Your Self-Talk Will Tell You Everything You Need to Know
I'd tried everything to keep my meal prep on the rails.
A spreadsheet to calculate my nutrition.
Lists of recipes I could draw from to fill in my meal plan.
Highly-regarded methods, like mis en place, to keep my cooking organized.
And yet, I still wasn't consistently eating healthy. Nor was I serving up the meals that would lead to health for my family.
If I had all these things leaned in my favor, why was my problem becoming coming worse?
Negative Self-Talk is Self Sabatoge
I'm going to be honest: I have a history of negative self-talk.
Those thoughts that seem to bubble up out of nowhere, just to tell me that I can't do it. Or to complain about a problem I just encountered. How much I simply don't enjoy the task at hand.
It wouldn't take long before my train of thought was dragging me down, reducing my desire to continue, and building a procrastination response for the next time.
For many aspects of my life, this was simply the default response. And I had virtually no awareness that I was doing it.
But I was acutely aware that I wasn't reaching my goals, resulting in even more negative self-talk.
Just like meal prep, I had everything I needed.
There was no shortage of information, tools, guides, or even time.
It was my mindset that was holding me back.
What Your Self-Talk is Saying About Your Mindset
Don't get me wrong - I'm a confident, capable guy.
So it came as a huge surprise to me when I realized just how negative my self-talk had become in the kitchen.
Between having our third child, starting a business, and after-school activities, Dina and I have become busier than ever. Cooking doesn't feel easy as it used to be.
And somewhere in there, a part of me has started to believe that I'll never keep up, no matter how hard I try.
And as Carol Dweck, author of Mindset says:
"Whether you believe you can or you can't, you're right."
Our self-talk is simply a reflection of what we believe to be true about ourselves.
In terms of cooking, what I have is called a fixed mindset. I'm stuck as the person I am and unless the circumstances around my problem change, then I'll never make it.
A person with a growth mindset would persist until they succeed. They would have the belief that not only is it possible, they're well on their way to getting there.
As Carol Dweck says in her book, a fixed mindset person says, "I can't do it."
A growth mindset person says, "I can't do it - yet."
Cultivating a Growth Mindset in the Kitchen
Mindset is based on belief of what is possible and a belief is something we learn.
Our brains are constantly building and recreating models of how the world works - whether those models are effective or not.
There is absolutely no value in me believing that I can't maintain healthy cooking long-term. But as far as my brain is concerned, that's reality. And every time I let that negative self-talk run wild, I'm allowing that belief to be reinforced.
That's not something to be ashamed of. I'd wager that we all have this problem in some aspects of our life and we're simply unaware that it's happening.
And even if we are aware, we might not believe it's possible to change it.
I used to have that belief about my ability to learn new things. I have ADHD and elementary school was tough for me.
I didn't want the same future for my kids (ADHD is hereditary), so I made a concentrated effort as an adult to 'learn how to learn'.
And while I really did build skill in learning, the real treasure has been in understanding how the brain learns.
As I mentioned, beliefs are learned - often haphazardly.
I'm going to show you how I train my mind to let go of a limiting belief and replace it with one that empowers me.
Challenging your negative thoughts by writing them down
What I do is take a sheet of paper and draw two columns - one for the negative thoughts that are bound to come up and the other for a positive counter-thought. Earlier this week, I was trying this in the kitchen while making my kid's lunches - generally a low-point in my day. Within minutes, I had a list of recurring negative thoughts. Negative: The kids are distracting me, and I can't get the work done on time. Counter: The kids need help getting organized. After that, I can focus. Negative: They're not going to eat this, so what's the point? Counter: If they're not eating it, they're obviously not hungry. The negative self-talk I was used to simply never took off, and I had an exceptionally relaxed morning. That same feeling has now been carrying on throughout the week. Why does this work? According to Barbara Oakley, author of Mind For Numbers, our brains have two modes of thought - Focused and Diffuse. Focused mode is what I'm using to write this blog post right now. We consciously decide what we're going to focus on. Diffuse mode is an unconscious process, where the brain keeps working on whatever we've deemed important. If you've ever been thinking about a problem, only for the solution to appear out of nowhere when you're in the shower, that's the result of diffuse mode. When we make the effort to write down and counter our negative thoughts, we're inviting our minds to re-calibrate and respond differently next time. We train our minds to work for us, rather than against us.
Mindset Matters More Than Technique
Whether your goal is, your mindset matters - a lot.
For me, the sheer thought of planning next week's meals brings up a raft of negative thoughts and feelings:
"Ugh... this is going to be exhausting"
"That's going to be a long grocery list. When am I even going to shop?"
"How should I know what to plan for next week Thursday? Who knows if I'll even be in the mood for that!"
Here's the thing:
A lot of us know exactly what we need to do. We even know how to do it.
But it's incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve a goal if you don't have the right mindset.
What's interesting is that since I started writing this post and challenging my self-talk in the kitchen, I've already started to feel like my success is inevitable.
Hope and optimism are like plants - if you keep putting them in the shade, they'll wither. Give them sunlight and they flourish.
If your best laid plans keep failing, I encourage you to give this a try.
And if you find success or have overcome this problem in the past, please share your story!