of truth to your thoughts? Believing these irrational, erroneous thoughts cause you to suffer, let alone stay away from your goals. You are not your thoughts. You can tell if your thoughts are false if you feel sabotaged, or feel badly or don’t like the emotion you feel.

Then, reject those thoughts. After all what would you tell a friend about those thoughts if s/he were carrying them around derailing life’s joys and health?

Finally replace the thoughts with those that are more accurate, logical, and factual, that promotes and advances you towards your goals. Replacing these erroneous inaccurate thoughts, choosing to be positive, will determine how you live your life going forward.

The more you talk negatively to yourself and about yourself, the more you call that into your life and you talk yourself out of your happiness, health, career advancement, even going to the gym. Speak in terms of victory, not defeat and watch your life take off – and those abs turn into the six packs you’ve been talking yourself out of ever having.