I tend to use negatives for motivation. If I have a speaking gig coming up, thinking about bombing in front of a big crowd motivates me to prepare more. If I've decided to ride a Gran Fondo, thinking about cracking on a long climb makes me train harder.

Like many people, I hate the idea of losing more than I love the idea of winning.

Hold that thought.

While it's easy to assume that living a healthier life is a personal goal, health and fitness can play a major role in your professional success. While the physical benefits clearly matter, the mental benefits of improved health and fitness are huge: Mental toughness, perseverance, determination...all are important ingredients for business success. (And all can be developed.) 

But staying fit and healthy is hard when the nature of most work means sitting at your desk all day--and, if you're an entrepreneur launching a startup, sitting at your desk all night, too.

So maybe you motivate yourself to lose weight by thinking about statistics that show obesity dramatically increases the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Or that if you can do this many pushups, Harvard scientists say your risk of heart attack is 30 times lower.

Or maybe you look in the mirror and decide you don't like what you see.

While that sounds like a great source of motivation...research shows it's not. Thinking about--worrying about--your body image actually makes it much harder to lose weight.

In fact, people who feel better about their bodies--before they even lose any weight--actually lose 3 times as much weight as those who don't.

Results suggest that improving body image, particularly by reducing its salience in one's personal life, might play a role in enhancing eating self-regulation during weight control.

Our results showed a strong correlation between improvements in body image, especially in reducing anxiety about other people's opinions, and positive changes in eating behavior.

Or in non-researcher-speak, the less you fret about how you look--and the less you fret about how other people may think you look--the more likely you are to make positive changes.

And stick to those changes.

Which, of course, is a lot easier said than done.

While positive self-talk may work for some, for most of us, simply standing in front of the mirror and shouting, "I love my body and my self!" doesn't cut it. 

That's why most of the tips for how to have a better body image often fall short. Most of that advice can be boiled down to, "You can love your body. All you have to do is decide to love your body."

Evidently it's easy: Suppress negative thoughts; suppress negative perspectives; repeat a few awesome, self-affirming statements; and bam! You'll have a better body image.

Or not.

A Better Way to Improve Your Body Image

So what is the only recipe for feeling better about how you look--or, really, feeling better about anything? 


Improving builds self-esteem. Success--in losing weight, or in your profession, or in your personal life, in anything you try to do--builds self-esteem.

Despite your current customer base. Despite your current revenues. Despite what you currently see in the mirror. Success, even tiny successes, make you feel better about yourself.

An increase in the acceptance of body image experiences and the deconstruction of held beliefs and interpretations about the importance of appearance to the self...led to improvements in the regulation of associated thoughts and emotions, leading to the adoption of healthier and more adaptive self-regulatory activities.

Which is a really complicated way of saying that feeling bad about how you look tends to make you adopt poor eating habits...and that feeling better about yourself will help you adopt better habits.

Magic? Nope. That's the power of confidence.

Because Self-Esteem Leads to Confidence...and Confidence Is Everything

Forget the self-talk. Forget wishing and hoping you felt better about yourself. Action is the key to building confidence and self-esteem. 

So do this. Commit to following a healthy diet for two weeks. (You can do anything for two weeks.) Or, if you're feeling really motivated, here's how you can lose 10 pounds in 30 days.

Then make sure you log everything you eat. Science shows people who track their food intake lose twice as much weight as those who don't.

Then stick to your plan...

...and celebrate every small success. Not just when the scale shows you've lost a little weight, but more importantly every time you only eat what you plan to eat for a certain meal or snack.

Within days, you'll see progress, both in terms of weight loss but also in terms of habits adopted. Both of which will boost your self-esteem and help you stay the course.

Because avoiding a negative can often be a great way to motivate yourself...but not where losing weight is concerned.

Science says so.