What leads to success at weight loss and long-term weight management? According to research, the psychological component of the puzzle involves three things: self-efficacy, self-monitoring, and support—the Three S’s of Success. Let’s take a look at what these three concepts look like in real life, and how you can make them part of your own weight management toolkit.
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Self-Efficacy: The Crucial Ingredient
Self-efficacy is the belief that you can do what is required of you to achieve an objective. Self-efficacy is to successful weight management as the best start in a 2-yard dash is to winning the race—without it, you’re in big trouble. If you lack self-efficacy, you might not be able (or willing) to put in the sustained effort required to lose weight and keep it off permanently. But when you do have self-efficacy, you’ll be able to view the little setbacks and bad days as interesting challenges to overcome. And more importantly, you’ll be able to transform these experiences into opportunities to learn more about yourself and become increasingly more skillful—instead of watching helplessly as problems erode your motivation to continue.
For now, we’ll assume that your sense of self-efficacy regarding permanent weight loss is not very high. Maybe you’ve lost and regained weight so many times that you can’t honestly tell yourself you can keep it off and really believe it. Maybe you have a tendency to begin diets with high expectations and great intentions, hoping for that magic ingredient, but give up quickly when you realize it isn’t going to be as easy as you thought. Or maybe you have one particular habit—like emotional eating or lack of exercise—you haven’t been able to get a handle on, no matter what you’ve tried. What can you do now to increase your sense of self-efficacy, and move past these problems?
Start by recognizing that self-efficacy comes easily and naturally to human beings. It is part and parcel of our innate programming that allows (and even drives us) to master developmental tasks from infancy through old age. Learning from our experiences and adjusting our behaviors accordingly is a natural process. We have to learn how to let our failures and difficulties get the best of us—that’s what doesn’t come naturally. How many kids do you know who let a few falls prevent them from learning to walk?
Some life experiences can make it more difficult for a person to develop a conscious and realistic sense of self-efficacy in one or more areas of adult life. This does not mean your capacity to do so is gone forever—you may just need to go out of your way to reconnect this innate ability to your weight loss efforts.