Give yourself good pep talk and create goals that work
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By Steven Campbell  October 4, 2013 12:00 am

When my father died 35 years ago, Mary announced to me, “If you die early, I’ll kill you. You better lose this weight.”

I was about 40 pounds heavier than I should have been, so I agreed. On Monday I began running and swimming and lost about three pounds by Friday. Over the weekend, I gained it all back, and did that for 25 years. There were a number of reasons.

I would give myself two pep talks. The first one was “You are 220 pounds, and you’ve got to lose 40 pounds.”

Psychology now knows that when I declared I was 220 pounds, my brain not only agreed (for it agrees with everything I say about myself), it made sure I stayed at 240 pounds. That’s its job. It does not let me be unlike myself. In fact, the foundation of cognitive psychology is that everything we are is based on what we say to ourselves about ourselves today.

The second pep talk I gave myself sounded something like, “You will lose 40 pounds.” Here’s how my brain responded to that pronouncement. “Well, hope you do. Sounds great. Think I’ll go take a nap.”

Can you see what I was doing? My goal was somewhere in the future. And my brain declared, “Look, how am I supposed to predict or control the future. I’m too busy just dealing with the present.”

I even bought a “Vision Board” and wrote “You will weigh 180 pounds.” None of them worked. Let’s look at the reasons.


Our brains will not let 

us be unlike ourselves

For reasons I won’t take the time to talk about, for 42 years I thought I was stupid in math. Guess what? I was. And then some events happened, and I began saying, “Wait a minute. Maybe I’m smart with numbers. In fact, I think I am. And guess what? I was…and am. In fact, I ended up teaching university math and writing two college text books that involved a lot of…you guessed it…math.

In fact, one of my students (we’ll call her Susie) declared she was a C student in math, and when she received an A on her first mid-term, she announced that it was a mistake. When she was convinced that she really had gotten an A, she declared, “Do you know what this means. If I flunk the next test, I can still get my C in the course.” I said, “Susie, just get an A on every test.” “Oh I can’t, Mr. Campbell. I’m a C student in math.” (And that’s exactly what happened. She flunked the next test and got a C in the course.


We place goals in future 

where brains can’t touch

Most of our goals sound something like, “I will lose this weight” or “I will pay off this loan” or “I will take that trip to Alaska.” And as I said before, our brain simply yawns and says “Good luck, Hope you do.”

No, in order for goals to work, they must be expressed in the present tense and cause a problem with your mind. “I have lost that weight already.” or “I have paid off my loan already.” Then your brain sits up and says, “Wait a minute. Look at the scale. Look in the mirror. Look at your credit card statement. You have not lost that weight, and you have not paid off that loan. We have a gap here, and I (this is your brain talking) hate gaps.” (The basis of a psychology called “Gestalt Psychology” is that our brains hate gaps, and do everything they can to close them.)

Your brain then gives you two choices. One is to accept your weight as always being there or never paying off your loan, which is the easier way or initially what your brain wants you to do.

Or, the other way is to lock onto your new weight or being debt free. When you lock onto what you really want, your brain then finds a way to lose that weight or pay off that loan. In fact, it becomes your greatest mentor.


Placing our goals on Vision Boards instead of doing the process of meeting them 

Without sweating (or at least without action steps), visioning has only a minimal advantage over wishing. Even Joyce Schwarz, the founder of the Vision Board Institute, believes that achieving your goals requires more than a typical vision board, it also requires action. In fact, the power of the vision board comes from you. From your brain and your thoughts. The board is not magical beyond the magic with which you empower it. Thus, whether it is actually on a board or you have figured out another way to wrap your brain around focusing on your goals, it can still work.


Steven Campbell is the author of "Making Your Mind Magnificent" and conducts "The Winners Circle" every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. He can be contacted at 480-5007 or For more information, go to

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