BrainThere’s a saying that weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise. I disagree. It’s 30% diet, 20% exercise, and 50% mental training.

Think about it. We didn’t get fat by thinking thin thoughts. When I was 267 pounds my first thought in the morning was “What am I going to eat today?” If I saw that donuts were on sale I’d think, “Two for one, what a bargain! I can’t miss out on a bargain like that!” If someone invited me to go on a hike I’d think,”What are they, crazy? I’m not one of those outdoorsy people!”

Of course that way of thinking is pure sabotage for someone on a weight loss journey. I believe the most important muscle we must build as we lose weight is our brain. Too many of us are “repeat Weight Watchers” or yo-yo dieters. Why? Because we haven’t mentally trained ourselves not to think like the fat people we once were. And it takes time to re-train our brains–which is why people who rapidly lose weight are unlikely to keep it off. They lost the weight but they didn’t lose the unhealthy thoughts.

1. Get rid of the monkey mind. You know monkey mind. It’s that little voice in your head that knocks you down. “Oh, that’s too hard, I can’t do that.” “I’ve tried before, diets don’t work for me.” “I’ll never lose weight.” “Look, you’ve lost 40 pounds and you still look fat. Why bother? Eat a donut.”

If you think like this, you won’t lose weight–because you’re setting yourself up for failure from the get-go. The most important thing to do when these negative thoughts come creeping in is to sweep them out. Shut the door. Why can’t you do it? Other people have lost weight–lots of it–and kept it off. Need some inspiration? Check out the Anti-Jared. He was over 400 pounds at his heaviest.

When that monkey mind creeps in–and it will, even after you’ve lost 20, 40, 80 pounds–remind yourself those are the thoughts that brought you to fat. Do you want to follow the monkey mind down that long, dark hall again?

2. Visualize yourself healthy. About nine years ago I went to a music festival where a big group of people woke at sunrise to do yoga on the lawn. I turned to my husband and said, “Wouldn’t it be great to be one of those yoga people?” Then there are all the outdoorsy people I used to see who loved to go hiking–they’d be talking and smiling as I trudged up the hill sweating, panting, and cursing. I hated them. And I envied them. Oh, how I wanted to be a smiling hiker!

Now I visualize myself as a smiling hiker, running 5ks and beating my time, lifting heavy weights and building muscle.

I picture myself fit and at my goal weight. That’s harder because the last time I was at that weight I was in high school, but I can picture other women’s bodies and how I might look and feel with them.

Have you seen the new Sherlock Holmes’ movies with Robert Downey Jr? In them, Sherlock rehearses each step of a physical altercation (usually) resulting in success–visualization!

3. Keep visualizing. It works. Repeated visualization and rehearsing imprints your brain and “re-wires” it–helping to get rid of that monkey mind. Visualization was a topic a few years ago during a Weight Watchers meeting and I thought it was cheesy hooey. You know, that touchy-feely crap. Two years later I’ve learned that the world’s top athletes use visualization as a form of mental training to prep themselves, and that neurological studies show that visualization really does rewire the brain.

4. Set multiple goals. Losing a significant amount of weight can be overwhelming for anyone. My long-term goal is to lose 120 pounds and to get healthy and fit. Over the past two-and-a-half years I’ve set–and reached–many other goals. Losing 10% of my body weight. Losing 50, 75 pounds. Running one mile without stopping. Fitting into a size 14. Running a 5k. Tracking every bite for a week.